How Parents Can Bridge the Vocabulary Gap

Black and white, smooth and rough, Eva Longoria’s legs and mine… I could go on all day with a list of opposites, but none strikes me more than the dichotomy between rich and poor.  The stark realization that the difference between rich and poor is that the former’s idea of happiness is having a good hair day, while the latter is simply happy to still have his hair intact despite the poverty-induced malnutrition doesn’t end there.  One other thing which separates the rich from the poor is the ever-widening vocabulary gap.

There seems to be a direct correlation between one’s family income and vocabulary.  Children from more privileged families turn out to have a wider vocabulary than their financially-challenged counterparts.  Experts from the University of Kansas found out that at age 6, kids from well off families have a 20,000-word vocabulary while the less fortunate know only about 3,000 words.  In most US cities, the demand for quality early childhood education far outweighs the resources available to the needy.  This apparent lack of funding well explains the huge vocabulary gap between the rich and poor.

So, what can we parents do to help bridge this vocabulary gap?  We can use something as simple as story time to help close the gap.  During the first three years of life, the brain is all geared up for language development.  This is why activities such as reading, singing and talking to infants and toddlers are so important.   Kids usually need to hear a word 9 to 14 times before they learn it, so don’t get tired of reading that Clifford book to your kid over and over again.  Repetition and using words in various contexts help kids understand them better.

It also helps to read to your kids in the form of dialogue.   Ask open-ended questions and encourage them to do the same.  Try to identify the rich language in picture books through song and fingerplay.  Urge your kid to ask for the meaning of a particular word he doesn’t understand.

Keep talking to your kids.  How else can kids practice newly-learned words, but through reading, writing and speaking?  At the dinner table, you can lead the conversation, and encourage your kids to talk about any topic that interests them.  You can talk about their hobbies, or how their day at school went.

Before we expect our schools to take on the responsibility of bridging the vocabulary gap, we can always start at home.  It’s not so much a choice, as it is our obligation as parents.