Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why I Use Big Words With My Kids

Think about this for a moment:

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis says that your ability to think a thought depends on knowing words capable of expressing the thought.... or in other words:
If you don’t know the words, you can’t express the thought and you might not even be able to formulate it!

So one could argue that a larger vocabulary is directly correlated with higher thought processing! That's a pretty good reason to expand your vocabulary with your children if you ask me!

Did you know... that there are 171,476 words in current use in the Oxford English Dictionary? There are an additional 47,156 obsolete words, 9,500 derivative words, and all of these figures don't take into account words with double meanings, (Dog- as in canine, or Dog- as in a despicable man or youth) Words with double word classes (Noun & Verb or Verb & Adjective) Example: Dog:(verb)- to follow someone persistantly) Dog: (Adjective)- a despicable man or youth, and words with added prepositions and suffixes (Presuppose, Supposedly, Supposing, Supposes, etc). Nor does it even take into account words that we borrow from other languages (such as "Soufle" and other French words for cooking, Latin medical & law terms, Japanese & Mandarin words for Martial Arts) And it certainly doesn't include the ever-evolving teenage slang, abbreviations, and local dialects.

With all this taken into consideration there are roughly AT LEAST 225,000 distinct English words. 

And yet the average adult only knows 10,000-20,000 vocabulary words. Out of the 171,476 words basic words available that's only about 10% of the English language!! (For arguments sake, I loathe the term "average"... so let me give you the statistic for those that the Linguist Richard Lederer considers "truly literate"- it's about 60,000 words.)
But in either situation, actual use of said vocabulary is considerably less, with the rest being recognition or recall vocabulary. 

Think about this for a minute:
Your child came into this world not understanding a single word of your spoken language. By age 3 the average child has a vocabulary of 3,000 words! So...

  doesn't it make sense that if they can learn the word "Maybe", which was a completely foreign word and concept to them beforehand, that they could also learn the word "Plausible"- a term usually reserved for higher elementary students?
It's plausible right?

I'll tell you the number one response I get when people hear me communicate with my kids and notice my expanded vocabulary with them: "That was a pretty big word! They won't understand you!"

So... let me get this straight.... you want me to "dumb it down"?! 

How about instead I use the larger word, then ask if they know what it means, and if they don't  simply explain what it means!  Then perhaps repeat the sentence just to help it sink in. 
That to me is a MUCH better solution than dumbing everything down to a "child" level. I believe in my children. I believe that they are smart and capable of great things, including attaining an expanded vocabulary at a very young age.

You want to know something beautiful.... almost magical.... about using an expanded vocabulary with your children?
The older they become, the less explaining you'll have to do! You will be able to use a very large word and they will understand simply by context ! The sentence around the word will help explain it's very definition, and that very process is a critical step in critical thinking! 

I have an example of this that happened to me the other day (which is actually what inspired this article.)  My 7 year old was unsuccessfully trying to get on Netflix much to her frustration. (In her defense, she knows how to do it but in this particular situation the remote was not complying) I approached her and said, "Try not to get so exasperated Honey. If you simply ask for help I'll show you how to fix it and then you wouldn't have to let your emotions become so elevated to the point of exasperation."

I later heard her use the word to her sister. "I'm so exasperated! I just can't handle you right now!" 

(Naturally, I was secretly smiling. 1- because she had obviously processed the word to the point of inclusion into her own vocabulary and 2- because the apple doesn't fall far from the tree... and I may or may not say that a bit too much to my own kids... especially at night when I'm SO ready to not be (insert yelling, whiny, crying, exasperated tones here) Moooooooommm! And just be Stephanie.)

In conclusion, if you hear me telling my 3 year old to "Please stop ascending the slide! Slides are for descending!" or my 8 year old to "Ascertain your room for clutter before I come up" 
Now you know why!

Because I FULLY believe that the larger your vocabulary, especially your EMOTIONAL vocabulary (but that's a topic for an entirely different post), the more capable they will be to digest higher thought processes, and the more able they will be to formulate critical thinking skills.



  1. thank you thank you. My husband and I use "grown up" language with our son and are always being looked at strangely. But my son's vocabulary is fantastic as a result and like you say, if he doesn't understand the word straight away we either explain it, or he gets the gist because of the context in which we use it.
    I was horrified when i took my son to the zoo when he was tiny. I was looking at a leopard and a mother next to me turned to her son of the same age and said "look its a kitty cat" - *facepalm*. What a missed opportunity.
    I'm sharing this post on the Sunday Parenting Party Pinterest board and featuring this weekend on the SPP, thanks for linking up.

    1. I'm featuring this on the SPP this week (You can grab an "I was featured" button from my blog button page if you'd like one. )

  2. I would love to have a list for my 7 year old, as a springboard. I have been thinking about this very thing lately.

  3. Thank you, I have always thought the same thing. What is the point of teaching them the 'dumbed' down vocabulary when they will need to learn the correct word at a later date. I cringe when I hear parents saying things like 'look at the woof woof' when they mean dog. Teach them correctly first time!