Herald Journal Columns
Aug. 8, 2005, Herald Journal

Vocabulary development in children


It’s official. My 16-month-old can now say more than 20 words.

That’s a goal on our clinic’s well-baby checklist to see where your little one is in development, with skills mastered and yet to be mastered.

She can actually say many more words, and her expressive vocabulary is ever growing with each day. It is truly amazing. I am always in bewilderment when I hear her say another word that I hadn’t heard just the day before.

Babies, well, children’s minds are like sponges – constantly “soaking” up information from every source that’s available to them. We, as parents and caregivers, have a big responsibility to make sure that sources our children are learning from are available and appropriate – with the main source being us, their family and caregivers.

In an article on speech and language in Parenting, August, 2005, it was noted that with most preschoolers, you can label an object once, and they will absorb it and use it correctly later, if they’ve heard the word correctly and it was enunciated well enough for them to pick it up.

We must be careful about what we say if front of our kids – we’ve all been there and done that!


Even with my five-year-old, it is still very engaging to continue to “watch” her speech, language, and communication development. Kids can say the darndest things.

When she (my five-year old) wanted to help mop, Daddy asked her if she knew how to mop. She responded with, “Well, yea, sure – it’s a lot like sweeping – only not with the hairy things (bristles).”

Pretty accurate, I might add.

When talking about our 16-month-old, Delaney, I have to be careful about calling her “mine.” I must share her with her daddy and her siblings too – that’s what my eight-year-old says.

With each new word our Delaney says, her older brother and sister, Caleb and Callie, excitedly report it to the rest of mankind.

And using that same “parentese” fashion (the higher tone and singsong way) that we, as parents, use when we talk with her, Caleb and Callie have her repeat the word over and over again.

Delaney is at the stage where she will try and imitate almost any word or sound that we say to her in “parentese” style, as speech experts call it. According to Parenting magazine, August, 2005, this “child-directed” speech helps our little ones learn new words faster.

Another important part of using “parentese” talk is using pauses – waiting for our little ones to reply and respond back in the dialogue.

Speech experts also recommend to talk to our little ones way before we may think they can understand, using that parentese style of talking.

Children can understand much more language than they express initially. For example, I can tell Delaney to get her hat, shoes, diaper, etc., and she will go and get the item.

Our daughter definitely knows the word “hot.” She can say it, and also knows what it means. She will say “hot” and then begin blowing to cool whatever it is off – including the hot air outside.

Words may also serve double duty for our children as they begin “talking.” Delaney’s first word was “dada”, and she definitely knows who “dada” is, but she also says “dada” or a version of it, when she sees her siblings, Caleb and Callie, which are much more difficult words to express.

The Parenting article explains that this is called overextension – that children do understand the difference, for example, between daddy and brother Caleb or sister Callie, but just don’t have all the words to verbalize the distinctions, thus “dada” is used for all – daddy, sister, and brother.

Young brains are very flexible and most adaptive during early childhood to learning more than one language. In fact, the article notes that if a second language is acquired before the age of three, it is not even considered second, it’s simultaneous.

In summary, children’s minds are like sponges and we have to keep giving our little ones opportunities to grow and learn by exposing them to good language and opportunities for learning.

Being a part of teaching a child to learn to do anything, including communicating, is a gift, one that we should take seriously, admire, and appreciate.

I read this in Parenting, March, 2005 and thought, “oh, so true,” and wanted to share it with you. The article was about “things no one tells you about Mommyhood” – and Daddyhood, for that matter. I will just share a couple this week:

• When someone says he “slept like a baby,” it really means he woke up every 90 minutes, howling.

• The quieter the public place, the louder your 18-month-old is.

I am sure we can all think of many more “discoveries” we make while raising and caring for our most precious belongings. But parenthood and caregiving is about discovering things on our own, too!