How can I help my child with poor vocabulary?

As parents, witnessing our children struggle in any aspect can be difficult, and it’s no different when it comes to language and vocabulary. A child with a poor vocabulary might face challenges in communicating effectively, understanding academic content, and performing well in school examinations, such as the PSLE English test. However, there are many strategies that parents can implement to aid in the development of their child’s vocabulary and overall language proficiency.

  1. Consistent Reading: Encourage your child to read regularly and diversely. Reading exposes them to a wide range of words and contexts, which can significantly enhance their vocabulary. Make it a habit to read together daily, be it storybooks, magazines, newspapers or academic content. This could also foster a love for reading in your child, benefiting them in the long run.
  2. Use of Vocabulary Tools: Introduce your child to vocabulary tools like dictionaries, thesauruses, and vocabulary apps. Teach them how to use these resources to look up unfamiliar words, understand their meanings, and learn their usage in different contexts.
  3. Teaching in Context: It’s crucial to teach new words in context. This helps children understand not just the meaning of the word, but how it is used in a sentence or a real-life situation. For example, while learning about animals, introduce words like ‘mammal’, ‘reptile’, ‘amphibian’, and so forth.
  4. Engage in Word Games: Make vocabulary learning fun by playing word games. Games like Scrabble, Boggle, Hangman, or online vocabulary games can be engaging and educational. This can also help enhance your child’s word retention.
  5. Encourage Writing: Writing is an excellent way for children to practice and apply their vocabulary. Ask your child to write short stories, letters, or keep a journal. Make sure to review their writing and provide constructive feedback.
  6. Conversation and Discussion: Engage your child in regular conversations and discussions. Ask about their day, discuss current events or talk about their interests. This not only expands their vocabulary but also improves their listening and speaking skills.
  7. Building on Root Words: Teach your child about root words, prefixes, and suffixes. Understanding these can help your child decipher the meanings of new words, thereby broadening their vocabulary.
  8. Vocabulary Notebook: Encourage your child to keep a vocabulary notebook. They can jot down new words, their meanings, synonyms, antonyms, and sentences using those words. Review this notebook regularly to reinforce learning.
  9. Positive Reinforcement: Remember to praise your child for their efforts in learning new words and using them correctly. This can boost their confidence and motivate them to continue learning.
  10. Be Patient and Consistent: Lastly, understand that vocabulary development is a gradual process and it requires patience and consistency. Celebrate small victories and continue to support your child throughout this journey.

Vocabulary is a fundamental building block of effective communication and academic success. As a parent, your active involvement can play a crucial role in enhancing your child’s vocabulary skills. Remember that every child learns at their own pace, so it’s essential to be patient and provide consistent support and encouragement. With time, effort, and the right strategies, you can definitely help your child overcome their vocabulary challenges and thrive.

Recommend some books to read to strengthen vocabulary:

Here are some age-appropriate books that can help improve your child’s vocabulary:

  1. Ages 3-5 (Preschool)
    • “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle
    • “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak
    • “The Gruffalo” by Julia Donaldson
    • “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Bill Martin Jr.
    • “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss
  2. Ages 6-8 (Early Primary School)
    • “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White
    • “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss
    • “The Magic Tree House” series by Mary Pope Osborne
    • “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series by Jeff Kinney
    • “Flat Stanley” series by Jeff Brown
  3. Ages 9-12 (Late Primary School)
    • “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling
    • “Percy Jackson & The Olympians” series by Rick Riordan
    • “The Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis
    • “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
    • “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl

Remember to choose books that match your child’s reading level and interests. The goal is to make reading an enjoyable experience for them. Also, consider using audiobooks in addition to physical books. Listening to a book can help with pronunciation and understanding the flow of language.

Lastly, while reading these books with your child, encourage them to stop and ask about words they don’t know. You can look them up together and discuss their meanings, creating a great opportunity for vocabulary-building.

Real World learning Vocabulary

Enhancing vocabulary doesn’t need to be limited to the classroom or structured learning time. Indeed, everyday life is filled with opportunities to enrich your child’s vocabulary. Here’s how you can utilize daily routines and activities to promote vocabulary development:

  1. At Home:Engage your child in daily conversation about varied topics. Discuss the meals you’re preparing, ask about the characters in the book they are reading, or talk about your work and what they did during the day. This can involve introducing new words related to these topics and encouraging your child to use them in sentences.When watching a movie or TV show together, pause and discuss the plot, characters, or any unfamiliar words. Reading books together can also be a fun way to learn new words, where you can pause and discuss unfamiliar terms.Additionally, include your child in household chores and talk about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how. The kitchen, especially, can be a rich source of new vocabulary—from utensils and appliances to the ingredients and processes used in cooking.
  2. While Shopping:Trips to the supermarket or mall can be turned into vocabulary-building exercises. For younger children, you can talk about the names, colors, and shapes of different fruits and vegetables. For older children, discuss the nutritional content of different foods, or how certain items are manufactured or made.Introduce them to various brands, types of clothes, and materials in a clothing store, or talk about different genres when in a bookstore. Ask your child to read signs, labels, and posters aloud, discussing any unknown words.
  3. During Tours and Travels:If you’re visiting a museum, zoo, or going on a vacation, seize the opportunity to introduce new words related to the places you’re visiting. Talk about different animals, historical events, or geographical features.Encourage your child to read pamphlets, guides, and display information. Have them describe their experiences, feelings, and observations, fostering not only their vocabulary but also their expressive language skills.

Remember, the more natural and enjoyable the learning process is, the more likely your child is to retain and use new vocabulary. Encouraging curiosity and making vocabulary development a part of everyday experiences can significantly aid language learning and usage. Point things out, spell it for them, tell them things and they will soak it all up.

Root WordMeaningPrefix/SuffixMeaningNew WordNew Word Meaning
PlayEngage in activity for enjoyment and recreationRe-AgainReplayPlay again
ViewLook at or inspectPre-BeforePreviewView before
ActDo, perform, or behave in a particular wayInter-BetweenInteractAct between or interact with others
UnderstandPerceive the intended meaningMis-Incorrectly or badlyMisunderstandUnderstand incorrectly
LeadBe in charge or command ofMis-Incorrectly or badlyMisleadLead in the wrong direction
DoPerform (an action, the precise nature of which is often unspecified)Under-Insufficient or belowUnderdoDo insufficiently or not enough
TrustBelieve in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength ofDis-Not or opposite ofDistrustNot to trust or have no confidence in
LikeFind agreeable, enjoyable, or satisfactoryDis-Not or opposite ofDislikeNot like or find disagreeable
PlacePut in a particular positionRe-AgainReplacePlace again or put back in a former position
CoverPut something such as a cloth or lid on top of or in front of (something) in order to protect or conceal itUn-Not or opposite ofUncoverNot covered or reveal


In conclusion, improving a child’s vocabulary is a multifaceted endeavor that calls upon a combination of various strategies, techniques, and resources. Fostering regular reading habits, exposing your child to a broad vocabulary, and encouraging active vocabulary usage are all integral to enhancing your child’s language skills. Providing a rich array of reading materials, incorporating vocabulary quizzes and language games, and making use of vocabulary building books can significantly boost vocabulary in children.

It’s crucial to focus not just on vocabulary acquisition, but also on vocabulary retention and application. Understanding the context of word usage, recognizing word associations, and making a habit of using dictionaries and thesauruses are all part of this comprehensive approach. Additionally, teaching your child about root words, prefixes, and suffixes can help them decipher the meanings of new words, thereby broadening their vocabulary even further.

Remember, improving vocabulary goes hand in hand with improving other language skills such as reading comprehension, oral communication, and writing practice. Don’t overlook the importance of grammar skills and sentence construction in overall language proficiency. Engage your child in conversation and discussions, not just at home, but also during outings and travels. This not only expands their vocabulary but also improves their listening and speaking skills.

Finally, keep in mind that enhancing a child’s vocabulary is not a race. It is a steady process that evolves with your child’s growth and development. With consistent effort, patience, and the right strategies, your child’s vocabulary can expand greatly, improving their overall language proficiency and confidence. The role of parental guidance in this journey is invaluable. As your child navigates the linguistic challenges, your support and encouragement can provide them with the confidence they need to excel. Remember, the goal is not just to improve vocabulary, but also to nurture a lifelong love for language and learning.

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