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What Is the Importance of Vocabulary?

By Elizabeth West
Updated May 23, 2024
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Vocabulary is the body of words that make up a language, and the importance of vocabulary in reading comprehension cannot be overstated. Without a good working knowledge of words and their meanings, both written and verbal communication will be muddied or poorly understood. Teachers and parents can emphasize reading and verbal interaction with children to help them build a strong working vocabulary.

Students with poor reading comprehension skills either lack the vocabulary or the word recognition skills to make sense of the material. Students with poor reading comprehension don’t tend to read very often, which causes them to miss out on learning new words. Since most classes have some form of written study sheets, articles, or textbooks, a limited vocabulary can affect many of their grades.

Communication is enhanced by knowing more words. They don’t have to be big words, but the meanings should convey what the person is trying to say. When people cannot communicate clearly and accurately, giving instructions or understanding them may be difficult. Mistakes can be made, costing time, effort, and money in both school settings and the workplace.

The importance of vocabulary can extend to spelling instruction. If the reader cannot make out a word, he will either skip it or stop reading. This can be easily illustrated by looking at poorly-spelled and incomprehensibly written articles on the Internet. When concepts cannot be clearly expressed, it is easy for readers to click away and seek another source. Spelling errors tend to spread, especially online, making written communication difficult to understand.

Teachers can emphasize the importance of vocabulary early in school and continue to provide students with opportunities to build word skills. One way to do this is to pre-teach key words in all subjects. This strategy helps students grasp concepts that contain terms with which they may be unfamiliar. Putting emphasis on root words, prefixes, and suffixes assist students in morphemic analysis, which combines this knowledge with the context to figure out a new word’s meaning. Multimedia tools are good ways to expose students to new concepts and enhance their desire to build vocabulary skills.

Reading and discussing books is also an excellent way to build vocabulary. Parents can do this with both younger and older children. Studies have shown that parents who read regularly are more likely to have children who do so. Frequent verbal interaction with young children that emphasizes repetition and expansion of their communications helps cement words in their minds and exposes them to new ones. The importance of vocabulary training can make a difference in their ability to succeed in school and work.

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Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Jan 21, 2014

@croydon - Unfortunately, it's rarely as simple as that. You're assuming that the parents have the vocabulary to pass on to their child, which might not be the case, especially for immigrants. You're also assuming they have the time to spend with their child, talking and reading to them so that they will learn new words.

In fact, if parents have to work more than one job the kids just simply hear fewer words at home and end up with a smaller vocabulary than their peers.

Teachers might know the importance of teaching vocabulary, but if one child can barely count to three and another child in the same class has a large vocabulary, then it's going to be difficult to teach both of them at the same time. It will be impossible to catch the first one up to the second without neglecting the second.

A good vocabulary is so important, but it isn't a simple matter to ensure that every child has access to one.

By croydon — On Jan 21, 2014

@KoiwiGal - There's not much excuse for parents and teachers who don't extend a child's vocabulary though. Kids drink up new words like water. It's the only time in our lives when our brains are actively trying to learn a language.

The importance of vocabulary development can never be overstated, but it's not exactly hard to build it in an average kid. Just be prepared to explain a few words to them so that they get the definitions right.

By KoiwiGal — On Jan 20, 2014

You can see how difficult a reader without a large vocabulary would find reading a book by trying to read something in a foreign language. You might recognize some of the words, but the greater meaning of the text is going to be lost on you.

Kids need to be able to look at a word and know it instantly, or they will be sounding out words as they read and it will slow them down and frustrate them. It's difficult to comprehend something as a whole when you can only concentrate on one part of it at a time.

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