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What Is the Relationship between Reading and Vocabulary?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The relationship between reading and vocabulary is typically one of mutual improvement and growth. This is because as someone reads more, his or her vocabulary typically expands and grows and then he or she is able to read a wider range of works. While there are some exceptions to this idea, in general, a person is likely to develop a stronger vocabulary by reading and reading a wide range of materials. In order for reading and vocabulary to have this mutually beneficial relationship, however, a reader must be sure to actually try to improve his or her vocabulary while reading by learning new words.

Reading and vocabulary are both important concepts within any written language, and they typically develop together for young people. While most children begin to acquire spoken language prior to reading, this language development is often somewhat limited. As the child begins to read and write, then his or her vocabulary typically expands a great deal beyond what he or she previously had. This is because reading and vocabulary are connected as a process of learning and expanding on ideas.

As a person reads, he or she is likely to encounter new words and ideas that he or she has not read before. Even though many teachers focus on vocabulary lessons in a classroom, no number of lessons can ever hope to teach every word available in a complex, written language. Reading and vocabulary are important to each other because reading provides an opportunity for new words to be discovered, so the vocabulary of the reader can grow and expand.

This is not an absolute relationship, however, and reading can be done without any improvement to vocabulary. Someone reading a book below his or her level of reading is not likely to encounter new or unfamiliar words. Similarly, if someone does encounter a new word, but simply passes over it without an effort to understand it, then his or her vocabulary is unlikely to expand. Reading and vocabulary often work together only if the reader actually makes an effort to understand a new word.

As someone’s vocabulary expands through reading, then he or she is able to read at a higher level. This allows a person to take on more challenging works of literature or writing as his or her comprehension of language has improved. Reading and vocabulary do not always benefit each other in this way, however, as someone may not be able to encounter specialized words or language by reading a text related to another issue.

Someone reading a sports magazine, for example, is unlikely to encounter any new words that can help him or her read a Shakespearian tragedy. Similarly, reading Chaucer is unlikely to give someone the vocabulary necessary to understand operational specifications for wireless devices. This is why it is important for someone to read a wide range of subjects to develop a vocabulary that is wide, as well as deep.

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Discussion Comments

By Wisedly33 — On Jan 28, 2014

I've rarely met anyone who was a voracious reader, and did not also have a good vocabulary. I think the two are inextricably linked. When you read, you just naturally pick up more words that you will find an opportunity to use in everyday conversation.

Also, people who read a lot do tend to have a wider base of knowledge, which in turn leads to the need for a larger vocabulary.

It's a fact that children who cultivate a love of reading early on have larger spoken and written vocabularies, are better spellers and have a better grasp on language arts in general. Reading, as the old slogan goes, is fundamental.

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