Vocabulary and Word Finding

Vocabulary and Word Finding

What is vocabulary?

The term vocabulary refers to the words we understand and use. There are 2 types of vocabulary:

  • Expressive vocabulary refers to the words we are able to use ourselves in spoken language and writing.
  • Receptive vocabulary refers to the words we are able to understand when used by another person, or when we read.

Having a good knowledge of vocabulary is important in achieving success at school and in life. As we get older we are exposed to more and more vocabulary in and outside school, and good teaching and strategies to learn new words allow us to succeed. Vocabulary is crucial across the curriculum; in areas such as science and humanities children are exposed to many new words every lesson, and having knowledge of these words leads to better understanding of concepts and ideas. As we leave school and enter the work place, having a good vocabulary, and the skills to learn and use new words, continues to be very important.

What is word finding?

The words we use to communicate have to be stored and retrieved from our brain. We store words by organising them with similar words and by making links between words. If we make lots of links we are more able to retrieve the words quickly i.e. ‘find’ the words. A child may have good knowledge of vocabulary i.e. they can identify items on request. A child has word finding difficulties when a child has the word stored in their brain i.e. they have the vocabulary, but they may struggle to access this or find the word.

A child with word finding difficulties may present in the following ways:

  • You often might have to clarify something the child says as the words they use are inappropriate.
  • The child might describe items rather than name them.
  • The child might use empty phrases containing no real information, e.g. “he’s doing that” instead of “the boy’s posting the letter”.
  • The child might rely heavily on actions when they are trying to explain something to you.
  • The child might use slightly incorrect words, for example, “Daddy’s sweeping the dog”.

Your child’s Speech and Language Therapist will complete a variety of assessments to monitor if your child has vocabulary and/or word finding difficulties. If your child does have difficulties with one or both of these areas, they will be provided with specific activities to support this.

Here are just a few pieces of advice and resources to support children with vocabulary and/or word finding difficulties:

To learn new words we need to do three things:

  • Make links with words we already know that have related meanings (semantic links)
  • Discover the speech sound structure of the word (phonological patterns
  • Practise ways of bringing the word to mind (word finding)

The following strategies can be used to aid word learning and teaching:

  • Introduce a few new words at a time.
  • Focus on words that will be useful and meaningful for the child. Parents can liaise with teachers in order to establish what topic vocabulary is currently being used in the classroom.
  • Pre and post teach vocabulary before and after it is used in lessons using the strategies and tools described here.
  • Use age appropriate definitions to explain the meaning of the word.
  • Use a multi-sensory approach to learning new words wherever possible:
    1. See it – use real objects and situations, photos and pictures
    2. Hear it
    3. Say it – say the word and use it in a sentence
    4. Read it
    5. Write it – write the individual word, and again in a sentence.
  • Talk about both semantic and phonological information about the word, for example: How to learn the word ‘petal’
    1. Syllables – 2 syllables, can you clap the syllables?
    2. Initial sound – ‘p’ – can you think of other words that start with this sound?
    3. Category – flowers – can you think of other items in this category?
    4. Location – talk about all the different places you would see the petal including where on the flower it is and where you might find a flower.
    5. Function – part of a flower – can you think of other parts of a flower?
  • If the child is struggling to think of a particular word, encourage them to give you clues, for example, “What do we do with it, what does it look like?”.
  • If the word the child wants is obvious to you, try cueing them in with the first sound, an opposite (e.g. ‘it’s not big, it’s …’, an obvious pair (e.g. ‘pencil and …’, or a description of what it looks like or how it is used.
  • As a child gets older, encourage them to self-cue by using the above ideas, becoming less dependant on adult prompts. Can they think of the first sound of a word? Can they tell you which category a word belongs to. Talk about how a child can help themselves using these strategies.
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