The Difference Between Language and Vocabulary

Lisa R. Parker

There is a distinct difference between language development and vocabulary. Often, children use words which are not understood by the child, yet the they choose to use these words as if a prior knowledge base existed. This is the beginnings of the understanding of vocabulary usage. Language usage is the knowledge of how to use the spoken word. When a child begins to speak, they often use reliable or familiar words that they have heard in the past. For instance, some of the first utterances are usually hi, bye, mommy, and daddy. There are words that are very familiar to the child and have been reinforced through their interaction with adults. This is the beginning of a child’s word awareness. Children build on the words that are spoken in the home environment, and they repeat what they hear. Have you ever been embarrassed by the utterances of a “little one” who repeated an evaluation of Aunt Nellie that made you almost want to crawl under the rug? What they are doing is trying out the language. Children not only listen, but watch adult’s reactions to their words. Many believe that children are pre-wired for this recognition but this is not true. They are simply building their world through the world that has been presented to them thorough speech.

A positive interaction with beginning or emergent readers is extremely important as children begin to build their spoken world. Talking to an infant from the beginning of birth is extremely important. Research indicates that children in the womb also benefit from being talked to. In the second trimester, a fetus has the capability to understand sounds. From four months, their minds begin developing neural pathways of communication. Women have often reported that the fetus inside of them jumped when they were exposed to a sudden loud noise. This is the beginning of language acquisition. Hearing and internalizing the sounds heard.

As a child develops, they depend heavily on that which they have seen and heard and often relate the two. Children, who have not had the exposure to an enriched environment full of both positive images and positive words, are the very same children who exhibit reading difficulties in school. These are the children who grow up frustrated and unable to secure a job that will support both themselves and their family due to their inability to speak properly and read at a level sufficient to understand.

Vocabulary is learned from the child’s language development. Through this language development, children learn letters and sounds. The only way a children can develop strong vocabulary skills is through their interaction with the adult world that surrounds each child. Both infants and very young children are constantly internalizing what they see, hear, observe and feel. Without this exposure, the child’s language development is stunted and the child’s vocabulary suffers. Both are equally important.

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