Photo by Juria Yoshikawa

Photo by Juria Yoshikawa

More than one study has proven that the best way for children to develop their language and reading skills is through dialogue. This is particularly important for bilingual children. It is a fallacy to think that just sitting your child in front of the television set to watch a program in Spanish or to let them mouse around with a bilingual computer game will expose them to the kind of vocabulary needed to become proficient in the minority language.

So motivate your child to interact verbally with you and you’ll be teaching him the basics of language: phonetics, vocabulary and grammar. These will eventually help him develop more complex skills such as reading and writing.

5 Ways to Enrich Your Child’s Vocabulary:

1) Don’t change the way you normally speak – You don’t have to simplify your vocabulary when you talk to your children. They will get what you’re trying to say even when they don’t understand every single word. I’m pretty sure part of the reason why my daughter’s vocabulary is so extensive for her age is because I always speak to her the way I would if I were talking to, say, my husband.

2) Expand on the conversation - You can do this by responding to your child using longer sentences based on his simple phrases. When my 3-year-old daughter, Vanessa, says something like: “Yo amo mucho a mi perrito”. I say something like: “Yo también lo amo mucho porque es bueno y juguetón. Y, ¿tú por qué lo amas”? I also do this a lot when I read her a book and she points to something in particular. I expand on what she says by asking her to describe the object in more detail or relating it to something we did or saw recently. That always gets her going.

3) Understand that her mistakes are part of her progress – Grammar and pronunciation errors will happen as your child establishes her own knowledge of the language. Maybe she understands the rule about conjugating certain verbs, for example, but she’s not aware of the exceptions – and if you know anything about Spanish, then you know those abound. Just give her the correct model in your response, but don’t make a big deal out of it. My daughter does this constantly with the verb poner. So she’ll say, “Por qué papito ponió su mochila ahí”? And I’ll respond, “Papito puso su mochila ahí para no olvidársela“. I’m pretty sure that, as with other things, she’ll eventually get it.

4) Turn everything into a topic of conversation – Try to provide your children with all kinds of experiences in as many different places as possible and as often as possible. I love taking walks around our neighborhood with Vanessa because just about anything going on out there becomes a topic of conversation and helps expand her vocabulary: children playing basketball, Halloween decorations, the mailman delivering a package, etc.  In fact, it was thanks to one of our walks that she learned the phrase “darle la vuelta a la manzana” which translates as a walk around the block. Now, whenever she wants to take a walk, she says: “Vamos a dar la vuelta a la manzana, mami“.

5) Learn to listen. Being a good listener is such an essential trait, yet not everybody possesses it. My father used to say: “Calla y escucha”. Roughly translated into: “Shut up and listen.” The truth is you learn far more from listening than from talking – especially when it comes to helping your child enrich his vocabulary. It’s absolutely normal for little ones to go off on a tangent when verbalizing an idea or sharing a story with you. Just listen without interrupting and then you’ll be better equipped to ask the kind of questions that will lead to even more conversations.

What are some strategies you use to enrich your child’s vocabulary?

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