These results are quite striking considering that the mothers come from non-professional backgrounds and had no more than 12 years of schooling on average. Another study on low-income mother-child dyads shows that the rate of vocabulary production is also positively influenced by early exposure to diverse words. In particular, children whose mothers consistently used more varied vocabulary had faster and more linear growth in child vocabulary production between 14 and 36 months than children whose mothers consistently used less varied vocabulary (Pan et al., 2005). These findings support the contention that maternal speech quality has powerful benefits in child language acquisition.
A striking feature of the vocabulary development studies recently described is the presence of a loving, supportive environment in which they occur. In other words, the benefits of qualitative and quantitative vocabulary input can be fully realized if they occur in the context of instructive and helpful interaction. For instance, studies show that children who are exposed to sophisticated vocabulary under supportive settings such as book reading or joint attention episodes learn vocabulary faster and better than other children (Feitelson et al., 1993; Tomasello, 1992; and Hayes & Ahrens, 1988 in Weizman and Snow, 2001). Joint attention involves mutual engagement and some mothers pursue this more than others by being responsive to their children's vocalizations prior to and during speech (Hoff, 2006). There is wide evidence that children with responsive mothers begin to talk sooner and reach a landmark vocabulary score earlier than those with less responsive mothers (Tamis-LeMonda et al., 1996 and Bornstein, Baumwell, & Damast, 1996, in Hoff, 2006).
The issues raised above indicate that vocabulary enrichment in children is achievable regardless of socio-economic background and other previously thought of maternal limiting factors.
In fact, an intervention plan aimed at improving child language development (vocabulary, in particular) can be designed by focusing on parental behavior alone. There are simple ways and readily available opportunities for parents to significantly impact their children's vocabulary growth:
First, parents should start veering themselves away from the popular notion, "the simpler, the better" as far as conversations with children are concerned. As previously shown, there is evidence suggesting that engaging pre-school children in sophisticated words during seemingly ordinary activities like play time and meal time can predict positive vocabulary outcomes later in school (Weizman and Snow, 2001). For instance, parents can use the word "vehicle" as an all-encompassing word to describe transport toys like car, train, and truck during playtime. Or perhaps during extended mealtimes, they can point to their children's healthy favorite food (e.g. fruit) as being rich in "vitamins" and to the unhealthy ones (e.g. French fries) as being rich in "cholesterol."
Second, parents should start reading to their kids as early as they can. The benefits of reading are enormous, improving both quantitative and qualitative aspects of vocabulary development. Book reading sessions are found to produce the highest number of vocabulary words compared to other interactive activities like playtime and mealtime (Weizman and Snow, 2006). Reading informative books, in particular, generate a high word density in a relatively short period of time (Weizman and Snow, 2006). The frequency of object labels and of explicit labeling (e.g., "This is a tiger.") is also greater during book reading than toy-play interactions (Choi, 2000 and Ho?, 2003c in Hoff, 2006). Further, maternal speech during book reading is structurally more complex and uses a larger vocabulary compared to other activities (Weizman & Snow, 2001; Ho?-Ginsberg, 1991; Jones & Adamson, 1987; Goddard, Durkin, & Rutter, 1985; and Snow et al., 1976 in Hoff, 2006).
Finally, parents must take advantage of mealtimes and playtimes as possible vocabulary expanding activities. These activities are shown to generate as much as seven times more spontaneous, sophisticated vocabulary than reading (Weizman and Snow, 2001). Further, because of the informal nature of these activities, the resulting conversations and interactions are also likely to be more engaging and interesting.
In summary, vocabulary development among young children is significantly impacted by the experience that parents provide. Specifically, this experience includes the quantity and quality of vocabulary input, the benefits of…