“There’s a positive correlation between a student’s vocabulary size in grade 12, the likelihood that she will graduate from college, and her future level of income. The reason is clear: vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, but also general knowledge of science, history, and the arts. If we want to reduce economic inequality in America, a good place to start is the language-arts classroom.” E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
This was snagged from a recent article at The Acton Institute by Joe Carter called, How Improving Vocabulary Improves Human Flourishing. The article is a summary of Hirsch’s study and points out some key factors relating expanded vocabulary to success in education as well as “real life.” (Yes, you guessed it. I’m doing a summary of a summary.)
A few more noteworthy outtakes:
“There’s no better index to accumulated knowledge and general competence than the size of a person’s vocabulary. Simply put: knowing more words makes you smarter.”
“Vocabulary doesn’t just help children do well on verbal exams. Studies have solidly established the correlation between vocabulary and real-world ability.”
This of course jives with something Clay Clarkson wrote about here at Story Warren a year ago with Speaking of Imagination. But Clay sees more in a growing vocabulary than upward mobility or education success.
“We never sat down and created a plan to make our children imaginative and creative. We did, though, deliberately create an atmosphere in our home that was rich in spoken and printed words—reading lots of books, discussing lots of topics, experiencing many forms of art and creativity. It was the air they breathed in our home—they inhaled it to fill their curious lungs, it oxygenated the verbal blood that fed their creative brains, and they exhaled it as the language of imagination. Call it immersion learning, I guess.”
“Vocabulary is critical to an active imagination. A child’s ability to imagine things beyond their own senses is directly related to the depth and breadth of their vocabulary. It takes little imagination to realize the limitations of limited vocabulary on creativity, or on believing spiritual truths for that matter. However, the more words your child has with which to express himself, the greater will be the scope and intensity of what he can imagine. The stronger your child’s grasp of language, the richer will be her own creativity and ability to wonder about things beyond her five senses.”
And then there’s this from an early Story Warren post called, Explain Up, Don’t Dumb Down: Why Little Kids Need Big Words.
Amanda Morgan gives us a helpful way of doing this.
“Don’t shy away from the big words. It is very common for adults to simplify their language when talking to young children. Instead of referring to the veterinarian, we talk about the ‘animal doctor.’ While a sentence full of new words would be a bit overwhelming for anyone, throwing in a new word now and then is a great opportunity to build vocabulary! If we are referring to the veterinarian, we should use that word, offering ‘animal doctor’ as an explanation, and then referring to ‘veterinarian’ a few more times in the conversation. If you’re explaining what something is, you might as well use the right word the first time. Children may not always pick up on those big words, but they certainly won’t if they don’t ever hear them. There isn’t much opportunity for growth if we’re always using words they already know. So go ahead, use words like ‘identical’ instead of ‘same’ and ‘metamorphosis’ instead of ‘change’. You’ll be surprised at what your children will pick up on when you give them the chance!”
I’ll finish off with one more quote, this one from my conclusion to the Explain Up post:
“Big words are big opportunities for learning and for learning about learning. Dumbing Down hands kids an anvil with the word ‘gravity’ engraved on the side. Explaining Up shows them the skies and hands them a magic rope by which to reach them.”
I hope you feel inspired, not discouraged, by this. We all are where we are and must just go forward from this spot. I wasn’t a reader until my late teens, myself. I’ve been eager to get my own kids going earlier than that, but, as cliches so well inform us, it’s never too late to start. And while we’re on cliches, don’t forget the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time while focusing very hard on not thinking about how gross it is to eat an elephant.
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Featured image courtesy of Erin Tegeler Photography.
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Kathleen Mahoney says
S.D. Smith says
Kris Camealy says
Stupendous post, Sam. Thank you! Explain up–yes! I love that. We do lots of that here. Funny thing, I am surprised when my children use an “adult” sounding word and I sometimes think–“wow, where did they learn that word?” And then I remember that it is precisely because we don’t dumb our conversations down.
Lori Evans says
Inspiring words to grow by.
This reminds me of a scene in “To Kill a Mockingbird” involving Atticus and his brother — Uncle Jack, I think. Uncle Jack has just reprimanded Scout for calling someone an inappropriate name. When she asks him to explain what the term means, he gives her a convoluted, evasive answer that is in no way related to the actual term. Atticus later tells Uncle Jack that you should always answer children’s questions honestly and correctly. They should be spoken to as if they are adults.
Patrick Martin says
There is more than one way to skin a cat. Try explaining that to a 4 year old 🙂 My 4 year old daughter loves bugs, as in LOVES BUGS. Not in the ‘put them in your mouth’ way my 16 mo old son does, but we recently went to an Entomology exhibit and she has been trying that monster out since. She has also developed the habit of asking what the latin name for our friends are when we run into them. One of my greatest joys is when my daughter tries out her new big words. She knows to avoid three leaved Poison Ovy, and loves pointing out any Intstering bug she sees. Big words ARE opportunities for learning about learning, and it brings me great joy to watch my children learn! Hopefully, they will some day be a word smith. In fact, name your next kid Word and watch the magic happen.
A word-o-phile myself and enjoyed your post. I asked my wife the other day, “Have you ever tried to think a thought without words?” I have tired and still haven’t succeeded. You can feel without words, but if you are going to think… you gotta have words… like gotta:)