'What's your secret behind knowing so many words?' a commentator had asked on my blog. It wasn't the first time I had been asked the same question. And every time, my answer remains the same. I have been a voracious reader since I was a kid. I never left a single page unturned, quite literally. Storybooks, magazines, comics, newspapers, and of course, school books, all were instantly devoured by my curious mind. And no doubt you will hear the same if you asked any other person who has a good grasp of vocabulary.
Did you know that the average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in the US found that
Students with an average daily reading time of 30+ minutes would encounter 13.7 million words between kindergarten and twelfth grade. In contrast, their peers who read less than 15 minutes per day are likely to be exposed to only 1.5 million words. That is a difference of 12 million words.
Thus, students experienced more than NINE PERCENT more growth in vocabulary just from reading half an hour daily compared to the students who read less than 15 mins per day.
But how exactly does the act of reading cause this drastic increase in vocabulary? Let's take a look.
How does reading improve vocabulary?
Vocabulary, or in other words, the total words we know of in a language, depends on two specific activities. Discovery and Repetition. We learn new words by coming across unknown ones either through reading or listening. Once we discover a new word, our mind figures out the meaning through its use in the sentence or through consulting a teacher/parent/dictionary. These words, if seen frequently, become a part of our vocabulary.
In the research study The Influence of Reading on Vocabulary Growth: A Case for a Matthew Effect, it was determined that above-average readers experienced a higher rate of vocabulary growth than did average readers. Vocabulary growth rate differences accumulated over time, such that the effect on vocabulary size was large.
Thus, the following two activities are the crucial stages for cultivating a child's vocabulary:
Your child encountering new words.
The best way to encounter new words is definitely through reading. A unique advantage of this habit is that no two mediums use the same type of writing style. For example, in a newspaper, you will find formal and curt words, while in a fantasy novel, the words used are more literary and descriptive. On the other hand, web blogs and columns are written more colloquially and informally. Similarly, magazines use words that are eye-catching and analytical. Thus, reading practice enables your child to learn the contextual as well as grammatical usage of many new words.
Seeing the many applications of the same word.
Repetition, on the other hand, is less about learning new words and more about remembering them. If you just glance at a word once in your life, you probably won't remember it. Only when we use it in writing and speaking does our memory retain them as part of our vocabulary. In addition, reading novels teaches your child all the different ways they can use a word depending on the context. In a complex language such as English, one word can take the position of a noun, a verb, or even an adjective, depending on how it is used. And the only way to learn it is to experience them first hand.
Other benefits of reading
Other than expanding and refining vocabulary, reading skills also benefit kids in many different ways. Some of these are:
Helps in better self-expression
Having a wide range of vocabulary also means your child has more ways to express their thoughts and opinions. There is no skill as essential in modern society as the skill of being able to communicate articulately. Not all words are suitable for all occasions, so a child knowing alternatives will help him avoid sticky situations.
It helps in developing a better understanding of the world.
Reading gives us a glimpse of people, places, and cultures from far and near. We can learn about the lives of people who lived in another time, had another life. In addition, kids who read books from a young age have a richer vocabulary that includes words from different languages and cultures.
It's not surprising that scientists attribute reading to the development of memory power. The more we read and retain words, the harder we stimulate our brains. Studies reveal that when we read, we stimulate the brain more than speaking or processing images. Not only kids, but adults too benefit when we read books regularly. It keeps our brain sharper and slows down cognitive loss due to aging.
As parents, the earlier we start developing a habit of reading regularly in our child, the better. This small practice lays the foundation for a successful future where he can express himself freely. So start small; gift your child a comic or a fairytale book that he will be sure to enjoy.