parents-reading-to-childrenI guess this should come as no surprise- that the more you read the bigger your vocabulary will be. Research has been done into the way that vocabulary improves with different levels of reading, and while the results aren’t groundbreaking, it’s very interesting to see that an enthusiastic reader will build up a much bigger vocabulary in quite a short amount of time.

The online testing site, Test Your Vocabulary  has done a lot of research into how our vocabulary levels build and change throughout our lives, and the results are very clear- reading is important!

At around age 4, when children are only first starting to read, their average vocabulary levels are roughly equivalent in accordance with reading habits- as one would expect. This comes in at around 6,000 words. That to me is already an amazing number- they really are sponges! Then, it’s between the crucial ages of 4–15 where reading makes all the difference in the rate at which children increase their vocabulary. We can calculate the differences, although these should be taken as “ballpark approximations” at most, given the noisiness (that there are random fluctuations) of the data:

Reading habits Vocabulary growth per day, ages 4–15
Reads “lots” +4.1 words/day
Reads “somewhat” +2.6 words/day
Reads “not much” +1.4 words/day

This is fascinating information, as it tells us that vocabulary growth is drastically affected by the amount children read. By age 15, this has resulted in a difference of 5,000–6,000 words between each level, and children who read “lots” have almost double the vocabulary of children who read “not much”. Obviously, this will affect school performance, exam scores, and so on — and it’s a difference accumulated throughout the whole of childhood. Other factors besides reading habits surely affect vocabulary growth as well.

Be aware though that children at this age differ enormously in terms of a starting vocabulary. Research by Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford University, which was published in Developmental Science in 2013, showed that at 18 months children from wealthier homes could identify pictures of simple words they knew — “dog” or “ball” — much faster than children from low-income families. By the age of 2, the study found, affluent children had learned 30 percent more words in the intervening months than the children from low-income homes.

Put simply, children from wealthier backgrounds (median income per capita of $69,000/ £45,000/ €60,000) hear 30 million more words by the age of 3 than children from low-income households (median income per capita of $23,900/ £15,000/ €19,000), early literacy experts, preschool directors and pediatricians said. Middle class and more affluent parents have long known that describing fruit at the supermarket or pointing out the colour of everything they see are all part of a young child’s literacy education. Those children who had heard more words were able to understand words more quickly and had larger vocabularies by the age of 2. Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read.

So, what’s the biggest conclusion from this? If you’re a parent, speak to your children a lot, and make sure your kids read, and read all they can — it will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.” — Evelyn Waugh