Vocabulary is an essential part of oral and written language. We all use it! Having a robust vocabulary means it’s well-rounded and diverse!

Vocabulary is a wonderful area to teach our young children as it improves all areas of communication such as, listening, speaking, reading and writing. Teaching vocabulary involves direct teaching of word definitions and providing lots of real-life examples of the words in context.

The beauty is, that once we learn the word and understand it, we then use it in real life. Strong vocabulary knowledge is directly linked to comprehension and written components of language, as children must familiarise themselves with definitions of words in order to use them appropriately.

So why is this SO important you may ask?

Well, learning the meaning of new words increases our vocabulary and our ‘internal library’ (aka the brain) thus enhancing overall literacy performance. By 4 years of age, our little ones should be able to say about 1,500 different words!! But don’t start counting - if your child shows an interest in learning and trying to add new words - they’re on track!

On average we want to see your child reaching the following language milestones:

  • Birth-5 months: cooing and making noises
  • 6-11 months: babbling e.g. bababa and tries to repeat sounds
  • 12-17 months: says 1-2 words, and starts to understand simple instructions e.g. “come”
  • 18-23 months: vocabulary of 50 words and starts to combine words e.g. “more milk”
  • 2-3 years: understands words such as ‘big’, ‘in’, ‘happy’, uses 3-word sentences, answers simple questions
  • 3-4 years: identify concepts such as shape, size, colour, can be understood at least 80%-90% of the time, describe, express feelings, can ask questions and talk in longer sentences, 1500 different words
  • 4-5 years: understands more complex questions, asks ‘why’ questions, lists items that belong in a category, uses-ing e.g. ‘walking, uses plurals and regular past tense e.g. ‘jumped’
  • 5 years+: can sequence events e.g. first, then last, can follow 3 step instructions, engages in conversation and speaks in longer 8+ word phrases, describes objects and uses their imagination in play and during storytelling, has upwards of 2500 different words

What can I do at home to help increase my child’s vocabulary?

  • Read at least 1 book a day
    Tip: Find a particular time of day that works for you and your child e.g. before bed and then embed it into your daily routine- that way you’ll never forget!
  • When coming across tricky words or trying to explain a word to your little one - make sure to define it with a simple explanation, provide a synonym (a word that means exactly the same or similar as another word e.g. Content- synonym- Happy) and then put it into a sentence for added context
  • Play Charades, Pictionary, Taboo, Scrabble and other fun language games
  • Engage in pretend play and expose them to lots of different words, concepts and ideas!

If you’re concerned about your child’s ability to learn new words and retain information or you have some specific queries about your child’s language development please contact us at admin@hanrahanhealth.com.au or on (02) 4862 5063. You can book in an assessment session with a certified practicing speech pathologist!


Fey, M. E., Catts, H. W., Proctor-Williams, K., Tomblin, J. B., & Zhang, X. (2004). Oral and written story composition skills of children with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 1301-1318.

Marulis, L. M., & Neuman, S. B. (2010). The effects of vocabulary intervention on young children’s word learning: A meta-analysis. Review of educational research, 80, 300-335.

Steele, S. C., & Mills, M. T. (2011). Vocabulary intervention for school-age children with language impairment: A review of evidence and good practice. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 27, 354-370.