Thursday, June 21, 2007

Use Real Words

A few weeks ago, some teen-aged friends were asking my 6-year-old son what sports he liked to play. "Basketball, "was the reply.
"Oh, do you have your own hoop?" they asked.
"Yes, we have a little one on the trellis," he said. The two teens looked at each other in dismay. "What's a trellis?" they whispered to each other.

My husband and I both have post-graduate training in applied linguistics, and we have always operated on the notion that to little children, words, big or small are "just words", and they love to learn new ones. It is a fact of human mental processes that we cannot think about things until we can name them. That is why the first phase of the trivium, the grammar stage, involves identifying and naming; that is why Montessori education has so much material for nomenclature. That's why we use real words when we talk to our children.

Words are the means by which engage with the abstract realities of our world. I couldn't begin to understand or discuss an airplane engine or an oil rig or even a game of golf (things about which I know precious little) without first learning a lot of new jargon -- words.

That said, I think vocabulary is best caught rather than taught. Good books and a good dictionary are really all that's needed. I had to do "vocabulary building exercises" in school; I'm sure I benefited and learned some new words from it (like "donned his attire" -- I remember that one!) but I'm also sure that most of my vocabulary skills came from my dad -- who uses real words -- and from reading.

Provoking my thoughts on vocabulary --a thoughtful post at Dewey's Treehouse: "It Pays Makes-Some-People-Very-Nervous-That-You-Want To Increase Your Word Power"


Headmistress, zookeeper said...

"What's a trellis?"
That makes me want to cry.

Rebecca said...

It made me want to cry too!
Thanks for stopping by.