The more words we know, the better, says Carmel O’Shannessy, LSA assistant professor of linguistics.

“We want the best control of our language we can have,” she says. “The larger vocabulary we have, the more finely we can distinguish between concepts and articulate what we want to say more precisely.”

Research shows that helping children learn new words encourages strong reading, writing, and comprehension skills. By first grade, the average child will know 14,000 words. By the first year of college, that number jumps to 150,000.

O’Shannessy offers the following five tips to expand a child’s vocabulary:

1. Expose children to a variety of speech. Children who hear a rich vocabulary filled with different types of words and uncommon phrases naturally have larger vocabularies.

2. Be descriptive. Instead of simply saying, “Look at the bird!” an adult can say, “Look at that pretty, bright red bird. It’s a cardinal.” By taking time to provide more information and describe an object, an adult introduces more words into a child’s vocabulary.

3. Follow the child’s lead. Comment on and describe what the child is already doing, O’Shannessy says. Research shows that young children, especially those under 18 months, pick up more words when the language relates to an activity in which the child is already engaged.

4. Look for examples wherever you go. When adults use the same word in different environments, that word can become easier to learn. For example, if a young child has just looked at a book with a picture of a horse, point out a toy horse at a store, look for a horse out the car window the next time you’re driving through the countryside, and perhaps take a trip to a horse farm.

5. Teach children that some words are labels. There are many different types of dogs and types of cookies. Once children understand that some words are descriptive of a particular event or type of thing, O’Shannessy says they can apply that knowledge to learn other words used in similar ways.

The winter 2012 theme semester for the College of LSA is "Language: The Human Quintessence." Find out more on the theme semester's website.