The scientific research on vocabulary words reveals that (1) most vocabulary words are learned indirectly, and (2) some vocabulary words must be taught directly.
Children learn the meanings of most vocabulary words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language.
They engage daily in oral language.
Young children learn word meanings through conversations with other people, especially adults. As they engage in these conversations, children often hear adults repeat words several times. They also may hear adults use new and interesting words. The more oral language experiences children have, the more word meanings they learn.
They listen to adults read to them.
Children learn word meanings from listening to adults read to them. Reading aloud is particularly helpful when the reader pauses during reading to define an unfamiliar word and, after reading, engages the child in a conversation about the book. Conversations about books help children to learn new words and concepts and to relate them to their prior knowledge and experience.
They read extensively on their own.
Children learn many new words by reading extensively on their own. The more children read on their own, the more words they encounter and the more word meanings they learn.
See also: Learning vocabulary words directly >>