Reading picture books aloud to children has 2-3x higher likelihood of introducing new vocabulary words according to Dominic Massaro, Professor at University of California Santa Cruz.

From Edsource (HT: DD-CO)

“We talk with a lazy tongue,” Massaro said. “We tend to point at something or use a pronoun and the context tells you what it is. We talk at a basic level.”

Massaro said the limited vocabulary in ordinary, informal speech means what has been dubbed “the talking cure” – encouraging parents to talk more to their children to increase their vocabularies – has its drawbacks. Reading picture books to children would not only expose them to more words, he said, but it also would have a leveling effect for families with less education and a more limited vocabulary.

“Given the fact that word mastery in adulthood is correlated with early acquisition of words, shared picture book reading offers a potentially powerful strategy to prepare children for competent literacy skills,” Massaro said in the study.

The emphasis on talking more to children to increase their vocabularies is based on research by Betty Hart and Todd Risley at the University of Kansas. They found that parents on welfare spoke about 620 words to their children in an average hour compared with 2,150 words an hour spoken by parents with professional jobs. By age 3, the children with professional parents had heard 30 million more words than the children whose parents were on welfare. Hart and Risley concluded that the more parents talked to their children, the faster the children’s vocabularies grew and the higher the children’s I.Q. test scores were at age 3 and later. Since their research was published, there has been a push to encourage low-income parents to talk more to their children as a way to improve literacy.”