Word Power of the Very Young

Young MindBefore they turn 2, most children have a vocabulary of about 50 words. From 1st to 5th grades, according to some estimates, their vocabulary increases by about 30,000 words. That's 20 words a day! How can they do that? Part of the answer lies in the fact that they learn how to figure out what a word means, and how to create new words, without having to be told. Let's take an example.

Say you learn the word culpable. All of a sudden, a whole slew of new words enter your vocabulary in addition to that one: culpably, culpability, non-culpable, semi-culpable, and so on. You get the idea. Although we take it for granted, mastering these word-formation patterns is an impressive feat, allowing us to understand and produce words that we've never even heard before. It's a skill that children learn gradually, after they begin to acquire a vocabulary and master the syntax of the language.

About the Author

David Gamon, PhD

David GamonDr. David Gamon, one of the original writers at ScienceIQ, studied cognitive science at U.C. Berkeley, where he received his Ph.D. in Linguistics in 1997. He is the author of many popular books about the human brain, including Building Mental Muscle, Use It Or Lose It!, and Brains That Work a Little Bit Differently. His current projects include books about gender differences in the brain, the brain’s construction of sensory reality, and psychopathy.