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How to improve vocabulary for non-English family?

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Some background: Both parents came to the states after college to pursue graduate level study and has been working in engineering fields since then.  Therefore, our first language is not English and most of our education except graduate school are not done in English.  We could get by day-to-day life or our domain English with no problem but are quite limited beyond that.  My daughter is 9 year old, in public school, 3rd grade.  Reading is fairly good in class.  Lexile level close to 1000.

i realized that her vocabulary is quite limited.  This means her word choice is very bland in writing.  (Because we did not use “big words” in daily talking). She tends to guess word meaning from context clue when reading, she never bothers to slow down to look up a word in dictionary.  If I ask her the meaning of a word in the article she just read, she can answer correctly.  But without context, she does not know the word.  And needless to say, she never use it in writing.

so is there a good way to help her (and maybe us parents too) to improve vocabulary?  I looked at wordly wise, but did not like the fact that a group of words seem to have no logic connection are presented together.  Besides, my daughter recognize most of them, she just does not use those words.  I tried red hot root words because I want her to learn roots, prefix, suffix etc to have a logic understanding of word and can expand on her own.  Problem is not everything can be explained by that only.  For example, we learned pre- means first, before.  Then the book present premier, my daughter asks what mier means, which I don’t know.  So we only know the word means first/before something but still don’t know the exact meaning just by knowledge of root words.  I suspect other materials from root words perspective may have same issue.  

Any suggestions?

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She tends to guess word meaning from context clue when reading, she never bothers to slow down to look up a word in dictionary.

 

That's a good thing! Learning from context is the most important part of vocabulary development! Much more important than stopping every page to look things up in the dictionary.

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Then the book present premier, my daughter asks what mier means, which I don’t know.

 

It means we imported this word from French. Premier is French for "first". It comes from Latin "primus" which also means first. It is good to explain to your daughter that sometimes looking at affixes helps us guess or remember the meaning, but the rest of the word doesn't have its own separate meaning. Usually that means we took the word either directly from Latin, or from French.

The best thing you and your daughter can do to improve your vocabularies is to read. A lot. Children who read a lot - especially fiction - learn about three words a day until they finish school. Children who don't learn about one word a day. That means 20 minutes or more a day, every day... not counting what she does for school, or what you read to her.

(I can, if you like, drop an enormous list of good English-language children's books down here. Otherwise, I'd suggest you go here, pick up a subscription to Cricket and any other magazine you can afford and think she'll like.)

Another thought is this: Has somebody told you that her writing is not that good for her age group, or are you just guessing? Sometimes our expectations are unrealistic. My older kiddo went to high school, and she and I both thought her writing was only so-so. Then we saw what her classmates produce! When I compare her to other 14 year olds, she's ahead of the pack! The trouble is, I was comparing her to journalists, scientists, and lawyers. Whoops.

Can you post a few samples of her writing? That might give us a better idea of whether or not there is, in fact, any issue.

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 She’s in third grade grade with a excellent Lexile score, so her vocabulary will increase with deliberate practice.  She’s going to have to slow down and start writing the words down that she doesn’t know. You can also introduce her to high-quality audio books so that she can hear vocabulary in context and increase her word bank.  There’s a fun website that I send my kids to called freerice.com. Maybe set up an account for her and have her practice 5 to 10 minutes per day. There are specific mophology programs that teach root words and affixes, but I’m not sure she needs that right now.   Since she’s being raised bilingual and her reading level is so high, I expect her vocab will improve with maturity.

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For your daughter, I would have her listening to as many audiobooks as possible.    This will allow her to hear new words pronounced correctly and gather meaning from context.   Her vocabulary will naturally increase the more she listens to spoken language in the form of books.  In fact, the more spoken language that you can "input" into her mind the better!   :)    You can even do family listening sessions at night or over breakfast if possible.   

I bet this will be a lot more effective than formal vocabulary programs.   Often kids have to hear the word spoken in context many many times before they actually internalize the meaning.   

A nice book for you to read about increasing vocabulary (and even reading comprehension) through audiobooks is The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.   I know the title says "Read Aloud", but he actually goes over the use of audiobooks in homes where English is not the parent's first language as a means to increase vocabulary in one of the chapters.   

Luckily, quality audiobooks are becoming easier to come by!  You can find many at the library for free.  Plus, you might ask if your local library participates in "overdrive" or hoopla.     If you are willing to pay for your audiobooks, you might consider an Audible subscription.   Plus, you can also have your daughter do some "immersion reading" on the kindle app with your smartphone or tablet.   Many of the "classics" are available for next to nothing on kindle, and you can add audio narration for a few dollars.   Here is a good page to monitor for audible deals:  https://readaloudrevival.com/audible-deals/

I hope that helps some!   

 

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On ‎4‎/‎17‎/‎2018 at 8:41 PM, Tanaqui said:

Can you post a few samples of her writing? That might give us a better idea of whether or not there is, in fact, any issue.

Hi Tanaqui,

Thanks for your suggestion.  As you suggested, here below is an article she wrote about trip to universal studio.  I feel her words choice is very bland and that's what triggers me to ask this question initially, how to improve her vocabulary if our family have not been using those "big" words in our daily life.  Her reading does not seem to convey to writing. 

Have you ever watched Despicable Me or Pets? Do you know where they come from? Well, I went on a trip and discovered these facts at Universal Studios.

I drove to Universal Studios for 2 hours. Annika threw up on the way there. It grossed me out. When we got to Universal Studios, I got excited and I decided to do the Transformers ride. It was a blast. I was on a mission fighting bad guys and had a lot of fun. I rod that with my dad. My mom was playing with Annika- baby stuff.

Next, I went to Jurassic Park ride. I stood in line for what seemed like 100 years. In the ride, we were peacefully floating around on a river when all of a sudden, there were carnivorous dinosaurs popping up. We went up and up and the boat went down. Whoosh! I got my pants wet and my dad did too.

We decided to meet my mom for lunch. I got to eat noodles and bao zi. They were really yummy. My dad also bought turkey legs and hot cocoa. Yummy!! While I was eating, Annika and mom went around taking pictures with characters. I didn’t it because I didn’t like to but Annika somehow loves to.

Once I was full, my mom agreed to do the Harry Potter ride with me. You see, my mom does not like rollercoasters that have a downward push. We put our things in a locker ad got in line. On the ride, we went to Hogwarts Quiditch. We started to go sideways. Then we entered a dark cave (my mom also does not like rides in the dark) where we saw ghouls and went upside down. My mom was screaming the whole way. When we got off, my mom suprisedly said she liked it.

Then I went to Animal Actors and my mom and I saw lots of animals that belonged in movies. When we got out, we saw that my dad and Annika were also watching it but we were in different seats and we came in different times!

Finally, my mom and I went on the Hippogriff ride where my mom was screaming again. This time even louder. After we were done riding, my mom said that was the scariest ride she had ever been on. When we met up with my dad and Annika, I reported what we did to my dad on the way to the exit. When I got to the part where my mom said the Hippogriff ride was the scariest ride she had ever been on, my mom said it wasn’t. I asked her if she wanted to ride it again and she quickly shut her mouth. I had a fun and exciting day at Universal Studios. I hope to go again!!!!

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Her writing is appropriate for her age.

I see some overused words that could be replaced such as got, put, go, and went.  Teach her to use a thesaurus and replace those words.  

Her sentence structure will improve with maturity and practice. Honestly, she writes very well. 

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I think you're worried about nothing. Most third graders, even ones with excellent vocabulary, don't typically use varied and interesting words in their writing yet. It comes later. She's fine.

I agree with the above suggestions. Plenty of quality literature. Plenty of audiobooks. There are some vocabulary games out there. There are card games for root words and my son sometimes plays the games on vocabulary.com, but learning through context is usually best.

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What you posted looks exactly on target for this age level. I wouldn't worry about this! Just keep having her read, keep reading to her (or using audiobooks or both) and she'll be fine.

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22 hours ago, Heathermomster said:

I see some overused words that could be replaced such as got, put, go, and went.  Teach her to use a thesaurus and replace those words.  

 

Hahaha, you are right on point.  Those overused simple words make me feel she needs extra help.  Forgive my ignorance, I myself never used a thesaurus, is there online app or book? I thought thesaurus means dictionary, I encounter a word I don’t know, look it up in the dictionary/thesaurus, understand its meaning, end of story.  Is there more to that? Then I can teach my kid.

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No, it's not overly complicated.  You can search for synonyms online, use an app, and/or purchase a thesaurus.  Pick what method works for you and your family.

http://www.thesaurus.com/

https://www.amazon.com/Websters-Thesaurus-Students-Third-Merriam-Webster/dp/1596950943/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1524251160&sr=1-1&keywords=thesaurus

 

 

 

 

 

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A dictionary is a book (or, nowadays, it can be a website) that tells you the definition(s) and pronunciation of unfamiliar words. Most dictionaries also provide the word history and a few sample sentences.

A thesaurus is a book (or website!) that, for each entry, lists other words with a similar meaning. Many thesauruses also give definitions, but that's not the point.

 

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Go to your local library and ask a librarian to help you find books on your daughter's reading level that are also available as an audio book (CD). Then check out both the books and the audio books, as a matched set. Your daughter can listen to the story while she follows along in the book. Over time, this will help to build her confidence in using the words she learns. 

Also look in your library for two books: First Thousand Words in English and First Thousand Words in _______ (your native language). If you can find both books, you can use the "native language" book to compare to the English book, since both versions are the same, except for the languages used.

Related image

 

 

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Those books introduce incredibly basic words. If the nine year old kid is producing work like that above and has a lexile level of 1000, then she probably has a vocabulary of more than 10,000 words. She's not going to get much English language help out of those books.

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31 minutes ago, Tanaqui said:

Those books introduce incredibly basic words. If the nine year old kid is producing work like that above and has a lexile level of 1000, then she probably has a vocabulary of more than 10,000 words. She's not going to get much English language help out of those books.

I tend to agree with you.  I think my daughter probably “recognize” or maybe “understand” a lot of words.  But she doesn’t “use” those words, orally or written.  Mostly because we parents are in the same boat, know words, but don’t use them.  I am looking for ideas to help her (and myself) bridge the gap.  

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Most people do not use as many words as they know. Her writing is at grade level. She doesn't use every fancy vocabulary word she knows when speaking because that's not appropriate in most situations. And she doesn't write them because she's only been a fluent writer for a few years. Remember, writing is a very difficult task!

Honestly, I can't tell the difference between her writing and something written by a child in the same age/grade who has two native speakers for parents. You're worrying over something that isn't even a problem.

But again, since you are worried, the single best thing she can do to improve her vocabulary is to read a lot, and the best thing you can do is either read to her or invest in audiobooks, and always discuss what she's reading (watching on TV, etc).

Though, given your concerns, maybe it would be helpful to work on improving your English vocabulary? It's clear you feel it's not good enough. The same advice I gave for your daughter works for you - read twenty minutes or more a day, especially fiction. And then you can focus on consciously using your new vocabulary when speaking with your kid.

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Thanks for your suggestion.

You are absolutely right, I myself needs to read more.  I tried to do that, man, it is not easy for me.  And I fail to use words I learned in reading in daily life.  To make things even worse, I tend to forget newly-acquired word, often I check dictionary for a word and realized I have checked this word before, I just forget again!

Thinking back, I feel her reading is fairly good because we used to read together and discuss a lot in 2nd grade.  But by mid-3rd grade, she started to surpass me.  She reads faster than me now. We start to read together, by the time I finish one book. She is on 3rd or 4th book already.  We cannot discuss any more.

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To make things even worse, I tend to forget newly-acquired word, often I check dictionary for a word and realized I have checked this word before, I just forget again!

 

That's frustrating. Have you tried making flashcards? Buy a ton of index cards, and every time you look up a word put the word on one side and the definition (with a sample sentence) on the back. Spend 10 minutes a night going through your flashcards. Most of the time use the ones you haven't mastered, but once or twice a week use the ones you have memorized as a "review".

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She reads faster than me now. We start to read together, by the time I finish one book. She is on 3rd or 4th book already.  We cannot discuss any more.

 

So discuss newspaper and magazine articles, or short stories (this is where Cricket magazine and its ilk will come in handy!) or keep the book you're reading aloud (or the audiobook) out of sight except during read aloud time. Buy a few books of poetry for children, make a new habit of going through a poem a day and discussing.

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