The Vocabulary Acquisition Of Children Education Essay

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A person's vocabulary is the set of words that they are familiar with. It usually grows and evolves with age and serves as a useful medium for communication and acquiring language. One's working vocabulary may not be representative of one's total knowledge of a language. Vocabulary can be improved by exposure to new language information. In everyday conversation we speak of vocabulary in the singular; we speak of a person's vocabulary. This is actually an oversimplification. The American Heritage Dictionary defines vocabulary as "the sum of words used by, understood by, or at the command of a particular person or group." According to Nation (I. S. P. Nation 2001), vocabulary acquisition includes three processes, namely noticing, retrieval, and creative (generative) use.

1.2 Statement of the problem

For the first five years or so of their childhood, children are involved in the process of acquiring a meaning or oral vocabulary -words that they understand when they hear them and that they can use in their speech. During this period, children essentially do not have literate vocabularies. Most children acquire reading and writing skills upon entering school. So, for very young children, their meanings of vocabularies are much larger than their literate vocabularies. Thus this study is an attempt to investigate vocabulary acquisition among children between one to five years old.

1.3 Objectives

The objective of this study is:

To ascertain vocabulary acquisition among 1-5 years old children with different background.

1.4 Research questions

What are the differences between the two children in term of their vocabulary acquisition?

How does the children's background influence their English vocabulary acquisition?

Does a bilingual child perform better in their vocabulary acquisition?


2.1 Children Vocabulary Acquisition

Broad definition of vocabulary is the knowledge of words and word meanings. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defined vocabulary as all words that someone knows or uses. Vocabulary acquisition is linguistic achievement that is really important and complex acquired by children and adults. For the first five years of children's lives, they are involved in the process of acquiring a meaning or oral vocabulary which contain words that they understand when they hear them and they can use in their daily speech (Pikulski & Templeton, 2004). From a study done by MacWhinney (1998), it appeared that infants learned to attend to and produce language with ease, but to acquire a language is not an easy task (Phythian-Sence & Wagner, 2007). Before children can learn to communicate with words, their gestures signal an understanding of language. A child is said to have acquired vocabulary when he or she not just only link spoken sounds with objects and events in the environment, but also understand that words reference objects and concepts (Phythian-Sence & Wagner, 2007). Leung (1992) in her study explored vocabulary acquisition in oral contexts using a repeated read-aloud with children in kindergarten and first grade. She found that read-aloud influenced children's acquisition of words for familiar concepts, but did not significantly influence the acquisition of words representing unfamiliar concepts (Phythian-Sence & Wagner, 2007). In short, we can say that children acquire new words with and without direct instruction with environment influence their acquisition.

2.2 Parents and Economic Background

Parents play an important role in children's vocabulary acquisition. Parents help their children learn about objects and actions through daily conversation. At this point of time, children already exposed to a range of vocabulary. Although research clearly stated that parents influenced the vocabulary acquisition of the children, there are differences whether this occurs across families that vary in education and economic background. Hart and Risley (1995) in their study found that, children from lower income families used vocabulary that lack of rich content. In that study, they also stressed on the differences in children's vocabulary size due to socioeconomic status and other risk factors. The result in their study indicated that, children who have from parents of professionals had a cumulative vocabulary of about 1,100 words, those from working class families had about 650 words, and those from welfare families had just over 400 words (Hart & Risley, 1995). Many research found that children from low-income environments score more poorly on measures of phonemic awareness and vocabulary during preschool and elementary school. Raz and Bryant (1990) found such a strong association between family income, phonemic awareness, and reading that they concluded that observed differences among SES groups in elementary school could be explained by differences in awareness and sensitivity to phonemes in preschool as cited by Rush (1999). Research by Dickinson and Tabors (2001) has shown that children reared in lower-SES conditions develop vocabulary and language use more slowly than children from higher-SES households (Sinatra, 2008). New research done by Rowe and other researchers suggested that the income and education levels of parents are connected to a baby's skills with gesturing, which in turn can indicate whether a child will develop strong language abilities. Their findings showed that during the first session, the children from high-income households gestured 24 times, compared to 13 gestures from kids in low-income homes. Then both groups were tested for vocabulary, the kids from the high-income families scored 117, compared to 93 in the other group (2009).

2.3 Bilingualism and Vocabulary Acquisition

There are two major sources of data about optimal conditions for L1 vocabulary development: studies of the home environments in which children typically acquire large vocabularies and studies of instructional practices that support vocabulary (Snow & Kim, 2007). These types of data are important in supporting the vocabulary acquisition in first language. Hart and Risley (1995) indicated that the best predictors of young children's vocabulary acquisition in L1 are the quantity of speech heard. Pearson and Fernandez (1994) suggested that these same features of prediction in efficient lexical acquisition to be used in bilingual and monolingual children. Their findings concerned about the importance of the home language environment in bilingual infants' vocabulary development (Snow & Kim, 2007). Apart from that, vocabulary acquisition is thought as having two components which are learning new concepts and learning new phonological forms. So, a L2 learner who has acquire many lexical items in L1 has the advantage that he or she needs to learn only the new forms in the L2 while a child who is monolingual has to acquire both of the components in learning lexical items of L2 (Snow & Kim, 2007).

Bilingualism provides the advantages for children's vocabulary acquisition. Peal and Lambert (1962) are one of the earlier researchers to find out the positive effects of intelligence for bilingualism. They conclude that bilingualism results in greater mental flexibility and abstract thought. They also suggested that bilingualism is not causing 'confused thinking' but its improved thinking (Steinberg & Sciarini, 2006). Quay (1992) in his study showed that a Spanish-English bilingual child acquired a number of equivalent words in both languages and then almost always used the words correctly by language context. His study reported that the bilingual child used words for which she knew a translation equivalent (that is, words with equivalent meanings in the two languages) in the appropriate linguistic context as cited in (Nicoladis & Secco, 2000). As cited in Thordardottir, Weismer and Smith (1997), Garcia stated that, learning is to be facilitated under a bilingual condition compared to a monolingual condition in his research regarding Empirical studies of L2 vocabulary learning in minority children acquiring English (1983).


3.1 Subjects

The subjects for this study were two children of 5 year-old. We managed to get a pair of children which was a boy and a girl from the same ethnic, Malay. These children were the students of Makmal Taman Asuhan (MTA) which located next to Sultan Abdul Samad Library of Universiti Putra Malaysia. They were the students from the evening session. Their background details were stated as below:

1)Muhammad Haqeem bin Erman (Subject A)

He was born on April 2, 2005 at Putrajaya. He lives at Bandar Baru Bangi. His father's name is Erman bin Subri and he is Sarawakian. His mother is Musliyana binti Mansor and she is a Johorian. His father works on his own while his mother is a science officer at Institut Biosains UPM. He loves watching televison and his favourite food is egg curry. He is the only child in his family. Besides that, he speaks 2 languages, namely Malay and English at home and even in classroom.

2)Nuradilla Umaira binti Dalha (Subject B)

She was born on April 17, 2005 at Kajang, Selangor. She lives at Balakong. Her father is Dalha bin Abdul Halim while her mother is Yammah binti Ahmad Ramlan. Her father works a clerk at Pejabat Pendaftar UPM. Her mother is a full-time housewife. Umaira has three siblings and she is the only daughter in the family. She is quite talkative among her friends. She only speaks one language which is Malay whether at home or in the classroom.

3.2 Instruments

In order to obtain the data, we have used slide show presentation which consisted of 40 pictures. We selected simple pictures to be presented to the children so it would not be so difficult for them to guess. The pictures are ranging from family members, animals, food, fruits, transportation, stationary and so on. Other than that, we also used story book which contained pictures in it. Our intention of using the story book was not to ask them to read the story, but we wanted to observe how they used the pictures in it to tell a story.

3.3 Data collection procedures

Permission for conducting this study was obtained from Jabatan Pembangunan Masyarakat dan Perkembangan Keluarga (JPMPK) of Human Ecology Faculty by filling in the application form. In a week time, we managed to get the permission from the department and an appointment was set up with the teacher at Makmal Taman Asuhan to find a suitable date to conduct the study. We did mention to her that we only need to observe 2 children in the classroom for our study.

As our means of collecting data was through observation, we used digital camera to record the activity that we did with the children. The first thing that we did with them was to write their names on a piece of paper. Then, we put them together to watch a slide show presentation which has been prepared by us. During this session, both of them were asked to tell us what picture was shown in the slide show. Next, we used the object available in their classroom and asked them the name of the objects. Both previous sessions were done simultaneously for the children where they need to response to the questions on the same time. After that, we continued with the story books. In this session, we asked them to tell what picture was contained in there and create a story based on the pictures that they have seen. In the last session, they were asked to sing any song that they knew.

3.4 Data analysis

We transcribed the recorded observation into text. We did not transcribe every single word that the both children said, but we only focused on the important part. Then, we organized the data into categories which based on the sessions that we had with them. There were mainly 4 categories; writing own name, number of English vocabularies, telling a story based on pictures in the story book and counting numbers. We analyze the data by using Microsoft Office Excel 2007 and also we did descriptive analysis.


Writing own name




Can write his own name with the help from the interviewer. He seemed to know the letters that stood for his name


Cannot write her own name yet and did not seem to know the letters; just scribbled on the paper given to her

Number of English Vocabularies

Telling a Story based on Pictures in the Story Book




Focus solely on describing the pictures, not trying to elaborate or tell a story based on the pictures


Describe the pictures as well as tell a story based on the pictures provided in the story book

Counting Numbers




"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten"


"Satu, dua, tiga, empat, lima, enam, lapan...."


5.1 Effect of Bilingualism

The result showed that Subject A had more English vocabularies compared to Subject B. Tracing back to Subject A's background, he is a bilingual child where he was brought up in 2 languages environment. He spoke both Malay and English language at home and in the classroom. This situation would make him had more exposure to English language compared to Subject B. In the other hand, Subject B only spoke Malay whether at home or in the classroom. She could be said as not having enough exposure to English language. This situation made her not competent in that language. However, both subjects knew almost all the objects shown in the slide show presentation, the only difference laid in the language that they used to name the objects; whether it was Malay or English.

5.2 Family background

Based on the result, family background did influence children's vocabulary acquisition. Subject A's parents have higher educational background compared to subject B's parents as subject A's parents are both diploma undergraduates, his mother working as science officer at Institute Biosains UPM while his father working on his own. On the other hand, subject B's father is working as a clerk at Pejabat Pendaftar UPM and her mother is a fulltime housewife. This showed that parents' educational background has influenced the child's vocabulary acquisition as subject A's parents have the advantages in helping him to acquire vocabulary in both languages. Their educational background has given subject A's more opportunity to learn two languages at the young age. Subject A was exposed to these languages, Malay and English, so that he can use both languages in acquiring his vocabulary. Subject B's parents educational background is a little bit lower compared to Subject A's parents and they are using only Malay Language at home, so she did not have much opportunity to learn English at home. That's why subject A using Malay Language more when she responded to our questions. She had limited vocabulary in English compared to Subject B who was bilingual and had acquired vocabulary in English and Malay Language. Another reason that made subject A has more English vocabulary compared to subject B because subject A is the only child in his family, so all the attention will be focused only on him. He also socialized with adults at his home so that he had more vocabulary while subject B's had 3 siblings in her family and she was the only daughter. Subject B did not get much attention like subject A because there are another children in her family.


Based on the findings and discussion earlier, it shows that children's English vocabulary acquisition is influenced by their background. The parents' education level does play a role in determining their children's vocabulary acquisition. The parents may provide the exposure to their kids so that they can enrich their vocabulary. Other than that, bilingualism also contributes to vocabulary acquisition in children. Children who are bilinguals seem to have big vocabulary size and this appears as an advantage to them compare to the other children who are monolinguals.


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