In Napa County, where most children enrolled in state-subsidized preschool are native Spanish speakers, educators introduced an app-based program to build the vocabularies of their youngest learners, particularly English learners.
Creating an atmosphere where there is interaction is key to helping a child learn new vocabulary words, said Mariel Kyger, a research analyst with Los Angeles Universal Preschool, or LAUP, who specializes in language development. Kyger said reading to children, whether from a book or a digital app, helps them to form connections between the sounds they hear and the words on the page. However, the most important tool in acquiring a language is conversation, she said.
Though it can feel odd talking to a child who can’t reply in lengthy sentences, the exposure to words and the encouragement to respond to those words is an important skill to develop. “The (word) gap is a big problem, but the solution is really simple: talk to kids, tell them about the world and ask them questions.”