Can Your Television Set Build Vocabulary?

It can if it is tuned to PBS this fall!  In an exciting development, The Public Broadcasting Service is bringing Susan Meddaugh’s "Martha" book series to life in order to build young children’s vocabulary skills.  In the popular books, Martha the dog swallows some Alphabet Soup and begins to speak, and hilarious hijinks ensue.

In this fall’s new animated adaptation of the books, Meddaugh’s Martha character will talk her way through two stories in every show episode.  According to the Martha Speaks website on, the goal of the show is to "increase oral vocabulary, the words we use when we talk."  The hope is that by teaching kids to recognize new words when they hear them, they will also more easily recognize them when they read those same words.  When a new reader’s oral vocabulary is limited, it is more difficult to make sense of words when attempting to sound them out.

Each episode of "Martha Speaks" will have a theme. suggests that parents watch with their child and help them locate every word that fits with the theme of the show.  Making connections between words in categories is one of the key ways of building vocabulary.  They also suggest using some of the words from the show in your future conversations with your child, so that they continue to hear the words in context.

"Martha Speaks" is a great tool for building your child’s oral vocabulary.  But what else can you do to increase their verbal and listening word power?

  • Talk. Talk. Talk.  Having frequent conversations with your child is a must.  And don’t talk "down" to them, if you can help it.  By hearing you speak in your natural vocabulary, your son or daughter will be exposed to many more words that they can then incorporate into their own vocabulary.
  • Read aloud to your child – – and not just picture books designed for their age.  When you read, pick a book that is slightly above your child’s own reading level in order to introduce new and unfamiliar words.
  • Discuss what they are watching – – if children are watching educational, age-appropriate television shows, they are probably building their vocabulary without even realizing it, but you can increase the impact of the shows by discussing them with your child afterward, using a large variety of words to expand on the show’s theme
  • Play vocabulary games – – this is where we come in!, has some wonderful games designed to help build your child’s vocabulary.  Although many of the games are geared toward building written vocabulary, our Match Game has a wonderful oral component that allows each of the words to be heard as the choices are made. You could also use our terrific topics listing to create your own game.  Name one of the categories from the list, and let your child list as many words as he can think that apply to that category.  Give him or her one point for words that are included in our category list, and two points for words outside our category list.  Then, to finish the game, you can talk about the words your child missed and how they fit into that topic.

"Martha Speaks" will be appearing on PBS stations this fall.  Check your local listings for channel and time details.

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