Vocabulary :

Vocabulary can be defined as all the words known and used by a particular person. Nevertheless, a person knowing a word does not mean that he or she will be able to comprehend or utilise the word in a proper manner, the reason being, there are several characteristics of word knowledge - which are in turn utilised to assess word knowledge.

Word knowledge could be of two types : productive or achieve and receptive or receive. But very often it has been observed that there is no flawless division made between productive knowledge also known as achieve and receptive knowledge also known as receive.

It has been observed that a person’s receptive vocabulary is larger than productive vocabulary.

For Example : a child who cannot speak, write or sign can follow quite a number of instructions given in language which he or she is used to. But when the child learns to speak, sign, write then his or her vocabulary becomes active. Therefore, it can be said that productive vocabulary are those words that are produced in reference to any suitable perspective and those words or those vocabulary should match the envisioned connotation of the speaker . Receptive vocabulary is those words or that vocabulary which we get to hear or which we receive from somebody else in the language we are exposed to.

Between the productive and receptive division lies a variety of abilities which are frequently referred to as Degree of knowledge. This shows that as our word knowledge increases more and more words enter our vocabulary. Approximately the stages of word knowledge could be described as :

Word which has never been heard of

Heard of the word but could not describe it

The word could be acknowledged because of the perspective or through voice

Capable of using and comprehending the meaning of the word in general, but cannot actually describe it

Confident with the meaning and usage of the word.

There are four types of vocabulary :


Listening and speaking vocabulary represent spoken vocabulary and reading and writing represent written vocabulary. Children begin to learn spoken vocabulary years before they learn written vocabulary. Written language is formed on the basis of spoken language. Each type of vocabulary has a different purpose and fortunately the growth in one type of vocabulary supports the growth in another type.

Let’s discuss the four types of vocabulary in detail……

1. Listening Vocabulary : This type of vocabulary refers to the words we hear and comprehend. Fetuses in the womb can perceive sound when their age is sixteen weeks. Moreover, babies keep on listening to various words when they are awake and thus we grow up listening to different words, thereby learning so many words throughout our lives. In our adulthood, most of us can identify and comprehend almost 50000 words. Children who are deaf are exposed to visual listening as they are exposed to sign language. But in this case, the number of words developed is far less than a normal child’s secondary listening vocabulary.

2. Speaking Vocabulary : Speaking Vocabulary refers to the words we speak. Our speaking vocabulary is restricted. Most of the adults use almost 5000 to 10000 words for communication (for conversation and giving instructions). The number of words used in this case is far less than listening vocabulary, the reason being the level of comfort in usage.

3. Reading Vocabulary : This vocabulary refers to the words we recognise when we read any text. We read and understand many words, but we do not use them in speaking vocabulary. If a person is a reader then this type of vocabulary happens to be the second largest vocabulary. Needless to say, vocabulary grows with reading.

4 . Writing Vocabulary : This type of vocabulary represents those words which we regain while writing to express ourselves. It is very easy to explain ourselves verbally by using facial expressions and modulation of voice, but using the same words for communicating the same concept or thought through writing is not that easy. Our writing vocabulary is intensely affected by the words we can spell.

Since English language has developed from Spanish, Anglo Saxon English, French, Greek and Latin and several other languages, it has a huge vocabulary. English vocabulary has about 450000 to 750000 words.

The three tier system of Vocabulary Intervention :

Tier 1 – Basic words like….happy, clean, fast, sad etc.

Tier 2 – Words with high frequency, mature language users, words with multiple meanings like….estimate, cluster, sympathy etc.

Tier 3 - Words with low frequency, words which are specified to a particular category like science, maths, social science etc….lathe,chasm,warp etc.

The significance of a vocabulary

"Without grammar, very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed." Wilkins (1972)

A wide-ranging vocabulary helps in countenance and communication.

The range of vocabulary is directly interconnected to reading ability.

Linguistic vocabulary is identical to thinking vocabulary.

A person is assessed by others on the basis of his or her vocabulary.

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