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The 10 Most Important Functional Words

Dr. Judy Montgomery

January 12, 2004

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Question

What do you consider to be the most important 10 or 12 functional words for an English speaking preschool child?

Answer

Actually, 10-12 words is a very, very small number for a preschooler. Typical preschoolers use about 4,000 words, and understand another 1500 that they are preparing to express within a short time. This is a period of very rapid vocabulary growth. Researchers talk about the importance of the ''first 400 words'' as the point when grammar and syntax emerge. This is around 24-30 months of age.

However, if you are wondering about 10-12 functional words in English at this age, you are likely working with a child with significant delays and/or disabilities. Naming is very important in English, so likely 9 or 10 of the first 12 words would be nouns. The other two are likely to be action verbs. A critical word for preschoolers is ''no'', so they can have some control over the things going on around them. If you are considering how to assemble a picture AAC device for a child, the most functional 10-12 words would be items that are meaningful for the child- family names, favorite food, favorite toys or activities, places, and of course ''NO!'' Children using such a few number of words are not able to combine them yet, so the words need to have broad meanings and clear picture representations.

Judy K. Montgomery

Bio sketch:
Dr. Judy K. Montgomery, CCC-SLP, is professor of literacy and special education in the School of Education, Chapman University, Orange, CA. She holds ASHA Board Recognition in Child Language.


dr judy montgomery

Dr. Judy Montgomery


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