I’d like to claim it’s this:
It’s fairly easy to teach our little geniuses to read. But how well they understand, and how much they learn for the rest of their lives, depends directly on how many words they acquire before they turn 18.
Which is a gargantuan (adj. enormous, gigantic) problem. "While North American teachers have become more effective at teaching students to read words, we have virtually ignored the impact of teaching students to understand words, especially in the primary grades," is the conclusion reached in a new and frighteningly comprehensive study by Andrew Biemiller, a professor at the University of Toronto.
This is the revenge of the Flashcard parents. If Little Princess is an average child, she’ll know 6,000 root-word meanings by the end of Grade 2. That’s okay, but nothing special: At that point, the top 25 per cent of children already know twice as many words as the lowest 25 per cent, and the gap grows exponentially. Roughly 35,000 more words get stuffed into Little Princess’s average head by the time she leaves high school.
But by then the foundation of her so-called mind has hardened. Limited by early lexical laxity, the average North American adult knows only 30,000 to 60,000 words, out of a potential "working vocabulary" of 700,000. If only Little Princess had learned more words earlier! If only you were a better parent!
Children who live in "advantaged" homes — where new words are considered important and bandied about — hear three times as many words as kids who don’t. And those who don’t are at "considerable risk of continued low achievement," Prof. Biemiller says.
You don’t need a vocabulary to see the point: A home, a city or a society where people appreciate and share their vocabularies, where they take public pleasure in using language, is a place with a future where the lights are on.
I’m also not entirely convinced, but if pressed, I’d probably fall on the "grumpy codger" side, irritable about the vulgarization of language. However, if that means subscribing to this "spelling or well-spoken" split:
"The reality is," Ms. Brand insists, "God gave us spell-check."
Then to hell with everyone! Okay, a bit harsh. But if God gave us spell-check, it’s as a test, and Ms. Brand is goin’ to hell!! Okay, I’m fine now.
On the self-satisfied end of it, I’m pleased to report that my daughter cracks herself up saying "stingy tweezers" just because of the way the words sound together. Next stop, complete word geekiness.