Importance of Teaching Toddler Specific Vocabulary

The Importance of Teaching Your Baby Specific Vocabulary

“Would you like a tangelo, Damien?”

“Tangelo” he repeated, with the most perfectly imperfect toddler pronunciation he could muster. (See clip below, 9 seconds long)

I laugh every time. Just crazy precious.

But back to our original concept: why is it important to use specific (versus general) vocabulary with our babies?

I will admit that when I first brought a bag of tangelos home from the store, even though I knew that they were indeed “tangelos” (as I had noticed the label on the bag) my first inclination was to simply call them “oranges”.

But you know what? They’re not oranges, really. They’re tangelos. And using the correct term boosted my little guy’s vocabulary.

Why it it important:

1. Total cuteness. I mean, you just can’t deny the way he pronounces it is adorable. I would have never gotten that dose of adorable hadn’t I used the real term. (Ok, but seriously now):

2. Vocabulary is so, so, so important. Vocabulary is intricately linked to intelligence and academic success. Having a rich vocabulary is vitally important in learning how to read. Adults with higher vocabularies have higher incomes. If there was one thing that is probably the most important aspect in early learning, it is talking to your child and building their vocabularies.

This is demonstrated over and over and over again by generations of scientific studies. Vocabulary is important!

3. It doesn’t take any extra time to be specific. Which one takes longer to say: food, fruit, orange, or tangelo? They go from completely general (food), to slightly more specific (fruit), to even more specific (orange), to very specific (tangelo).

They all take the exact same amount of time to say. But they don’t all carry the same weight in their beneficial value to your baby.

4. It builds strong connections and analytical thinking skills. When you talk to your baby in specific terms (“Would you like a naval orange? A clementine? A tangelo?”) you are boosting their ability to draw connections about similarities and note differences between these things.

Lumping them all together and calling them all “oranges” steals this opportunity for their little brains to work and learn.

5. Babies aren’t dumb! One big reason we so often talk to babies in very general vocabularies is that we think a) they won’t be able to tell the difference between such similar things as “oranges” and “clementines”, and b) we are inclined to never use “big” words.

I’m sorry, but “clementine” is no bigger a word than “elephant”, and I don’t know many tots who don’t what an elephant is.

Babies are smart and are learning language insanely rapidly. They can and do distinguish fine differences and make categories.


So, be specific with your baby.

It is a practically effortless gift and one of the most important you can give!


“…Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed…” Genesis 1:29

Damien, in this video, was 19 months old. In picture Damien was 7 months.


  • She_The_Founder February 5, 2013 at 3:31 am

    Fantastic point and no one can really argue with the importance of building vocabulary and giving your child an experience rich start on life.

    I think the word tangelo is pronounced with a j sound though. tan-juh-low.

  • She_The_Founder February 12, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Just thought I’d come back to mention that I heard someone else pronounce it with a guh sound, the same way you did.

    It could be one of those po-tay-toh vs po-tah-toe type things….

    All the same, keep up your excellent blog.

    • domanmom February 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      Haha, sorry I didn’t reply to your comment, but thank you for pointing out the pronunciation thing! Not quite as beneficial teaching your baby specific vocabulary if you are teaching them the wrong pronunciation. 🙂 I am pretty sure it is actually pronounced how you first mentioned, with a “juh” sound, or at least that’s how all the dictionaries say to pronounce it when I looked it up after your comment. Which makes sense since apparently a tangelo is a mix between a tangerine and a pumelo, and tangerine is pronounced with a “j” sound. But yes, thanks for pointing that out.


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