How Books Enhance Language Development in Children

Books Enhance Language Development

Reading exposes children to a language different from the speech they hear daily. This “book language” has systematic properties that align with distributional patterns observed in laboratory tasks assessing language processing.

In addition, reading with children is a powerful way to improve their receptive vocabulary. This occurs because stories are often focused on topics that interest children.


Research has shown that children who read have a larger vocabulary than kids who don’t read regularly. Book reading boosts vocabulary development by introducing kids to new words and concepts that may not be part of their everyday experiences, such as animals with more than one name or the different types of weather.

Book reading also exposes kids to the language of writing, which differs from the spoken language they hear daily. Kids learn about words spelled the same but with different meanings (known as polysemy) and discover how authors sometimes combine multiple syllables into a single word, like adding an ending or prefix.

Finally, reading books as children’s learning materials enables toddlers to converse with adults. They can ask questions about parts of the story and relate what they have read to their own experiences. This is known as dialogic reading, and it has a powerful effect on children’s vocabulary, comprehension, and critical thinking skills.


Children need to understand what they read to process written language successfully. This comprehension requires a working knowledge of different vocabulary words, connecting new information and existing knowledge, and thinking deeply and critically about concepts. Children who struggle with reading comprehension often have underlying language difficulties.

The content of books also sparks a toddler’s imagination. Many books feature places, situations, and characters far outside a toddler’s everyday experience. This requires them to use their imagination to follow the story and create a mental image of what they are reading.

Lastly, reading books with children is an opportunity to work on answering “wh-” questions (who, what, where, when, why) that help to develop the ability to retell stories and understand them in context. It also helps children become more fluent in using complete sentences when responding to questions.

Social Skills

For infants and early talkers, books with photographs of familiar objects provide an excellent way to build their vocabulary. They can also practice their emerging speech sounds by repeating the syllables in words on the page.

Reading with your kids also helps them to learn about a range of different social skills. Books can help teach them to recognize emotions (including anxiety) as they see them illustrated in the pages of their favorite stories. This is especially helpful for children with autism.

Books can also encourage kids to develop their problem-solving skills as they work through the pages of their favorite stories. Asking your kids questions about the story and their surroundings during book time can be a fun way to build this skill. For example, asking your child questions like “Where is the mouse hiding?” or “Why does he need the tape?” can be great opportunities to practice.


In addition to phonological awareness, kids develop their ability to express their feelings and ideas about the world around them through books. Many books provide kids with various situations, problems, and solutions that work to improve expressive language abilities naturally. 

Research shows that reading books with children has great potential for supporting their language development, even for families who may not have access to other resources. Children who are read to regularly have a greater understanding of the meaning and significance of words than children who are not read to. Research also indicates that parents who read with their children regularly maximize the effects of books on their children’s vocabulary development, comprehension, and other linguistic skills.

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