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Honor Noah Webster’s Birthday by Celebrating Vocabulary and Learning on National Dictionary Day.

• Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D.

To honor pioneering lexicographer Noah Webster, National Dictionary Day is celebrated on October 16, the date of his birth in 1758. National Dictionary Day emphasizes the importance of learning, using dictionary skills and increasing one’s vocabulary. For those of us committed to high-quality education, that’s a good reason to celebrate! 

Vocabulary is so important to language development and reading comprehension. They both factor into successful learning, because kids need to know 98 percent of the words they read to grasp concepts in textbooks and novels. The more words a child knows, the easier she can interpret ideas from others and share her own ideas. Children who develop a rich vocabulary tend to be deeper thinkers, express themselves better and read more—not to mention being better students! 

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, together with its 1993 Addenda Section, includes some 470,000 entries. New words are added regularly. Counting all the inflected forms of a word – such as swim, swims, swimming, swam, swum – it’s estimated there are more than one million words in the English language.  

The average four-year-old child who’s a native English speaker knows about 5,000 words. That doubles to 10,000 for eight-year-olds and increases to 20,000 to 35,000 words for adults. That’s still no more than seven percent of all the dictionary entries. 

Interestingly, researcher Johnson O’Connor found that vocabulary acquisition is not innate, and he considered vocabulary augmentation a key to unleashing human potential and even occupational success. 

An easy way to continue vocabulary development is by signing up for a word-of-the-day email. With this free resource, you can increase your word count in a good way! For parents, this is a great conversation starter at breakfast, the car ride to school or at the dinner table. Challenge your kids to use the word and share with their friends to strengthen their language skills 

P.S. You can test your vocabulary to see how you compare to the average and the strength of your vocabulary 

P.P.S. Some animals can learn new words, too. The average dog can learn 165 words, while dogs in the top quintile know about 250 words. My dog, Summer, refused to take the vocabulary test, but I’ll continue to read her my word of the day emails. 

About the author

Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D.

Christy Hovanetz is a Senior Policy Fellow for ExcelinEd focusing on school accountability policies. Dr. Hovanetz served as the Assistant Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education and Assistant Deputy Commissioner at the Florida Department of Education. She has worked in education policy for the state of Florida since 1999 serving as the Director of Evaluation and Reporting, Director of Reading First and a Policy Analyst for Governor Jeb Bush. She graduated summa cum laude from St. Cloud State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education with a minor in mathematics and is a certified teacher in the state of Minnesota. She earned her Masters of Public Administration at the University of Minnesota and a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University.