Can Games Address the Vocabulary Gap?

I didn’t know that vocabulary is hugely important in someone’s development. Children from poorer families tend to know fewer words than children from wealthier families.

And according to the 1995 study by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risly called The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap, it’s an enormous difference that would take a lot of time and effort to address.

What’s more, the exposure to words by children in poverty tends to be negative in nature. Silence means you aren’t in trouble, but it also means you aren’t growing your vocabulary.

As you can imagine, being behind by millions of words means you can’t build upon those words. You don’t read as much, which means you don’t grow your vocabulary on your own time. Advanced lessons can essentially become meaningless gibberish, and you fall further behind your peers as you get older.

Education Week recently published an article that mentioned the benefits of technology regarding vocabulary skills:

With the right technology, struggling students can gain not only more word experiences per unit of time than they can from traditional instruction; they can also gain the right word experiences to prevent them from falling behind, giving them a real shot at excelling and achieving their potential.

Games are all about learning. I recall playing Lemonade Stand and learning the word “advertising”. I didn’t know it, and then I encountered it in the context of the game, and I had to learn what it meant in order to play. Today’s games can feature positive audio and speech, and speech-recognition means the player can talk to someone in-game in a safe environment.

But I was also privileged to have a computer in my home, as well as a dictionary and the know-how to look it up. Not everyone has access to smartphones and tablets and consoles and computers.

Many schools are trying to address the technology gap by ensuring there are computers in the classroom, and some schools have programs to assign a laptop or tablet to each student. But is it enough to address the technology gap?

And where children have access to such technology, do they have the games geared towards helping them with their vocabulary, and as a result, the trajectory of their lives?