The Importance of Core Vocabulary for Language Development

The Importance of Core Vocabulary for Language Development

What is Core Vocabulary?

Core vocabulary is a set of basic words in any language that are used frequently and across environments.  

80% of what we say is communicated with only the 200 most basic words in our language (1-Baker & Hill, 2000)

Core vocabulary is mostly pronouns, verbs, descriptors, and prepositions (very few nouns).


What are the communication benefits of core vocabulary?

Core vocabulary teaches children a variety of word classes and the different ways words can be used to express wants/opinions. Core vocabulary can be taught and used in every day places and routines – home, school, and community!

  •     Includes a variety of word classes
    •     Ex: pronouns (I, you, it, my), verbs (go, put, want, like), negation (not, don’t)
  •     Allows expression of a variety of communicative functions with a small set of words
    •     Ex: Direct actions (go out), reject (don’t like), request (want more)
  •     Can be taught and used in a variety of activities across contexts
  •     Vocabulary can be combined to increase complexity
    •     Ex: Go > “I go”, “I go home”, “I don’t want to go”


Examples of Core Vocabulary  


    I, you, it, my me, mine


    Do, go, put, make, get, like, work


    Not, don’t  


    In, on, off, out, down

    Question words

    What, when, where





Communication Functions of Core Language

Core vocabulary can be used to communicate in many ways! The following include some examples of how core vocabulary can be used:

    DIRECT ACTION: “Put in”

    REQUEST:  “Want some”

    ASK FOR INFORMATION: “What that?”

    REJECT:  “Don’t like”


    COMMENT:  “I like”


Why should we model core vocabulary to our kids?

  •    EVERYONE uses core vocabulary every day!
  •     It makes up 80% of natural language
  •     Core vocab allows beginning communicators to:
    •     Take more control of their environment
    •     Effectively express wants/needs
    •     Make relationships through social interaction with family/friends  
  •     Children that use AAC devices benefit from being modeled core words that are used various ways and across contexts


How do I do teach it and use core language?

Core Vocabulary can be implemented across disciplines of therapies, in the classroom, and in the home throughout daily routines!  

  •     Model, model, model!
  •     Core language use supports receptive language (understanding)
  •     Used to teach new words and combine words
  •     Demonstrates variety of communicative functions
  •     Supports understanding of words and varied uses
  •     Example of Modeling Core Vocabulary: “In”
    •     During meal times - model how the food “goes in” mouth.  
    •     During a clean up routine - model picking up toys and “put in” toybox/container.   
    •     Blowing bubbles - sticking the wand “in” the bubble container. Model words “dip in”/“put in” each time dipping the bubble wand.  
    •     Packing backpack or bag - model putting items “in” bag with verbal model with each item (e.g. “ball in”, “cup in”, “wipes in”).  
    •     During play routines, farm house – Model animals “go in” barn
    •     Dolls – Model feeding baby bottle with verbal speech “put in” baby’s mouth, model putting baby “in crib”
    •     Buckets – Model putting balls, blocks, etc. in buckets with verbal speech “put in”



    Using core vocabulary during daily routines with your child helps them learn a variety of words and word types and how to use words to achieve a variety of functions!  

    Core language can be modeled across many settings and situations and is easy to do during simple daily routines!  

    Using core vocabulary in your day-to-day routines will support your child’s communication development!



  1. Cannon, B. & Edmond, G. (2009). A Few Good Words Using Core Vocabulary to Support Nonverbal Students, The ASHA Leader, 14(5), 20-23. doi: 10.1044/leader.FTR4.14052009.20.
  2. PRC (, “Core Vocabulary Studies and Core Word Activities” handout
  3. Penelope Hatch, Ph.D., CCC-SLP Lori Geist, Ph.D., CCC-SLP Karen Erickson, Ph.D. Teaching Core Vocabulary Words and Symbols to Students with Complex Communication Needs. Presentation at ATIA 2015. Center for Literacy & Disability Studies University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  4. Dunbar, Julie, M.S. Ed. (2013). Implementation 101: Using Core Vocabulary Across Everyday Environments. Assistive Technology Exchange Center, A Program of Goodwill Orange County.
  5. VanTatenhove, Gail M., PA, M.S., CCC-SLP. Core Vocabulary with Emergent and Context-Dependent Communicators in Speical Education Classrooms.


Kali Riddle, MS CF/SLP

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