How many words do you know? Babies start out with no words. By the time they are two-years-old, they can say nearly 300 words. Grown-ups may know more than 20,000 words! Polyglots (look it up) can command three or four times that. The Oxford English dictionary defines over 600,000 words so you will never run out of new words to learn. Learning words is something we do for our whole life.  I bet if you asked, your Abuela or Grandpa could tell you a new word she or he recently learned.   

Most of the time, people learn words without needing to try very hard. However, some people might not be able to say the words they want.  They might not understand what people are saying to them. Imagine if you didn’t have the words to talk to your friends or family. It would make you feel sad or frustrated. Words are how we share our thoughts with other human beings or even with pets. Luckily, speech-language pathologists work with people who have trouble with words. Speech-language pathologists study the science behind word learning.  

“My lab is full of scientists who study ways to help people learn words,” says Dr. Mary Alt.  You might think of scientists using microscopes or test tubes.  We are scientists who use behaviors, or actions, to discover how people learn. We are finding that one of the best ways to help people learn is to change what they see or hear.  They need to hear words more often and in different ways. We work with toddlers who don’t have many words and  we also work with grown-ups who struggle to learn words in college.   It is exciting to be able to find ways to help people learn words.

Meet the Scientist!

Dr. Mary Alt works at The University of Arizona in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. Some have called her “The Accidental Scientist.” When she was growing up, she didn’t know what she wanted to do.  She started working as a teacher for children with Special Needs. All the children she worked with struggled to communicate. That’s when she decided to become a speech-language pathologist. She had lots of questions about the best way to help people with communication needs so she decided to get a PhD. As Dr. Alt started down the research path she realized she could use science to answer her own questions systematically, help people with communication needs, and have lots of fun.  

What does an SLP do?    

SLP stands for speech-language pathologist

Helps people communicate. 

Helps people learn words. 

Helps people learn to read and write. 

Helps people learn to speak clearly. 

Helps people with eating and swallowing. 

Helps people with thinking skills. 

Helps people with their voices.

Learn more at Asha.org/publi

Language in Action

These activities are all evidence-based ways to learn more words. 

Have lots of conversations and LISTEN. Children who start school with more words have often heard over 30,000,000 more words than children with fewer words. http://thirtymillionwords.org/tmw-initiative/  

Every day, ask a friend, parent or grandparent to talk with you.

Ask them to: 

Tell you about their favorite memory

• Teach you how to do something new

• Talk about their favorite book or movie

• Tell you what they know about speech-language pathologists, and if they know anyone who has trouble communicating

Read. A lot! Take a break from your phone or TV, and spend 10 minutes or more reading, twice every day.  

Pick a new word to learn. Use the word in different ways: Look at the word, say the word, write the word,

act out the word. See if you can do this for 5 different words.  

More Info 

Contact Info:

Mary Alt malt@email.arizona .edu
Cecilia Figueroa (lab manager), cecilm@email.arizona.edu • Phone: 520-626-6885
Edition: 
Phoenix
Tucson
Issue: 
February 2018