Core words are a systematic way to teach and use single messages by combining either one or a string of them to form either single word phrases or expansive multi-word sentences. A core vocabulary varies from person to person, across ages, cultures and speaking environments. It can be an overwhelming process to select core words, especially since most of the children we work with have had limited to no access to language. We are essentially using clinical opinions, research and caregiver insights to select the child’s speech repertoire. The process can be challenging, in that the system needs to not be too limiting and yet not too expensive. Language testing can be challenging too, as standardized tests do not always capture every facet of language. It is important that in the selection of core words, there is a priority in selection based on the needs of the communicator.
Even though verbal language varies across so many factors studies 96% of all spoken words in toddlers ages 24-36 m are made up of 23 core words! These words are pronouns, prepositions, verbs and demonstratives. (Banajee, diCarlo, & Stricklin, 2003) The words that Banajee, diCarlo, & Stricklin, 2003 found most common are: I, no, yes, my, the, want, is, it, that, a, go, mine, you, what, on, in, here, more, out, off, some, help, and all done/finished. They are outlined in a way to learn that a speech pathologist can guide use and implementation.
Speech Language Pathologists who specialize in Augmentative and Alternative Communication, AAC, determine alongside parents, appropriate and meaningful core language systems for the children they teach. The philosophy for core language is pretty straightforward, in its essence speech pathologists understand the importance of teaching a multi-use word over a single noun. An early core word might be “want” as it is easier to learn a word that varies across contexts instead of a word like “ball” that can be only used with one object.
Banajee, M., DiCarlo, C., & Stricklin, S. (2003). Core vocabulary determination for toddlers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19, 67-73.