For Parents

For Parents

Does reading e-books help my child’s vocabulary?

A study looking at whether dictionaries in e-books help children with language disorders to learn new words

Books on the Go

Reading books to young children is a great way to help them learn new words. This is especially true when the books are read more than once and adults explain unfamiliar words to the child. The invention of e-books has made reading on the go much easier.  You can carry around as many books as you want without your tablet getting any heavier! Many e-books also have built-in dictionaries that kids can use on their own to learn the meaning of unfamiliar words. Past research has shown that reading e-books with dictionaries helps typically developing kindergarteners learn new words. This current study examines children with language delays and investigates different types of e-book dictionaries.

Does the design of the e-dictionary matter in growing my child’s vocabulary?

This study compared kindergartners with typical language development (TLI) to kindergartners with specific language impairment (SLI). The study was done in Israel, and all of the materials and testing were in the children’s native language of Hebrew.

Each child read the e-book story 5 times, and each child had 3 different types of dictionary support while they read. The three types included:

  • A short definition
    • For example, “crossed means passed from one side to the other”
  • A definition using the story content
    • For example, “the bear (from the story) crossed the bridge”
  • A combination of a short definition and a definition with story content
    • For example, “crossed is passed from one side to the other. The bear crossed the bridge; he passed from one side to the other.”

The researchers tested the children’s knowledge of the words before and after they read. They tested them in three different ways: asking the child to point to one of four pictures that best matched the word (receptive language), asking the child to explain what the words meant (word definition), and asking the child to label pictures with words from the story (word use).

What did they find?

The researchers found that all of the children improved in their word learning after reading the e-book. As expected the TLI children improved more than the SLI children, particularly in their ability to use the new words. The benefit of each dictionary type differed depending on which test the researchers used (asking the child to identify the word versus give a definition or use the word).

What does this mean for me as a parent?

This study has shown that children with SLI can benefit from e-book reading, just like TLD kids. They are able to identify and give definitions of new words when the e-book includes a built-in dictionary for difficult words.

To support your child’s vocabulary growth, you can take steps such as:

  • seeking out e-books that incorporate short definitions and definitions using story elements
  • modeling these types of dictionary supports when your child asks you about a particular word
  • sharing the findings of this research with your child’s teacher and/or therapist and inquiring about certain e-books that may model these types of defining supports



Korat, O., Graister, T., & Altman, C. (2019). Contribution of reading an e-book with a dictionary to word learning: Comparison between kindergartners with and without SLI. Journal of Communication Disorders, 79, 90-102.