The Difference Between Core And Fringe Vocabulary

The Difference Between Core And Fringe Vocabulary

Apple, box, table. If you were asked to take these three nouns and create a sentence using ONLY these nouns, it would be impossible. Although nouns are an important part of our vocabulary that results in greater understanding and use of language in our environment, teaching the understanding and use of nouns is only ONE of the many areas that we should be focusing on with our children.

When we look at vocabulary, it is made up of fringe vocabulary and core vocabulary.

What Is Fringe Vocabulary?

Fringe vocabulary refers to specific vocabulary that is relevant to our environment. If we are sitting in the kitchen, some environment specific vocabulary may be refrigerator, microwave, oven, or sink. Although it is important for us to have an understanding of these words to utilize in this specific environment, we may not be using these content specific words in other environments, such as at the movie theatre or on the playground.

When we think of fringe vocabulary words, we think of nouns, consisting of a person, place, or thing. We can also think of fringe vocabulary words as words that we can represent with an object or picture. Fringe vocabulary is more concrete, therefore easier for our children with language disorders to understand. Although these words are important and valuable for communicative purposes such as requesting, if we only had an understanding of these very content specific vocabulary words, it would be difficult to communicate successfully for a variety of purposes in a number of different environments.

What Is Core Vocabulary?

Core vocabulary refers to the more abstract vocabulary that can be used across a VARIETY of contexts. Believe it or not, our core vocabulary makes up about 85% of what we say on a daily basis. These words are more difficult for our children with language delays and disorders to understand because they often cannot be represented by a simple, concrete picture. Core words such as put, on, eat, and in would be examples of common core words that we utilize in our vocabulary. For a list of additional core vocabulary words, you can take a look at this common core vocabulary list. 

When we look at the words put, on, eat, and in, they can be utilized in almost all contexts. For example, in the kitchen we eat food, we put food in the oven, and we put food on our plate. When we are going to the playground, we put on our shoes, we play on the swing, we eat a snack, and we run in the grass. When children have understanding and access to these core vocabulary words, it allows them greater communicative opportunities in ALL contexts.

So, what do we teach our children? We teach them a mix of CORE and FRINGE vocabulary. We want a child to have access to a variety of vocabulary so they can be as successful as possible. We want them to have access to specific fringe vocabulary, such as the name of their favorite snack or video game, but we also want them to be able to talk about that favorite snack or video game, which would not be possible without the understanding of core vocabulary. So our next question would be, how do we teach core vocabulary? That is simple. Model, model, model. As a child is getting ready to go to the playground, talk about what he is doing. For example, “Nice job! You put on your shoes”. In addition to talking about what the child is doing, you can also talk about what YOU are doing. For example, when you are making dinner, you can model “I am putting food in the oven. We are going to eat soon”. Modeling language in its appropriate context allows a child to gain an understanding of the word, and later, begin to use it on their own! If you are not sure where to begin or how to incorporate these words into your child’s daily activities, be sure to speak with your child’s speech language pathologist regarding different ways to incorporate fringe and core vocabulary words in their environment.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash


Alison Bono, M.S., CCC-SLP

Alison Bono is an ASHA certified Speech Language Pathologist who has been working with individuals diagnosed with speech and language impairments since 2018. She has an undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from James Madison University and a graduate degree in Speech Language Pathology from Monmouth University. Alison has a passion for working with individuals with disabilities and believes that every individual deserves the opportunity to have a voice.

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