Learning Color Words and Reading Answers
Over their first few years in English-speaking homes, children quickly learn a vocabulary of hundreds of words for objects, actions, and emotions – yet struggle when it comes to color vocabulary.
Cognitive scientists have suggested that this may be tied to how color adjectives are utilized in English; unlike most nouns, color adjectives often appear before nouns (e.g. blue cup).
Words can have multiple interpretations, and specific colors are associated with certain words in various ways. For instance, brown conjures an earthy or natural hue in our minds, while blue may bring to mind an immaculate sky. Some languages use single words for each primary color, while others may combine words to describe additional properties (for instance, Finnish has vaaleanpunainen for pink). A single word may describe only one aspect of a color’s properties or multiple properties at the same time – either monolexemic (represented only by one property) or polylexemic (description of several properties simultaneously).
Color adjectives are one of the simplest polygenetic terms, providing an object’s color and helping differentiate similar objects. Children often use this terminology when talking about red, green, and purple things – even newborn babies can discriminate among these primary color groups by the age of four months!
Oblivious of how easily children learn color adjectives, they struggle with other kinds of color words. Even after hundreds of training trials with children as young as four years old, they still often fail to sort objects by color categories; this phenomenon is known as the Stroop Effect and was first identified by J. Ridley Stroop in the 1930s. As children process color information faster than written language, it often leads to confusion when trying to name colors.
Color categories differ significantly across cultures. The English language uses 11 basic color terms – black, white, red, yellow, green, blue, brown, orange, and purple – while nonindustrialized cultures generally have much fewer terms than this; some, like Berinmo in Papua-New Guinea or Tsimane’ in Bolivia Amazonian region, contain just two or three.
Cognitive scientists from Stanford University in California have proposed that children’s difficulty in learning color words is directly tied to how these terms are employed in English, specifically, the pre-nominal position of color adjectives as one reason. As part of a series of experiments designed to test this theory, post-nominal color words far outperformed pre-nominal ones when presented to children for acquisition; post-nominal training outperformed its counterpart.
Describing colors can be challenging. While certain hues such as red, yellow, and blue may be easy to tell with a few simple words (red, yellow, and blue), some others can be harder. One possible problem could be that not all speakers use the exact words when trying to describe them, and it can often result in someone using an incorrect term when trying to tell a similar hue, leading both speaker and listener into confusion and frustration.
Though different languages use various words for colors, most share similar basic color categories: black/dark/gray, white, red, yellow, and green/blue. Some also add brown, orange, and pink words into this grouping of color words. It is essential to keep in mind that while all languages possess these color categories, they differ significantly in how they define and use these terms.
The order of color names can also vary. In English, for instance, color adjectives tend to appear in a pre-nominal position (e.g., “The blue cup”), whereas other languages place them in a post-nominal position (“The blue cup is very bright”). A study where researchers asked children to identify objects presented on trays revealed that those taught color adjectives in the pre-nominal position performed significantly worse than those learning these exact words in the post-nominal position.
This research suggests that children’s difficulties when learning color adjectives do not stem from any unique characteristic of colors or the universe; rather, their difficulty lies with how words are taught – in other words, learning these adjectives may be affected by the grammar and syntax of their native languages.
Though this nativist theory of color naming makes intuitive sense, it does pose some unique difficulties. Notably, it fails to explain why industrialization – which brought reliable and standardized colors into people’s daily lives – should have made no impactful difference in people’s ability to categorize colors.
As part of learning to read, you must gain an understanding of English expression. This includes understanding idioms such as color idioms so you can communicate more effectively with others. Idioms are phrases with multiple interpretations – for instance if someone is described as being “green with envy”, that does not refer to their physical colour but instead represents how jealous they may be.
Color words vary between languages and cultures; nonindustrialized societies tend to use fewer terms for colors than industrialized ones, and differences in how colors are classified and spelled can differ widely, too. Furthermore, words for colors often relate to prefix adjectives (e.g., ‘light brown’) or compound adjectives such as fuchsia.
Individual children may acquire color adjectives more quickly than other lexemes because of postnominal exposure to them. This is because prefix adjectives and compound color words are derived from root color words to refine meaning – for instance, both pink and red come from red’s root word; Finnish has an agglutination for pink-red names that is translated to mean ‘pretty flower.’
Studies have demonstrated that infants learn color words more quickly when presented in postnominal format rather than prenominal format because the latter form is more accessible for them to grasp than the former one.
Adults’ use of color words can affect children’s performance. Therefore, researchers conducted a three-phase experiment involving 41 English infants between 23 and 29 months of age who participated in three tests: pre-test, training in using color words, and then an identical post-test as previously performed.
Children participating in this experiment were presented with trays containing objects of different colors and asked to identify things that matched a target item from either pre-nominal or post-nominal questions. Performance improved significantly when training occurred first using pre-nominal questions followed by post-nominal testing; exercise with pre-nominal question types and then testing was administered using these same question types.
While children generally learn language quickly, color words seem to present more significant difficulties for them. Researchers from Stanford University in California conducted an experiment where cognitive scientists observed children struggled even after hundreds of training trials to arrange objects into color categories correctly despite learning these terms quickly in English. It may be because color words use different language conventions.
Here are a few articles designed to help students build their color vocabulary. Each includes a passage featuring sight words and color words, CVC words, pictures to match sentences, tracking dots for easier tracking while reading, and three stars at the top right corner of each page for students to color every time they read through a passage.