Language learning: Importance of wh-questions

Children’s language learning results from their social interactions with other people. As explained in this post, using questions can facilitate your child’s learning. In this post, I will discuss the results of a recent study in which the authors specifically focused on using wh-questions. The main research question includes: Does the use of wh-questions stimulate vocabulary and verbal reasoning skills in toddlers?


Wh-questions are questions framed with what, who, why, where, when or how. For example, parents may ask: “What’s that?” or “Where is this?” during shared book reading. Wh-questions are often more difficult to answer for children than yes/no questions, because they require more complex verbal responses. Therefore, wh-questions may stimulate children’s vocabulary development. In addition, wh-questions may promote children’s verbal reasoning skills, because children are challenged to reason and provide verbal explanations.


 Impact on toddler’s language learning

This study focused on relationships between fathers’ use of wh-questions and their toddlers’ vocabulary and verbal reasoning skills. Fathers and toddlers were instructed to read and play with their child for 10 minutes. The authors analysed the use of questions: wh-questions and other types of questions, for example yes/no questions. Also, children’s responses to father’s questions were analysed. The results of the study showed that:

  • Compared with other types of questions, wh-questions were related with more verbal responses and more complex verbal responses from toddlers.
  • The use of wh-questions was related to better vocabulary and verbal reasoning skills 1 year later in toddlers.


Ask your child wh-questions (questions framed with what, who, why, where, when or how) during conversations. Asking wh-questions may promote the development of children’s vocabulary and verbal reasoning skills, because these questions require children to provide more complex verbal responses.


 More information

Rowe, M. L., Leech, K. A., & Cabrera, N. (2017). Going beyond input quantity: Wh‐questions matter for toddlers’ language and cognitive development. Cognitive science, 41, 162-179.

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