Thirty Million Words, Dana Suskind - Book Summary

Thirty Million Words explains the importance of language in the successful early and long-term development of a child. The chapters in this book outline ways parents can help their children thrive during the crucial first years of life.

The book is for:

  • Parents;
  • Psychologists and educators;
  • People who want to learn a new language.


Dana Suskind is a surgeon specializing in hearing and cochlear implants. She is the founder of the Thirty Million Words initiative, a program that focuses on the importance of early language exposure for a developing child.

Talking with children helps them develop better

Do we still remember the stories our parents, grandparents or older siblings told us every time we went to bed to get ready for bed? It can be the story of a magical creature like a father-in-law, a talking tree, or a story in a magical wonderland with a brave knight and thrilling adventures.

However, do these fictional stories help young children's development?

Telling stories to children helps to form and nurture their imagination and speaking ability. But maybe you don't know, the fact that children are able to communicate through different forms at an early age also creates a great foundation for developing children's speaking ability and leading to more success in learning later.

Immediately after reading this article, you will know more about the connection between the nerves in the brain of children and the main role of language in the formation of neural networks in the brain.

You will discover the impact of conversations with your children on their future academic performance. As a parent, you can turn those conversations into positive influences. You will also understand why a child's neurons are similar to telephone poles and why we find it increasingly difficult to learn a language. only when we grow up.

The formation of neural connections during the first three years of life lays the foundation for future cognitive development.

Starting from the time you were born, every sound, sight, and feeling influences the way you perceive the world around you. This effect is most evident during the first three years of life, the time during which brain neural networks are forming. Unlike other organs, the brain is not fully developed immediately after birth and functions like an architectural blueprint of a house. Every human being is born with about 10 billion neurons. Initially, there was no connection between them, like telephone poles but no signal transmission lines.

As these neurons gradually join together, they open up the brain to more functions. During the critical years, from birth to age 3, as many as 700-1000 new connections between neurons are formed.

This complex nervous system affects every function of the brain, from memory to emotions, to motor skills and language. However, the spike in linkages turns chaotic and the network will gradually reduce to only the necessary linkages through a process of slicing known as “Synaptic pruning”.

This reduction removes links and insights that are not important and rarely used, focusing on strengthening connections, understanding is used more often. The ability to alter these neural pathways is known as "Neuroplasticity".

This is a very special ability of the brain, because brain development during the first three years lays the foundation for future intellectual development. The ability to figure out the implications of audible sounds requires a profound intelligence.

In fact, a baby's brain can perceive sounds from its mother. Then, the brain will form a system of nerves that will help the baby speak his mother tongue later. At the same time, the brain will remove less used sounds and associations, reducing the ability to distinguish the sounds of a new language if the child later learns it. This is also the reason why many of us often struggle to learn a new language other than our mother tongue as we get older.

Developing children's early language recognition, including abstract thinking and math, is at the heart of education.

Language is not only spoken or written, but it is also the foundation for people to learn, discover and cultivate knowledge. If a person's ability to recognize and use language is not given enough attention to develop in kindergarten, it will affect their academic achievement. A child with a weak language ability when entering kindergarten will quickly fall behind the rest of the children because the process of hearing, processing, translating and understanding what he hears will take longer. As a result, the child often fails to keep up with what the teacher is saying, significantly affecting learning and academic performance.

The process is similar to trying to communicate in a language other than your mother tongue. While listening to the other person speak, you will have to go through the conversion process, translating each word to understand what they are saying. But by the time you understand what they said a few seconds earlier, the conversation has turned to another topic.

At this point we can see that: language is the key for each person to learn and receive knowledge, including in areas such as mathematics or thinking.

Right from birth, humans have the ability to recognize numbers and estimate them. For example, when we have to choose one of two ways to get out of the supermarket, we can quickly choose the one we find shorter without much thought. But at a higher, more abstract level of math, we make decisions based on our computational ability, combined with images, symbols, writing, which means we've used language for decision making.

Moreover, abstract thinking helps children develop spatial awareness and identification of geometric blocks. After all, the ability to perceive space, such as knowing that an object is spinning, imagining realistic 3-D images and distinguishing different spatial dimensions is important. to guess whether a person is good at STEM subjects or not. (Science, Informatics, Engineering, Mathematics).

Success in educating children does not depend much on the economic and social context, but mainly on the time parents spend talking with their children.

Language development is fundamental to learning anything, but what determines whether a child has the right environment for language development? Does it depend on whether their parents are rich or poor? Or does it depend on how much time parents spend talking to their children?

Surprisingly, parents' wealth or poverty is not a determining factor in a child's academic success. This was shown in a six-year study, published in 1995 by social scientists Betty Hart and Todd Risley.

Tests recorded and analyzed the behavior of households with different economic and background conditions and found that, for one hour, children from families with good economic conditions listened to averaged 2,000 words, while other children from lower economic backgrounds heard only 600 words. Over time, by the time they reach the age of 3, this number rises to 30 million words.

This difference comes from the fact that kids from better families seem to be exposed to better language learning environments, they get to hear more. That strengthens neural pathways and allows The brains of these children develop optimally.

At first glance, the study seems to uncover a very clear correlation between economic conditions and academic performance, but in fact, it shows that socioeconomic status and race are not necessarily the determining factors. determine a child's learning ability.

Instead, the research shows that the way a child learns later is determined by the linguistic environment around them during their early years. This indicates that poorer families can completely create a supportive and nurturing environment for their children's language abilities, even if they do better than rich families. Children who are raised in an environment of regular family communication and conversation will have good development of language ability, regardless of their parents' economic conditions or education level.

Is word count the only important factor, regardless of quality?

Sure. The more words a child is exposed to, the better they learn and the same research shows that quality comes with quantity. In other words, the more parents talk, the better and richer their children's ability to use language becomes. After all, as children speak more words, their language abilities increase.

“A country where a large number of children do not have the opportunity to reach their full potential will not reach the highest level of development.”

Both parents and children should believe in their own abilities.

Criticism can annoy children, causing them to withdraw and become defensive, but excessive praise can make them dependent on the opinions of others to motivate them. . So how can you bring out the best in your child?

Start by helping them believe that all goals are achievable and achievable. This means that they can overcome any challenge if they really persevere.

This is called growth mindset. Children equipped with this mindset will not be overwhelmed by novelty and from there, they can maximize their potential through perseverance. Its effectiveness was confirmed in a 1998 study by Professor Carol Dweck, in which 128 fifth graders answered 5 questions. After completing the puzzles, children were praised for one of two reasons: because they were smart or because they worked hard. When Dweck asks the children to do a second task, she gives them two options, the children can choose to do the same task as the first, or do a different task that is more difficult but through which they will learn. get a lot.

Of the children who were praised for being smart, 67% chose the same second task as the original. While 92% of the kids who were praised for their hard work chose the second task as the harder one. In other words, the children in the "positive workgroup" adopted a "forward-looking" mindset and it helped them become more determined and confident. Children believe they can handle a new, more difficult task, they become more open to new challenges.

This shows us the potential for children to develop when they are always challenging themselves. And parents should also accept that they will have a positive influence on a child's intelligence. This has been confirmed through many practical feedbacks such as thanks to positive statements, encouraging encouragement or inspiring children through language that will help them increase their vocabulary and develop social skills.

This is a necessary step because parents, with an objective view of their role in helping their child's development, can help them realize their child's potential.

Engaging and talking to children is a way to help them learn more effectively.

So what else can you do to help your child develop language and fill the 30 million word gap? A good strategy to increase communication between parents and children is the 3T rule: (Tune in) listen attentively, (Talk more) Talk more and (Take turns) wait for your turn. Let's look at the first 2 views:

First, capturing children's attention will develop their ability to learn. Let's say your child is sitting on the floor playing with a building model. While you might think it's best to change the activity to reading time, in fact, the best idea is to play with your child.

By doing so, you can build the tower with your child and talk about its color, height, and what happens if it's built too high. Playing, talking with your child about what they focus on will help your child have a good experience and they will be more excited about the game.

Another thing to remember is that an infant's brain cannot switch operations as easily as an adult brain; It would be a waste of time to try to engage children in something they seem bored with.

So listen attentively to your child by having a friendly conversation. The second, more telling T view, is equally important. Never turn down an opportunity to talk more with your child, and pay attention to your intonation. This will help attract the baby's attention and help him learn better.

A recent Stanford University study found that children who were heard and talked a lot between 11 and 14 months had twice as much vocabulary at two years of age as children who received little exposure. touch.

But the “second T” is not that simple. In the following chapters you will learn more how important “Talking more” is.

“Parental responsiveness leads to cognitive development, self-regulation of social-emotional development, and physical well-being of children.”

Capturing young children's attention, vocabulary diversity, and the ability to talk are three important factors needed to speak more.

Talking to your child is at the heart of language learning.

First, talk more by telling stories, turning everyday activities into brain development opportunities. Storytelling is simply a re-imagining of what is happening. This is a great way to fill their ears with language, thereby increasing a child's vocabulary as well as the connection between sounds and related images.

The best time to tell a story is when everyday routines like changing diapers or feeding babies take place.

Second, speaking more also involves using contextual language, an essential aspect of educational achievement. Children's first language experiences are current information such as things they see, hear, and activities they participate in.

In the end, speaking more requires mastery of the versatility of the language in every word, in the opportunities you get, building richness in your vocabulary and smooth flow in conversation. story. This is important because children begin to speak with actions, or incomplete sentences. As a parent, you'll help your child fill in the gaps by having conversations with them.

For example, if your child says “a black cat,” you might say a more complete sentence to him, “That's right, a black cat. Let's see how fast it moves." By talking to your child with extended full sentences like these, you can continue to introduce new vocabulary and give your child an insight into the subject of the conversation.

Encourage your child to join the conversation in turn and remember what they are told.

Final T: let your child respond to communication with gestures, sounds, and letters. This is a technique designed to encourage young children to talk.

An important tactic for successfully implementing the “third T” is to give children a few extra seconds to think about the words they are going to say instead of us telling them. Thus, even though children hear and know little of the language at first, in the long run this is good for future word learning.

Another strategy is to ask your child open-ended questions: "How?" or “Why?” so that children can talk instead of responding with gestures, thereby motivating them to talk more actively.

Finally, don't forget to read and tell stories to your children. This is a great opportunity to apply all 3 Drs. In fact, story time is the best opportunity to put this strategy into practice.

We all know that reading and telling stories is fun to help children learn, and with a little extra effort, you'll get more out of this opportunity. First, notice your child's interest and excitement so you can shift your focus to these.

Second, talking more doesn't mean reading more books. In order for your child to get more out of the story, tell him what happened and how it affects the characters. Such explanations will be meaningful in your child's mind.

After children are a few years older, instead of explaining to them what happened, encourage them to share their ideas about stories and participate in discussions about them.

Children's language development depends largely on us - the parents.

You now know a few strategies to help your child learn language. But how to make sure the child will have a solid foundation in life?

Programs to support parents will spread and share useful knowledge in the early years of a child's intellectual development. In other words, let everyone understand the difference in your child's early language learning environment.

The National Children's Center at Columbia University found that in 2013 there were 32 million children in the United States living in low-income families. Not only that, according to James Heckman, Nobel laureate in economics, every dollar spent on developing high-quality early childhood education for disadvantaged children yields annual economic benefits. from 7-10% through the academic achievement of children, behavior and work productivity of parents.

Therefore, investing in children from an early age is extremely important, but parents also need to nurture their children in natural ways. From there, they will help their children close the gap to success and help them achieve their goals.


Main message:

Every child has the potential for academic and social success. But to do this, they need the early care of adults. This means that it is very important to create a positive environment for children to learn language early and to receive instruction from their parents.

Tip: Encourage your child to self-regulate

Give your child the opportunity to consider options and make decisions. For example, let your child choose a red or blue shirt. This approach also reduces directives that discourage young children, the child will talk more in conversation, thereby increasing his vocabulary as well as giving him the freedom to express his feelings.