Thirty Million Words by Dana Suskind, MD

As an audiologist, I try regularly to find literature that will help enhance my abilities as a provider. I just finished reading Thirty Million Words, a book I chose because I have always been fascinated by the undeniable relationship between hearing and language development. At AUDIO-LOGIC, PC, we often see young children for hearing evaluations when their ability to communicate is questionable. Of course, it makes sense to rule out hearing loss as a contributing factor to any speech/language delay. This book is worthy reading for every concerned parent or grandparent out there. Anyone interested in child development — including other audiologists, speech pathologists, physicians, and teachers — would also appreciate this book.
The author, Dr. Suskind, is a head and neck surgeon who specializes in pediatric cochlear implants at the University of Chicago. She made the observation that her pediatric cochlear implant patients who appeared to be very similar at the outset sometimes progressed very differently once they were implanted. She stresses that “children in a rich language environment, whether they were born with hearing or given the gift of hearing by cochlear implantation, can soar,” but it is the lack of progress she identifies, such as “lagging response to first hearing sounds, lack of reaction to hearing their own name and slowness to saying their first words or reading their first book,” as what led her to study how language develops in children born with normal hearing.
Dr. Suskind explains several studies done years ago that evaluated language development in terms that most of us can understand, and she sprinkles in observations of her own. One study in particular evaluated language samples in children from differing socioeconomic environments (SES) and found a wide disparity between utterances heard in higher SES environments versus lower SES. That disparity resulted in a 32 million word difference by the time the children were 3 years old. As those children progressed in age, evaluations, over time, also revealed higher overall intelligence measurements in the children who were exposed to a greater variety of language early on.
She also explains neuroplasticity of the brain, how language learning takes place including connectomes and pruning, and the tremendous importance that supportive “baby talk” has on the developing infant brain. She also addresses the role of language development in self-regulation and impulse control, gender stereotypes, and how early immersion to language variety helps lay a foundation for understanding math concepts later on.
In this book Dr. Suskind explains how parents can systematically put science into practice and nurture their child’s language development using the Three T Method. Tune In, Talk More, and Take Turns are each components of the formula she developed and tested with help of colleagues and cooperation from parents and grandparents at the University of Chicago. I find this information helpful even in my audiology practice, and I plan to use it to remind parents about the primary role they play in nurturing their child’s ability to communicate.
A rich language foundation linked to positive experience, word repetition, and reinforcement is so important for any child to reach their greatest intellectual potential as they grow. Read the book for yourself and spread the word!
Nora L. Fuchs, Au.D.
February 6, 2017