Thirty Million Words: Building A Child’s Brain

Did you know that parent language is the single most powerful tool in shaping the brain of a child?

It’s that simple, according to Dr. Dana Suskind, author of the latest book, Thirty Million Words: Building A Child’s Brain, (Dutton, September 2015). A cochlear implant surgeon at the University of Chicago and Founder and Director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative, Dr. Suskind argues that all parents can – and need to – harness the power of their words to shape their child’s future educational success.

“No matter the language, the culture, the nuance of vocabulary or the socioeconomic status, language is the element that helps develop the brain to its optimal potential. In the same way, the lack of language is the enemy of brain development. Children who are born hearing, but in an austere language environment, are almost identical to children who are born deaf who have not received a rich sign environment. Without intervention, both can suffer the critical, lifelong effects of silence. On the other hand, children in a rich language environment, whether born hearing or given the gift of hearing via cochlear implants, can soar.” – Dana Suskind, Thirty Million Words

Based on scientific research that shows the critical importance of early language exposure on the developing child, Thirty Million Words (TMW) helps parents enhance their home language environment in order to optimize their child’s brain development and, therefore, his or her ability to learn. The complexity of and variation among the words we speak to our children positively impacts their brain. The number of open-ended questions we ask does, too. Easy and effective, TMW advocates the following strategies, known as the TMW 3Ts: Tune In, Talk More, and, Take Turns.


Parent responsiveness is equally important, including the ways in which we encourage and praise our children, direct our children’s actions, and shape their television and media habits.

As parents, our language impacts our child’s socioemotional development as much as it strengthens his or her literacy and storytelling skills and math and spatial understanding. Dr. Suskind and her TMW team offer more suggestions on the best way for parents to maximize the words we use:


In her own journey as mother and pediatric cochlear implant surgeon, Dr. Suskind noticed that the language development of her young cochlear implant patients varied widely. In her search to understand why that was, she encountered the concept of the 30 million word gap: research that shows that children of lower socioeconomic status heard 30 million fewer words by their fourth birthday than their more affluent peers. This profound disparity negatively impacts children’s learning trajectories, including school readiness, academic achievement, and later occupational status and social well-being.

Dr. Suskind and her team want to spread the word that parent language – and the quality of our parent-child interactions – can change these outcomes. It’s in our power to do so.

For more information on the science of brain development and how to use your words to build your child’s brain and ultimately, the ease with which he or she learns, you can find her book at all major retailers.

Thirty Million Words Building A Child's Brain Book Jacket

Or visit the Thirty Million Words website:

Dana Suskind, author of the book, Thirty Million Words: Building A Child’s Brain, (Dutton, September 2015), is Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at the University of Chicago, Director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Program, and Founder and Director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative.  Based on scientific research that shows the critical importance of early language exposure on the developing child, Thirty Million Words helps parents enhance their home language environment in order to optimize their child’s brain development and, therefore, his or her ability to learn. Follow her on twitter: @DrDanaSuskind and like the book on Facebook.

This is a guest post on behalf of Dana Suskind.

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Jenn is from Upstate, SC, and loves that she gets to work from home to be with her two little girls. Jenn has been happily married to her very own Superman, Ben, for over a decade, and spends her time reading, writing short stories, doing freelance work and blogging, crafting, riding motorcycles, watching Clemson football, and enjoying life with her family.

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  1. This is a good reminder to make sure we talk to our babies often.