Thirty Million Words - Building a Childs Brain - Tune in, talk more, take turns

How much do I want to read more? 8/10

While I don't like so much the style of the book (too long to say one concept), its message is impactful and powerful.
I wish I read it before my child was 4.
I overlooked the power of words, because I did poorly with words myself as a kid. It took me many years to catch up with other kids at school. Reading has always been a burden, and comprehension a problem.
Hopefuly my wife is more on words than me. Still, I'm willing to make the effort to give my child a richer vocabulary.
I need to do my part. Words are my child's future. Just that. And I didn't realize it until now.


Blindness separates me from things; deafness separates me from people.

—- Helen Keller

language is the element that helps develop the brain to its optimum potential.
Children who are born hearing, but in an austere language environment, are almost identical to children who are born deaf.


Cochlear implantation is, to me, one of the most elegant of surgeries.
The possibility of changing the life course for millions of deaf children had arrived.


By the end of age three, the human brain, including its one hundred billion neurons, has completed about 85 percent of its physical growth, a significant part of the foundation for all thinking and learning.
The development of that brain, science shows us, is absolutely related to the language environment of the young child. This does not mean that the brain stops developing after three years, but it does emphasize those years as critical.
the diagnosis of hearing loss in babies had often been called a “neurologic emergency,” essentially because of the expected negative impact on a newborn’s development.

Those who are born deaf and receive implantation at a much later age will hear sounds, but rarely will they gain the ability to understand their meanings.


Because there were so few, I tended to each patient as if he or she were my own child, noticing each milestone, a first smile, a first step, with all the pride of a parent.


Zach was my second cochlear implant patient; Michelle, my fourth. Both diagnosed as profoundly deaf at birth.
Both showed similar innate potentials, both had mothers who loved them.
Same potential, same surgery, but very different outcomes.
a force that irrevocably impacts the arcs of all of our lives.


While implantation is the first step, the true “hearing birthday” is actually at the moment the cochlear device is activated. A very dramatic moment, it is invariably followed by, “Honey, Honey, do you hear Mommy? Mommy loves you so much,” then, when it’s successful, the startled expression of the child followed by a smile, laughter, or even crying. It is an extraordinarily moving experience. See for yourself. Simply search YouTube for “cochlear implant activations” and wait for the tears.

Just like hearing newborns, newly implanted children must spend about a year soaking in, and learning to understand, the sounds in their world.
Zach, before implantation, could not hear a motorcycle roaring by; after implantation, he could hear the quietest whisper. Nonetheless, while he heard the sounds, his brain didn’t have a clue what they represented.

He is just a nine-year-old boy with intelligence, spirit, and every indication that he will fulfill his potential. His future is not defined by his hearing loss. He is lucky in many ways.
If Zach had been born twenty years earlier, in 1985 rather than 2005, his hearing loss would have defined his future.


"A rich language environment “is like oxygen. It’s easy to take for granted until you see someone who isn’t getting enough.”"

It’s here that Michelle’s story and my turning point begin.
Zach had already set the bar, and what was happening to Michelle after her cochlear implant did not come close to my expectations of what should be happening.
“very little response,” is quite different from “no response.” Both Michelle’s mother and I were delighted; Michelle, it seemed, could hear, which meant she could learn to talk.
While she responded to sound in the testing booth, she neither used nor seemed to understand speech.
Ultimately it was acknowledged that while Michelle could hear sounds, she did not understand their meanings, nor did she seem to be able to learn to understand their meanings.
What were the salient differences that separated the outcomes of Zach and Michelle?
the factors that differentiate Zach’s and Michelle’s abilities to learn are essentially the same that determine reaching learning potentials for all of us.


The reading level in third grade generally predicts the ultimate learning trajectory for all children.

Michelle is also in the third grade, although in a Total Communication classroom. Even with a working cochlear implant she functions with minimal spoken language and only a basic grasp of sign language; the hope for true spoken language a distant dream. In addition, her third-grade reading is barely at the level of a kindergartener, a predictor of her life to come.
Why had the miraculous promise of a cochlear implant passed by this bright little girl with so much potential?

It turns out that what had gone wrong goes wrong more often than I had realized.
I, of course, had been sure that all of the children I had implanted early would be in the exclusively Oral classrooms. I was very wrong.
nine students in a semicircle of desks facing the teacher, who was signing to them. The silence was overwhelming.
I went over and gave her a hug. Michelle, having no idea who I was, looked up at me with a confused, shy smile. No longer the vibrant little toddler I had first known, her sparkle seemed to have faded completely.

When I looked at her lovely face, it was hard to say whether I was seeing the tragedy of deafness or the tragedy of poverty. Without question, however, I knew that I was seeing the tragedy of wasted potential.

Two babies had come to me with very similar potentials but with very different outcomes.
my obligation didn’t end when I finished operating; it ended when my patient was well. I knew, absolutely, that it was time for me to step outside the comfortable world of the operating room.


Michelle’s problems were related to the world into which she had been born.


Betty Hart and Todd Risley wanted to find a way to improve the poor academic achievement in low-income children.
The program they designed, which included intense vocabulary enrichment, initially seemed to work.
The conventional wisdom of the time was that if you do well it’s because you’re smart; if you don’t do well, it’s because you’re not.
In their groundbreaking study, they found another answer to the pivotal question “why?” The language environments of young children born into poverty, their study showed, were very different from the language environments of children born to more affluent families.

while their study showed that children in lower socioeconomic homes heard far less language, quantity was not the only difference. significant differences in quality.
that is, what types of words were spoken and how they were spoken to a child.
Hart and Risley found that no matter how well or how poorly the children did academically, the early language environment was the significant factor. It all came down to words.

Because of Hart and Risley, the importance of the early language environment began to be understood: that the words a child heard, both the quantity and the quality, from birth through three years of age could be linked to the predictable stark disparities in ultimate educational achievement.


I began to understand, thanks to the work of many dedicated scientists, that it takes more than the ability to hear sounds for language to develop; it is learning that the sounds have meaning that is critical. And for that, a young child must live in a world rich with words and words and words.

I had given all of my patients the same ability to hear, but for those children born into homes where there was less talk, less eliciting of response, less variation in vocabulary, the meaningful sounds needed to make those critical brain connections were not sufficient.

The cochlear implant, as incredible as it is, is not the missing puzzle piece. Rather, it is simply a conduit, a pathway for the essential puzzle piece, the miraculous power of parent talk.
Without that language environment, the ability to hear is a wasted gift. Without that language environment, a child will be unlikely to achieve optimally.

I believe that every baby, every child, from every home, from every socioeconomic status, deserves the chance to fulfill his or her highest potentials. We just have to make it happen.
And we can.
And that is what this book is about.


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

—- attributed to Margaret Mead