How many words?

I am very fond of the Thirty Million Words initiative. It uses the power of adult-child speech to give kids a better start in life, by encouraging people to speak more to children and build their verbal and other skills. The benefits are proven, for example in later educational attainment.

Why 30 Million? Because of a 1995 paper suggsting that by their 4th birthday, kids from, shall we say, more engaged backgrounds had heard 30 million words more than those at the other end of the caring spectrum. So the idea is to extend these benefits to all.

But I do feel that all these words demand some sums. On your fourth birthday, you’ve been alive four years. So some kids are hearing 7.5 million more words than others in each year of early childhood. That’s 20,548 per day, or 14 per minute, or one every four seconds, assuming that their parents (et al) speak to them non-stop, 24/7. And of course, even the least engaged parents and minders presumably speak to their children a bit. It’s 30 Million more than other kids, not 30 Million total.

No wonder these children go on to do well at school. They are hoping to leave home ASAP and get some relief from all that non-stop jabbering.

About Martin Ince

UK-based science and higher education journalist, big strengths in universities and university ranking, futures, media strategy and training, Earth and space sciences
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