Young Children Thrive On 30,000 Words A Day

Armen Hareyan's picture

For children between birth and age 3, the most powerful number is 30,000 -- the number of words they need to hear every day from their parents and caregivers, to ensure optimal language development and academic success, according to the Power of Talk research study.

Infoture, a Boulder-based company, is receiving international recognition for its Power of Talk study, which expands on the well-known benchmark study by Dr. Todd Risley, Ph.D., and confirms that young children who hear at least 30,000 words a day will thrive regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. That's the same number heard in 18 and a half readings of Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat."

"When parents share their children's output of words with me, I remind them that it's actually the input that matters. The parents' and caregivers' words are what really count," said Steven Perry, M.D., pediatrician with Cherry Creek Pediatrics in Denver. "It's not educational toys, TV or videos that make your child smart and well-adjusted; it's talk. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 2 years and under not watch any TV or videos, but spend quality time with caregivers instead."

Conducted by a team of scientists, including language experts and speech technology engineers, the Power of Talk study examines the relationship between talk and child language development. Some key findings include:

-- Parents estimated they talked more with their children than they actually did.

-- Parents of advanced children in the 90th to 99th percentile on language assessments spoke substantially more to their children than did parents of children who were not as advanced.

-- Most language training for children came from mothers, with mothers (both working and stay-at-home) accounting for 78 percent of total talk.


-- Mothers talked more to daughters than they did to sons.

-- Parents talked more to first-born children than to children who followed in the birth order.

-- Most adult talk between parent and child occurred in the late afternoon and early evening.

Infoture used revolutionary technology to develop a system that measures the quality of a child's natural language environment and language development through the number of words and conversational turns. Named LENA (Language ENvironment Analysis), this device is now available to parents for tracking words and conversational turns with their children. The LENA feedback reports help parents improve a child's cumulative language experience and accelerate that child's language, cognitive development and preparedness for school.

Jill Gilkerson, Ph.D., director of language research for Infoture, helped author the Power of Talk study. "Most parents want to provide outstanding language environments for their children -- but they have no way of knowing what level of language input their children are receiving. They are not aware of inconsistencies and low-talk times during a day or week," said Gilkerson. "With LENA, parents can make educated choices based on real information and not on guesswork. And that means they have one less thing to worry about. In fact, the LENA reports might be compared to food journals that dieters keep, because the perception of how much a person eats (or in this case, talks) is often far different from the reality."

Infoture's local roots and community commitment inspired the company to offer 100 free devices to pediatricians in Colorado with low-income patients who might benefit from LENA's measurement and data collection. Through the end of the year, physicians and speech and language pathologists can visit and request a free device for a family with financial and developmental needs.

In addition, Infoture has made a donation to Reach Out and Read Colorado to fund five "literacy corners" (reading nooks with stacked bookcases in pediatrician waiting rooms) in Pueblo, Greeley, Grand Junction, Alamosa and Lamar. Reach Out and Read volunteers staff the literacy corners and offer advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud. Infoture is also providing curriculum for Denver area hospitals' prenatal and parenting classes to teach new parents about the importance of talking with newborns. Statewide outreach to associations and educational groups is part of Infoture's ongoing commitment to reach parents and caregivers with healthy information.

"Talk is for everyone," added Mia Moe, director of marketing for Infoture. "A solid foundation in language advances a child's potential and future academic success, regardless of socioeconomic status. If we can focus on talk as the number-one priority, then all children can be successful."