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When Prof. Dana Suskind first began implanting devices called cochlear implants on babies who couldn’t hear, she quickly noticed something about her patients.

“The cochlear implant would allow sound to go to a child’s brain, but something else was needed to make those sounds have meaning.”

Suskind observed that many of her patients struggled to develop language because their parents didn’t talk to them as much. It was a revelation that inspired her to found the Thirty Million Words Initiative, which aims to narrow that achievement gap. The program has since led to a best-selling book and most recently, a community partnership that will test these innovative ideas on a national scale.

On this episode of Big Brains, Suskind discusses her transformation from surgeon to social scientist, how auditing a UChicago class shaped her work, and simple advice for parents and care-givers to teach kids from day one.

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