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Einstein & Speech Development

Was Einstein really a late talker as a child?

The inspiration behind ALBIE’S FIRST WORD

Like most people, I’ve always known Albert Einstein as the wild-haired genius who revolutionized the world of physics with his E = mc2 equation and theory of relativity, the free-thinker and nonconformist who spoke out for world peace and nuclear disarmament, and the rumpled professor whose eyes twinkled as he stuck his tongue out for the camera.

It was while researching an article on children’s speech development that I first came across reference to Albert Einstein’s late talking as a little boy. As a mom to a late talker myself, I was intrigued. I wondered what Einstein’s childhood must have been like, especially the moment the hesitant speaker finally said something to his concerned parents!

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As I researched more, here’s what I found: Einstein was born March 14, 1879 in the German town of Ulm, on the banks of the Danube River.  Exactly how old he was when he uttered his first words is unknown. However, he would write, “It is true that my parents were worried because I began to speak relatively late, so much so that they contacted a doctor. I can’t say how old I was, certainly not less than three.”

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The future physicist was unusual in other ways. He was quiet and detached compared to others his age; a loner who preferred to “engage in daydreaming and meditative musing.” Younger sister and lifelong best friend, Maja Einstein (pronounced My-ah), recalled her brother’s endless fascination with a compass their father brought home one day, his ease at learning mathematics, and his ability to construct houses of cards 14-stories tall, a feat that never failed to astound their family. She, too, noted her brother’s speechdevelopment difficulties, writing in a recollection of their childhood together that,“he had such difficulty with language that those around him feared he would never learn.”

In 1881, the Einstein family moved to Munich. We don’t know what remedy the doctor prescribed for Albert’s late talking or whether the Einstein family ever really attended a symphony, listened to one of Max Planck’s physics lectures, or raced toy boats in Munich’s grand Englischer Garten, in their efforts to get Albert talking. Einstein’s first words, too, have been lost to time.

In 1905, Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity and in 1915, the General Theory of Relativity. He won the Nobel Prize for his work and his ideas about space and time have helped the world to better understand the very nature of the cosmos itself. His E=mc2 equation showed how tiny atoms can yield massive amounts of energy, paving the way for the development of nuclear weapons, something Einstein would spend the last decades of his life speaking out against.

Einstein moved to the United States in 1933 and began teaching at Princeton University. He continued his scientific explorations and, in his free time, liked to sail and play the violin (Mozart was his favorite). In 1951, he was asked to become President of Israel, an honor he politely declined.

Before his death in 1955, Einstein explained in a letter to a friend exactly what fueled his lifelong thirst for knowledge. Not surprisingly, he credited childhood. “People like you and me never grow old,” he wrote. “We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”