Speaking Some Dead Languages

-posted by Meghan

Kids are little parrots.  It’s one of those things that you learn early as a parent (when you say, drop a cast iron skillet on your toe or get stuck in horrific traffic behind an idiot and let slip a word you’ve been careful to never utter in front of your kids, and suddenly it’s the only thing they want to say for the following weeks, months, years…)  And while you may not like them picking up all the words you let slip, if you read to them a varied and diverse selection of books, you just might be surprised (and thrilled!) by some of the words they absorb- and ask to learn more of.  I’ve had two specific examples drop into my lap in the last couple of weeks, and wanted to share them, and they blew me away (both with how amazing books can be, and how amazing kids can be!).

Let me start with the close to home example of my own 4-year-olds.  Molly and Jacob have always loved Skippyjon Jones in Mummy Trouble.  And my favorite exhibit at LACMA (our local museum) is the Mummy room.  So we’ve always talked about pyramids and mummies, and recently we went to the library and got out a bunch of books on the subject.  A couple of times the kids would ask what the hieroglyphics in the books meant, and I’d read the translations, but I thought nothing of it.  Until I heard them reading the book, including the hieroglyphics, to each other, and then drawing their own versions (mainly involving ladders-apparently in their universe, all the ancient Egyptians were firefighters)!  So cool! They’re teaching themselves a new (ancient) language.

On to example number two…   I belong to a local online parents group.  I get a zillion emails, and usually glance at the subject line before deleting, but one day I saw a great thread: “Anyone else have kids who want to learn Ancient Greek?” Turns out – yes, over a dozen!  So this whole group of parents have kids (ages 9-12) who love Percy Jackson and want to learn more about the mythology and also the language.  So the parents got together, hired a graduate student from UCLA, got a local art school to donate a room, and have created a language lab every Friday afternoon for the neighborhood kids.  How fantastic is that?  These kids, who could be playing video games or watching Hannah Montana, took the initiative to tell their parents they’d rather learn Greek.  (And, thank Zeus, the parents listened!)

My takeaway?  I need to be better about encouraging my kids to explore and pursue their interests even further.   It never occurred to me that the kids could learn (or create their own version) of hieroglyphics.  And I’m beyond inspired by these neighborhood parents encouraging their kids to learn Ancient Greek.  What books have inspired a hobby or language interest in your family?

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