Our Vision

Language is what makes us human. From earliest childhood we weave our words into speech to communicate. At Planet Word we inspire and renew a love of words and language through unique, immersive learning experiences.


The Big Issue

of adults read below a fifth-grade level.

of adults read below a fifth-grade level.

In the 21st century, first-rate literacy skills are more and more essential. The very strength of a democracy depends upon a literate population to understand and address the complex issues of the day. But in the U.S., all the trends are moving in the wrong direction: too many adult Americans cannot read at a functional level; fewer people read for pleasure or subscribe to a daily newspaper; reading scores on standardized tests have stagnated; our political discussions too frequently descend into diatribe, not dialogue.

of 4th graders fail to perform at the Basic level on national reading tests.

of 4th graders fail to perform at the Basic level on national reading tests.

Lacking fundamental reading skills, a significant number of Americans are being left behind. Too many Americans are unable to read recipes, medication labels, and job applications or perform the basic reading tasks that so many of us take for granted. We aim to help change that by making language and the language arts an integral part of the American experience in Washington, D.C.

Literacy is the essential gateway to early school success, high school graduation, participation in the global economy and citizenship. But what is magical about reading is how we move from learning to read, to reading to learn, and then loving to read. Although Planet Word will be a national museum dedicated to reading, writing, and speaking in a fun and informal setting, truly it will be even more…Planet Word will be nothing less than a bold attempt to capture and share the magic.
— Ralph R. Smith, Managing Director, Campaign for Grade Level Reading

What We Have to Offer

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We’ll take our guests on an immersive journey that will awaken a love of language that will last a lifetime! We’ll show every visitor the fun of words and language everywhere they look – from the menu in the café to the walls in the bathrooms to the floors and the stairwells. And by welcoming readers of all ages and at all language levels, including non-English speakers, Planet Word is truly for everyone.

Many surprises about words and language await at Planet Word. Visitors will engage in activities that make words and language exciting with delightful programming and playful, interactive exhibits. Opportunities for self-expression and intense listening ensure that no one will leave Planet Word without finding the fun in how we joke, sing, speak, read, and write every day. Visitors to Planet Word will realize that words really do matter, and that they can be humankind’s most powerful tools.

Innovative, playful, and immersive exhibits and experiences will beckon visitors to explore the power of words. Through multi-sensory and physical activities, through listening and conversation, Planet Word will inspire and renew a love of words and language, leaving visitors eager to return over and over again. 

Museums are a family experience for us. There’s something there for everybody. Even the parents would enjoy this.
— Parent, focus-group feedback
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Visitors will create a marketing campaign, watch themselves give a famous speech, or be moved by the rhythm of words and lyrics. They'll meet professional linguists and participate in cutting-edge research in our language lab. A full range of programming in the museum’s auditorium will also provide opportunities to explore the world of words. Visitors can hear the hottest spoken-word poets, listen to authors read from their newest books, and enroll in classes on songwriting, storytelling, or sign language. When it’s time for a break, visitors can enjoy a Gutenburger or some alphabet soup at the museum café. To round out a memorable visit, the museum store will offer unique, word-related gifts.

A place where you can admire the linguistic footprints of others, and leave your own.
— David Crystal, Advisory Board member and renowned linguist, on what he imagines could happen at a museum of words and language

Our Museum

Photograph in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Photograph in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Planet Word is a 501(c)(3) public charity. It was incorporated in Washington, D.C., in 2013 as the Museum of Language Arts, Inc. The museum is thrilled to find a permanent home in the historic Franklin School, at the corner of 13th and K streets in the heart of Washington, D.C. The school, the site of one of the earliest co-ed high schools and teacher-training institutes, was also the site of Alexander Graham Bell’s transmission of a “photophone” message, a precursor to today’s fiber-optic communications. The school’s striking architectural details add to the building’s national landmark status. Following sensitive but extensive interior renovations adhering to the strictest historic preservation standards, Planet Word plans to open its doors to the public by Spring 2020.

Planet Word’s location in the iconic Franklin School will guarantee its role as a community anchor and cultural magnet in Washington, D.C., one that makes a difference at the neighborhood level and captivates national and international tourists when they visit our nation’s capital.

When we asked Will Shortz, the NY Times enigmatologist what he’d look for in a museum site for PLANET WORD, he had this to say:

Look for a site in the NEW/OLD PART of the city, something that you DREW TO PLAN. In other words, a WONDER PLAT.
— Will Shortz

You can expect much more word fun and play within Planet Word’s walls and within its digital universe!


Board of Directors

Planet Word is privileged to have the support of talented and experienced board members from across the country. Their leadership in fields as diverse as museum operations, governance, education, real estate, marketing, journalism, literacy, and community partnerships ensures that Planet Word has the guidance and oversight to grow from the kernel of an untested idea to a thriving, world-class institution.

Don Baer

Don Baer is Chairman of the global strategic communications firm Burson Cohn & Wolfe. 

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Antoinette Bush

Antoinette Bush is the Executive Vice President and Global Head of Government Affairs for News Corp.

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HyeSook Chung

HyeSook Chung is the President of The Baltimore City Foundation.

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Michael Cornfeld

Michael Cornfeld is President and Chief Investment Officer of Heritage Investors Management Corporation.

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Ann Doerr

Ann Doerr primarily works in the area of climate change.

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Susan Engel

Susan Engel is Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Founding Director of the Program in Teaching at Williams College. 

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samia farouki

Samia Farouki

Samia Farouki is the Founder and CEO of Hii-Finance, Corp., a global investment company.

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Ann B. Friedman

Ann Friedman is the Founder and CEO of Planet Word. 

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Thomas L. Friedman

Tom Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times.  

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Jay Goldberg

Jay Goldberg is an attorney and CPA who concentrates in tax, estate planning, and probate. 

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Mary Louise Gorno

Mary Lou Gorno is Managing Director of Ingenuity International.

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Kenneth Greer

Ken Greer is a brand strategist, change agent, technology geek, and creative spark.

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Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly Johnson is Fannie Mae’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

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Sara Mark Lesk

Sara Lesk is Senior Educator and Manager of Art Around the Corner in the Education Division at the National Gallery of Art.

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Lindsay Martin

Lindsay Martin is Deputy Director of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.

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Caron Garcia Martinez

Caron Garcia Martinez is Director of the Center for Business Communications at American University’s Kogod School of Business. 

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Craig Mundie

Craig Mundie is President of Mundie & Associates. 

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Jonathan Plutzik

Jonathan Plutzik is the Chairman and principal owner of The Betsy – South Beach.

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Deborah Ratner Salzberg

Deborah Ratner Salzberg has been Executive Vice President of Forest City Enterprises since June, 2013.

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Stefanie Sanford

Stefanie Sanford serves as Chief of Global Policy & External Relations for the College Board. 

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Joseph Sassoon

Joseph Sassoon is a Professor in the School of Foreign Service and History Department at Georgetown University.

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Dov Seidman

Dov Seidman has led a career focused on how companies and their people can operate in both principled and profitable ways. 

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Marsha L. Semmel

Marsha Semmel is an independent consultant working with cultural and educational organizations. 

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Douglas Siegler

Doug Siegler is an estate attorney at the Washington, D.C., offices of Venable, LLP. 

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Tina Small

Tina Small serves on the Executive Committee of the National Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors.

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anna deavere smith

Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, playwright, teacher, and author.

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Ralph Smith

Ralph Smith is the managing director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

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Rick Soskin

Rick Soskin serves as President and CEO of Engineered Network Solutions, Inc.

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Jerry Tarde

Jerry Tarde is the Editor-in-Chief of Golf Digest and Global Head of Strategy and Content for Discovery Golf, a division of Discovery Inc.

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Lynn Thoman

Lynn Thoman is an adjunct professor at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

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Advisory Board Members

The museum's eminent Advisory Board Members represent experts from many diverse fields – linguistics, anthropology, literature, computer science, natural language processing, music, theater, psychology, and more. But what they all share is a true love of words and a curiosity about language. The museum is fortunate to have their enthusiastic support and expertise as we move forward.

Allen Adamson – Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Metaforce and an expert in all disciplines of branding; author of four books including Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World

Lisa Bernstein – Strategist for LearnZillion.com, developing the curriculum and content for all English Language Arts products; formerly an educator in DCPS, specializing in teaching literacy in low SES communities

Adam Bradley – Professor of English, University of Colorado Boulder; director of the Laboratory for Race & Popular Culture (the RAP Lab); author of Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip HopThe Poetry of Pop; and One Day It’ll All Make Sense, a memoir written for rapper and actor Common; editor of The Anthology of Rap

Cindy K. Chung – Principal Research Scientist, 7 Cups; social psychological assessments of language and well-being

Linda Coleman – Associate Professor of English, University of Maryland; language, writing, and rhetoric, the language of politics, discourse analysis

David Crystal – Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Bangor, Wales; writer, lecturer, and broadcaster on language and linguistics, with special reference to English

Anne Curzan – Professor of English and Linguistics, University of Michigan; research on the history of English, language and gender, lexicography, and pedagogy

Petra Dierkes-Thrun – Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Stanford University; digital pedagogy in the humanities

Michael Erard – Writer, linguist, author of Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners and Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean

Deborah Fallows – Linguist, Fellow at New America, contributing writer for The Atlantic, and author of Dreaming in Chinese

Ben Folds – Genre-bending singer-songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist; Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra; author of A Dream About Lightning Bugs

Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla – Associate Professor of Indigenous Languages & Education (Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies; Department of Language and Literacy Education), University of British Columbia; Hawaiian and Indigenous language revitalization, education, and digital technology

John Huehnergard – Former Professor of Semitic Philology, Harvard University, and Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin; Semitic languages, historical linguistics, and writing systems

Dan Jurafsky – Professor and Chair of Linguistics and Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University; computational linguistics and its application to the behavioral and social sciences

Kathrin Kaiser – Cognitive linguist and instructional designer specializing in second language acquisition, language revitalization, and experience-, project-, place-, and game-based language learning solutions

Kimberlee Kiehl – Senior Vice President of Operations & Experience, COSI (Columbus Center of Science and Industry); former director, Museum of Ohio Project; former Executive Director, Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC); former Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy and Operations Officer, COSI

Michael Macovski – Associate Professor, Communications, Culture and Technology (CCT), Georgetown University; literary criticism and textual studies

Gretchen McCulloch – Internet linguist and author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language; Resident Linguist at Wired and co-creator of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics

Erin McKean – Lexicographer, founder of the online dictionary Wordnik, author of the “Weird and Wonderful Words” series

Cecile McKee – Professor of Linguistics, University of Arizona; cross-linguistic comparisons of language development, children’s language production, collaboration on informal science learning with Children’s Museum Tucson

John McWhorter – Professor of Linguistics, Columbia University; how creole languages form and how language grammars change as the result of sociohistorical phenomena

John Morreall – President of Humorworks Seminars and author of six books on the nature and value of humor, most recently Laughing All the Way

Deborah Morrison – Carolyn Silva Chambers Distinguished Professor of Advertising and director of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication advertising program, where she teaches creativity and strategic thinking

Eric Motley – Executive Vice President and Corporate Secretary, The Aspen Institute, Henry Crown Fellow, former director of the State Department’s International Visitors Office, author and poet, rare book collector, specialist on 18th century lexicographer Samuel Johnson

Elisa New – Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University and director of multimedia initiatives including online courses for credit, professional development for teachers, and the public television series Poetry in America

Barry Slaughter Olsen – Associate Professor of Translation and Interpretation, Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation and Language Education, Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) and co-founder of InterpretAmerica; translation, interpreting, multilingual communication, and technology


Daniela K. O'Neill – Professor of Psychology, University of Waterloo; how language and social cognition develop in early childhood and the assessment of young children's use of language

James Pennebaker – Regents Centennial Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, social psychology of everyday language

Colin Phillips – Director, Maryland Language Science Center and Professor of Linguistics, University of Maryland; psychology and neuroscience of language, language diversity, interdisciplinary research and education

Steven Pinker – Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University; research on language and cognition

Jason Reeder – Arabic linguist, natural language processing, dialectology

Jason Reynolds – Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of many books including Miles Morales: Spider Man, the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu), Long Way Down, which received both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor, and the upcoming Look Both Ways; on faculty at Lesley University for the Writing for Young People MFA Program

Bill Rivers – Executive Director of the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies, specialist in language and national security, language access, and the language industry

Andrew Robinson – Author of many books, including The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs and Pictograms; Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts; Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction; Cracking the Egyptian Code, a biography of Jean-François Champollion; and The Last Man Who Knew Everything, a biography of Thomas Young

Deborah Ross – Teacher of English as a Second Language, Maryland and Washington, D.C. 

Mark Seidenberg  Vilas Research Professor and Donald O. Hebb Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison; cognitive neuroscientist, decades of research in language, reading, and dyslexia

Will Shortz – Enigmatologist, New York Times crossword editor, puzzle master for NPR

Paul Simon – Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, musician, and composer

Clint Smith – PhD candidate, Harvard University; teacher, writer, 2014 National Poetry Slam champion

Geneva Smitherman – University Distinguished Professor Emerita, Department of English; Co-Founder, Core Faculty and former Acting Director, African American and African Studies, Core Faculty, African Studies Center, Michigan State University; co-author most recently of Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language and Race in the U.S. (2012)

Catherine Snow – Harvard Graduate School of Education, Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor; specialist in children’s language acquisition, effective reading instruction, bilingualism, and developing curricular supports for language and literacy

Deborah Tannen – University Professor and Professor of Linguistics, Georgetown University; associate editor, Language in Society; author of many books, including You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation; You're Wearing THAT?: Mothers and Daughters in Conversation; and The Argument Culture: Stopping America's War of Words  

Rob Turknett – Senior engineer at IBM Watson and founding member of the Austin Museum of Digital Art; creative technologist, digital humanities and data visualization researcher, and songwriter

Charlotte Vaughn – Instructor, Department of Linguistics, University of Oregon; research on speech perception, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics; public engagement with language science

Miako Villanueva – Professor of Linguistics, Gallaudet University; American Sign Language (ASL), applied cognitive linguistics and community engagement, sign language teaching, and sign language interpreting

Laura Wagner – Associate Professor of Psychology, Ohio State University; children's language acquisition, Director of the Language Sciences Research Lab at the Columbus Center of Science and Industry (COSI) 

Walt Wolfram – William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of English Linguistics at North Carolina State University, pioneering research on social and ethnic dialects of American English, co-author of American English: Dialects and Variation, producer of materials for public education, including television documentaries and museum exhibits

David Yaun – Long-time IBM Corporate Communications vice president; led global public relations, employee communications, and executive speechwriting teams

Ana Celia Zentella – Professor Emerita in the Ethnic Studies Department of the University of California San Diego; anthropolitical linguist, studies U.S. Latin@ varieties of Spanish and English; author of award-winning Growing up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York, and co-author of Spanish in New York: Language Contact, Dialect Leveling, and Structural Continuity; editor of Multilingual San Diego and Multilingual Philadelphia, written by her students

Ben Zimmer  Linguist, lexicographer, all-around word nut; language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and contributing editor to The Atlantic; former columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine; recipient of the Linguistic Society of America's first ever Linguistics Journalism Award