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
ralph-smith-quote.jpg
 

What We Have to Offer

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, makerspaces, 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
sketches.jpg

A full range of programming in the museum’s auditorium will offer many opportunities to learn and explore additional language-related topics. Visitors will hear the hottest spoken-voice poets, listen to authors read from their newest books, and have an opportunity to enroll in classes on songwriting, storytelling, or sign language. They’ll create a marketing campaign, listen to themselves give a famous speech, or climb a rhyming word wall. Visitors will solve problems by being forensic linguists or visiting our in-house language research lab. When it’s time for a break, snacks and meals chock-full of wordplay will be available at the museum café. Our shop in the museum store will offer the most unusual, one-of-a-kind 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 announce that its new, permanent home will be the historic Franklin School, at the corner of 13th and K streets in the heart of Washington, D.C. The school, the site of a 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 winter 2019.

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 is Worldwide Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller, a WPP, Inc. company. 

View Bio ❯

Lisa Bernstein

Lisa Bernstein is an education consultant specializing in literacy in high poverty communities. 

View Bio ❯

Katherine Brittain Bradley

Katherine Brittain Bradley is the president of CityBridge Foundation, a nonprofit enterprise located in Washington, D.C. 

View Bio ❯

 

Ann Doerr

Ann Doerr is the chair of Khan Academy and is on the board of the Environmental Defense Fund.

View Bio ❯

Susan Engel

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

View Bio ❯

Ann B. Friedman

Ann Friedman is the Founder and CEO of Planet Word. 

View Bio ❯

 

Thomas L. Friedman

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

View Bio ❯

Jay Goldberg

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

View Bio ❯

Kenneth Greer

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

View Bio ❯

 

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.

View Bio ❯

Lindsay Martin

Lindsay Martin joined the Hammer Museum at UCLA in 2015 as the Director, Administration. 

View Bio ❯

Craig Mundie

Craig Mundie, the former Research and Strategy officer at Microsoft, is President of Mundie & Associates. 

View Bio ❯

 

Jonathan Plutzik

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

View Bio ❯

Stefanie Sanford

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

View Bio ❯

Deborah Ratner Salzberg

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

View Bio ❯

 

Dov Seidman

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

View Bio ❯

Marsha L. Semmel

Marsha Semmel is an independent consultant working with foundations, museums, libraries, and educational organizations. 

View Bio ❯

Douglas Siegler

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

View Bio ❯

 
 

Ralph Smith

Ralph Smith is Senior Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the managing director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

View Bio ❯

Jerry Tarde

Jerry Tarde is the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Conde Nast’s Golf Digest Companies.

View Bio ❯

 
 

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.

Cindy K. Chung – Senior Research Scientist, Intel, Social Psychologist in People Analytics developing language and behavioral assessments for work practice innovation

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, and founder of Schwa Fire, a digital publication devoted to journalism about language and life

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

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 – Google, cognitive linguist, specialist in language learning 

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

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

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

Cecile McKee – Professor of Linguistics and Senior Director of Research Development Services, U. 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

Eric Motley – Executive vice president for institutional advancement, Aspen Institute, Henry Crown Fellow, former director of the State Department’s International Visitors office, rare book collector, specialist on lexicographer Samuel Johnson, poet

Elisa New – Powell M. Cabot Professor of American literature at Harvard and director of Poetry in America, a multimedia initiative including online courses, professional development for teachers and a public television series

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 – Google, Arabic linguist, natural language processing, dialectology

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

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

Anna Deavere Smith – Actress, playwright, professor, Tisch School of the Arts New York University

Clint Smith – Ph.D. 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 of Linguistics, Georgetown University, interactional sociolinguistics; the role of language in relationships at home and at work; cross-cultural communication including gender and regional differences; the discourse of new media 

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

Maiko Villaneuva – Associate 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

Ana Celia Zentella – Educational Linguistics, Professor Emerita in the Ethnic Studies Department of the University of California San Diego, researcher in “anthro-political linguistics,” and 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

Ben Zimmer  Linguist, lexicographer, all-around word nut. Language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and 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