I’ve been thinking for quite some time about how one would introduce the idea of creating languages with children. Tolkien mentions in his pivotal essay (A Secret Vice) how natural it was for him as a child to create languages. The playfulness, openess, and boundless creativity of children is not hampered by preconceptions and societal expectations and so seems tailor-made for conlanging. Some people seem to think that language creation should be something one grows out of; but, as we know, that is certainly not the case. Language creation can just get more complex (and fun) as we get older. Conveying that to kids, however, can be difficult.
As primary Twitterer for the Language Creation Society’s @fiatlingua, I just came across an interesting tweet today from TEDx concerning use of Esperanto in the classroom. The video connected to the tweet is at http://youtu.be/8gSAkUOElsg . The organization is called Springboard … to Languages and the goal is to use Esperanto as a “springboard” to learning other languages and language in general. The speaker’s point was that it is an “easy” language to learn (easier than Spanish or French or Chinese), and children can begin communicating in the language much faster and more efficiently than other languages. This, in turn, builds confidence and engenders curiousity about “more difficult” languages. His analogy to bassoon-playing seems apropos.
However, this does not provide an avenue to language creation (even though Esperanot is a conlang) but one to learning natural languages. The goal is not for the children to create their own languages but to see Esperanto as a bridge language to introduce concepts about language.
There just aren’t a lot of books or movies that children can be introduced to that engender and encourage the craft of conlanging. I myself fondly remember Dr. Seuss (especially On Beyond Zebra) that got me interested at a young age in scripts, words, and the playful use of language. The Lord of the Rings (the books, long before the movies) was pivotal to my development as a conlanger (and “evangelist” for the craft). Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy included Sindarin and Quenya, but most people who see that (if they don’t already know about Tolkien’s languages) will most likely think something along the lines “That’s cool! I want a tattoo now that says [fill in your “Elvish” phrase here].” It once again doesn’t show that you too can create languages. Likewise, you can’t really speak Huttese or other Star Wars languages. Children don’t really get Star Trek with its Klingon language, and we really can’t introduce kids to Dothraki (at least in context).
We do have some worksheets and other tools on the Education page of the Library, but those are one-time workshop type of things. “That was cool… now onto something else.”
The answer to this question also depends on what age group one is talking about: Elementary-school age, middle-school, tweens, teens, etc.
I believe there are also those conlangers that believe we should do nothing to encourage young people to join in conlanging. That “evangelizing” the “secret vice” is neither necessary nor warranted nor even desired. My own feeling is that we certainly can’t make anyone into a conlanger against his or her will, but those that do show a proclivity towards it and an aptitude for it should be encouraged and shown that conlanging is a viable, worthwhile, and enjoyable hobby.
So, any ideas on introducing the viability of conlanging to children (at any age)? I’m all ears.
Have you ever wanted to share your love of conlanging with a group in a more-or-less formal classroom setting? Have you ever wanted to give a presentation on the art and science of conlanging? The Conlanger’s Library can now help! The Education page at the Library contains materials you can use to create a PowerPoint presentation, handouts, and also includes inspirational videos. Materials there have been created by Nathan Richardson, Sai Emrys, Sheri Beth Wells-Jensen, and yours truly. If you have any items from formal classes which you have taught or presentations which you have given and you’d like to share them with the community, email lcs (at) conlang (dot) org.