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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Book of Languages: Talk your way around the world, by Mick Webb. Owlkids, 2015. $17.95 ages 10 and up

"Called Kanji, it was imported into Japan in the 5th century. Kanji is still used alongside two other alphabets (Hiragana and Katakana), for writing Japanese. For nearly a hundred years, until the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), Japan's empire included Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Japanese was an official language in these countries."  

This is a book that will prove useful in many school classrooms. It provides its readers with the means for saying 'hello' in 48 different languages. Imagine how much fun that will be for them!

A quick look at the importance of language and its history, which also includes an overview of what is inside, scripts and pronunciation, dead languages, the oldest one, some intriguing language facts, and the ways in which certain languages are connected is our introduction.

Then, the author moves on to introduce 21 different communication systems prevalent around the world. He begins with Arabic and uses a double page format, with text boxes, to list the countries that are Arabic-speaking, a short history of its use, a world map showing those countries where it is spoken, a list of greetings, the numbers 1 through 10, pronunciation help, an invitation for the reader to try a hand at universal greetings, and what it particular to the language itself. On the far right side of the spread, the letters of the alphabet are shown and named.

I can just see kids sitting and poring over this book, then trying to speak with one another in unfamiliar (or perhaps familiar) languages. How empowering  and welcome is that - for them to be able to speak to new students who may not be familiar with the language spoken in the classroom.

Following the chosen languages, Mick Webb includes nonverbal language, sign language ( which I used sparingly when teaching because I knew only a smattering of signs and the alphabet), semaphore (which I loved learning when in CGIT), Morse code (which I found nigh on impossible to figure out) and even the variety of ways in which animals communicate with each other. A glossary, an index, and world maps at both front and back that teach children how to say hello and goodbye in labelled countries are most useful, too.

It is a terrific starting point and worthy of a space in many classrooms, and homes.

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