News & Politics

The Planet Word Museum Has an Opening Date—Here’s What to Expect

The language arts museum will open to the public on May 31.

Rendering courtesy of the Planet Word Museum.

Calling all bookworms and crossword buffs: The Planet Word Museum will finally open this spring. On Thursday, the institution announced that it will welcome visitors starting on May 31, 2020.

The museum, housed in the historic Franklin School building on 13th Street, Northwest, will feature ten exhibits and galleries dedicated to words and language. It bills itself as the world’s first voice-activated institution of its kind, incorporating the technology into nearly every room. Founder and CEO Ann Friedman, who is a retired Montgomery County reading teacher, says the museum is designed to celebrate language, which she calls a “human superpower.”

Throughout the 51,000-square-foot space, where Alexander Graham Bell once successfully tested his “photophone” in 1880, visitors will be able to engage with all aspects of language arts. One room features an immersive experience called “Where Do Words Come From?” where guests can learn the history of the English-language vocabulary via a 41-foot-wide interactive wall covered in words. As guests speak, the wall lights up and tells the stories of how various words came to be.

Rendering courtesy of the Planet Word Museum.

In the school’s great hall, the largest room in the building, a multicolored LED globe hangs from the ceiling and is programmed to respond to 30 languages and two kinds of sign language. Language ambassadors will encourage guests to speak a few words in their native tongues, and the globe will react accordingly.

Other highlights include a room with interactive walls, where patrons can dip high-tech paint brushes into “word palettes” and, depending on the word, paint a different scene. “If you pick the word hibernal, the scene around you will transform into a wintertime scene,” says Friedman.

Rendering courtesy of the Planet Word Museum.

And another gallery hosts a “magical library,” with dioramas made by nine artists from across the country, each inspired by a different book, including The Little Prince and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The scenes are encased in glass and ornate gold frames. Plaques are embossed with various phrases, and as guests begin to read, lights will turn on, revealing what’s inside.

The activities are geared towards both adults and children, and include some options for toddlers, though Friedman notes that those who already know how to read will enjoy them the most. She says she wants the museum to help people better understand one another across language barriers.

“I hope that when people leave Planet Word that they will have a new empathy for the people who don’t sound like them,” she says. “We have a lot of power that our words give us. Let’s use it to bring people together and not to divide us.”

The Planet Word Museum will open on May 31, 2020 at 925 13th Street, Northwest.

Nathan Diller
Editorial Fellow

Nathan Diller has also written for DCist, Vulture, and Bustle. On Twitter, he’s @nateclaydiller.