Tucked down a cobbled street between the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Saint-Sulpice church is Mundolingua, a fantastic, interactive museum dedicated to the history of languages and linguistics. But don’t be put off by the technical, academic nature of the topic – a visit here is immensely enjoyable, informative, and accessible to all but the very young.
As you go in, each visitor is given a pair of headphones to enjoy videos and play with touch screens around the exhibit. The staff are enormously welcoming, providing an introduction and a brief overview of the museum – in English or French – to every visitor. There’s a lot to take in, but everything is explained in a fun, insightful, layperson’s way. For those who want to test their language skills, you can tour around the museum in any of the six official languages of the United Nations (English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese or Russian).
After three years’ preparation and research, the museum was finally opened to the public in 2013, and it certainly provides an impressively thorough primer in all things language. So while the ground floor zooms in on sound systems and features common to all languages, the basement centres on linguistic diversity around the world, how languages evolve and the interplay between language and technology. Come back once a month for one-off evening lectures on everything from ‘hyperpolygots’, the brainboxes who speak more than ten languages, to the art of translation, or even a talk from world-renowned linguist and author David Crystal.