Language Games Children Play: Language Invention in a Montessori Primary School

Reference work entry


This chapter illustrates the main results of a language laboratory held in a Montessori primary school in Milan, Italy, during 7 years. Pupils (age: 9–11) are guided in the collective invention of a secret language, using all their linguistic repertoire present in class – including minority and home languages. The structure of the language is highly influenced by the language of instruction (in our case, Italian), but, at the same time, it differs from that because its aim is to be secret. In other words, the invented language is shared among the class members only, who know how to decipher its alphabet and grammar, unlike other schoolmates. Secrecy permits the inventor to insert elements from other languages, resulting in an a priori language contact. During the process of invention, participants increase their metalinguistic awareness and thus their understanding of the languages they are studying formally – in our case, Italian and English. The Montessori method fosters a “learning-by-doing” approach and an active interdisciplinary cross-fertilization (called Cosmic Education). In fact, pupils may use the secret language to create an imaginary country – usually an island – and conceive a utopian society, putting together notions of natural sciences (for instance, orography) and social sciences, in particular, to describe the ideal human society speaking their secret language. The chapter also includes reflection on how this language laboratory can be applied in other educational contexts, maintaining its original character of being a serious game for learning.


Language invention Language contact Metalinguistic awareness Edutainment Secret language 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ACLCUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.University of TurinTurinItaly

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