Ladino classes for children – how?

collage-s-0027messy haired chid with peaches and little dog with woven house

(All art work on the blog is copyrighted.)

It is not only South Asian Indians who enroll their children in their respective language classes, whether Telugu or Gujarati or others.  Greeks in the US have routinely been offering Greek classes for their children in their Greek congregations for years.

One is left wondering why Sephardic Jews – at least temporarily – dropped their own language?  That becomes a question to mull over at home nd for congregations to begin discussing.  For what exists now is a glaring gap in the education of Sephardic youngsters, leaving them without the heart of their own culture.

How hard would it be to begin to correct this stark omission?

Not hard at all.

There are students taking college courses in Ladino who would be capable of offering beginning classes to little chldren if there were simple primers to follow, as inexpensive as the stapled primers used for beginning Hebrew.  And those college students could earn income from teaching the classes parents pay to enroll their children in, thus creating demand among college students for Ladino classes for themselves.

Studying Ladino would be a route to teaching children Ladino.  Children taking Ladino would be graced by having college and graduate students to teach them, making no demand on a congregation but bringing young people and children together.  Older Ladino speakers might come to contribute, uniting even more generations and creating a bond through the language.

And in terms of bonds, university students who have been studying Ladino could take up residencies in smaller communities in order that they, too, could benefit.   Those university students would find themselves especially welcome and the traveling students would not only  bring Ladino to the smaller Sephardic communities but connect communities through their stays.

Those creating the primers would be publishing books in Ladino.  Add those to the text books for university students and a small Sephardic industry would begin to grow.

What is the direction of all this?

College Ladino classes lead to university students as teachers for young Sephardic students, which leads to parents having an avenue for their young children to learn the language, which leads to children developing language skills that are unique and a source of pride and accomplishment, which leads to Sephardic kids beginning to converse with existing Ladino speakers, which leads to excitement in the entire Sephardic community as they do a stunning but, oddly, very do-able thing – bring Ladino back into the life of the community.

For overtime, the young teachers will become more skilled themselves, the primers will develop, and the young students will become fluent.

And paradoxically, with Ladino as a language, the world opens up to those young people the more deeply immersed in their own culture and history.

What is the alternative?  Sephardic parents could buy their children corporate T-shirts (“It’s not a party without a Sephardi”), hoping that and occasional boyas serve as culture, and meanwhile sigh at vulgar English slang.  In Ladino, is there a sneering use of  the word, “Whatever!” for teens to answer flippantly to their parents’ remarks, as happens so typically in English?  One can hope there isn’t.

* A note to those in congregations which include Persian Jews or others whose language would not be Ladino.  This route to teaching children family languages that are being lost is open to everyone, and there is no reason a congregation might not have more than one language class for children – all dependent on university students acquiring enough knowledge to use primers with the children.

Ladino classes for Sephardic children


(All art work on this blog is copyrighted.)

Perhaps Sephardic parents would ask, “Why should I pay for my child to learn Ladino?”

The reasons are many, even if one discounts Ladino central role in what it actually means to have be part of a authentic Sephardic culture that goes beyond “Love me, I’m Sephardic” T-sihirts.

Put that main reason aside and move on to the benefits of your child speaking Ladino.

1.  Perhaps you might consider how fluency in Ladino would look on a college application.  Foreign language skills are always highly valued.  But to speak a medieval language would outstrip French and Spanish.  It would stand out.

2.  Speaking Ladino allows one to converse in Spanish, so it doesn’t isolate the speaker because the language is special.  Far from being a language that make it hard to speak to others, the entire Spanish speaking world would understand, and any Spanish speaker would be curious and interested.  Ladino open even more doors than Spanish, to meeting others.

3.  Speaking another language is good for thinking in general, for learning in general.  And if one is going to learn another language, why not study one’s own language?

4.  For parents, there would be satisfaction of knowing and telling friends and family, “My child is learning Ladino.”  It would not only be an accomplishment of the child’s but one of the culture.

5.  The children who learn Ladino automatically would have their own language between themselves and their Ladino speaking peers, which becomes a bond. And that bond is contributes to bonding a future Sephardic community.

6.  Learning Ladino would educate a Sephardic child in the basics of their own culture – with their simultaneously learning history about themselves and other places Sephardic Jews have lived,, picking up wisdom about living a good life, becoming imbued with the humor in the language, and altogether widening their world even as they become more closely connected to their own – truly their own – culture.

7.  Learning Ladino presents future job possibilities, since interest in unique cultures is growing.

8.  Ladino classes are already happening and the demand will spread.   Those who speak it will be in a wonderful position to teach it.

9.  Your children will thank you for the special gift you gave them.

10.  There would be many other reasons, but to culminate this list with a number, there is the undeniable fact that speaking Ladino – not to put too fine an English a spin on it – is simply “cool.”  It’s reason for pride.

The next question might be how this can happen.   A future post will discuss the possibilities and ease of implementation.



(Art work on this blog is copyrighted.)

In the US and elsewhere some universities are now offering classes in Ladino.  This is a marvelous thing and arises out of work by people like Mathilda Koen-Sarano who created texts books for just this purpose.

But this fall, 2013, classes in Telugu are being offered to small children by the SouthAsian community, even though

1.  Telugu as a language, unlike Ladino, is not under threat of losing its native speakers.

2.  And unlike Ladino, there are millions of Telugu speakers in India and world wide.

Yet starting on September 15, 2013, classes in Telugubadi are being offered to Indian (South Asian) children living in the United States.  What’s more, those classes are not inexpensive.

For the kids ages 6 and above:

1.       Interested parents have to register/enroll their kids online … before Sept 15, 2013, with a fee of $350.00 ….

2.      All enrolled kids have to take an entrance exam on September 15th, which will place them in the respective classes of Pravesam and Prasunam after the evaluation.

The effort to have the children be fluent and proficient in Telugu, even its script, is taken quite seriously, because without such an effort, children of Telugu-speaking parents would lose much of the language and be poor speakers and perhaps non-readers of it.  Their own children would be less capable.

Here is an example of the work the children are doing.

How does this apply to Ladino?

Those teaching Telugu begin with this statement:

The greatest and most powerful gift a parent can give their children is to pass their language and culture.  Literacy in the mother tongue strengthens cultural identity and heritage. The mother tongue plays a very important role in developing thoughts, shaping experiences, exploring customs, and articulating values.

That statement applies to Ladino as strongly as it does Telugu, if not more so since Ladino is a language carrying traces of multiple cultures and other languages within it, because of the history of the Sephardim’s expulsion from Spain.  Ladino is the essence of Sephardic culture (as is true of other languages, just as the Telugu speakers recognize), yet it has been swamped in the US by a corporate, religious and ethnic culture none of which belong to Sephardic Jews.  That not-of-their-own culture is what Sephardic children are being brought up in, with English distinct from their own history and carrying none of its humor, values, wisdom.

So the question is why Sephardic Jews are waiting til college to take classes in Ladino, when Sephardic parents could be requesting classes in Ladino for their young children.

The next posts will discuss how this is not only possible but why it may be important to Sephardic parents who don’t even speak Ladino themselves.

To give a sense of the possibilities, here is a small child, only 5 years old, singing in Ladino.