5 tools to help you learn Assyrian

Date: March 26, 2017

As a tribute to the traditional twelve-day celebration of the Assyrian New Year, we’re sharing unique ways to honor Akitu no matter where you are in the world as we count down the days to Kha b’Nissan. 

It’s incredible to think that the Assyrian language has survived, evolving and spreading, for nearly seven thousand years. For the first time in Assyrian history, the majority of Assyrians live outside of our traditional homeland, and as a result, many are unable to read and write in Assyrian. Take the initiative to learn your language: Accepting this responsibility is the only way to ensure its survival.

Here are some ways to learn the Assyrian language:

  1. Subscribe to Rinyo. We are proud to count ourselves among Rinyo’s biggest supporters. The organization was established to make available modern resources to help young Assyrians learn their language. Products are available in all Assyrian dialects. From mobile apps to songs, videos, and interactive books, Rinyo’s products are used and loved across the globe. Check it out: Learn the Assyrian alphabet with this fun song.
  2. Visit LearnAssyrian.com. This website is a wonderful resource but requires serious drive and commitment. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen, and get ready to teach yourself using their free 41-page guide. If you’ve got little ones at home, LearnAssyrian is also home to the wildly popular Assyrian alphabet learning blocks. Order yours today.
  3. Download Base 2 Applications apps. Take a look at their popular Assyrian apps available to you in the App Store. Their apps will make learning the alphabet fun at any age.
  4. Attend classes at the ANCI. The Assyrian National Council of Illinois offers Assyrian language classes for both children and adults in the Chicagoland area. Take advantage of these free courses; before you know it, you’ll be reading right to left with ease. Assyrian language classes are offered across the United States. If you’re outside Illinois and looking for a class near you, feel free to contact us for help.
  5. Sargon Says. SargonSays.com offers an English to Assyrian dictionary that is an incredible resource to those looking to refine their language skills, as well as those new to the language.


6 Ways to Teach Your Kids their Assyrian Heritage

Date: November 10, 2016

Culture is a defining piece of an individual’s identity, shaping how they see themselves and the groups with which they identify. Every community, cultural group or ethnic group has its own values, beliefs, and ways of living. Observable aspects of culture like food, clothing, celebrations, and religion are only parts of a person’s cultural heritage. The shared values, customs, and histories related to a culture shape the way a person thinks, behaves, and interprets the world. Cultural heritage serves as the thread that ties members of the group together and creates a sense of belonging.

As Assyrian families assimilate into the American way of life, many families gradually discard their cultural customs in favor of new traditions. The number of first- and second-generation Assyrian Americans continues to grow in the United States, and its important that they be taught their families’ heritage, in addition to their new country’s traditions. Here are some ways to teach your children about their heritage, even if you’re far from home:

  1. Start with the older generations. 

    Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members who are originally from the homeland can offer a wealth of information about culture and their native country. Suggest that your child—even the younger ones—interview these relatives, asking questions about where they grew up, the cultural foods they ate, the traditions they practiced, and the games they played, and the holidays they celebrated. Jedo and Nana would surely appreciate the interest, and likely have incredible stories to share. After the interview, discuss which of these traditions your family might be able to carry on. Here’s an interview we did earlier this year with an 83-year old Simele Massacre survivor. (Warning: You may need tissues.)

  2. Share traditional dishes. 

    One of the easiest ways to learn about a culture is to indulge in its most popular dishes. Try to incorporate Assyrian dishes into your family’s meals, if you don’t already. Teach your kids a favorite family recipe—you’re guaranteed to make memories that may last a lifetime. Find great recipes online at Assyrian Kitchen. Also, consider trying an Assyrian restaurant. As your kids enjoy the food, spend time talking about what distinguishes Assyrian cuisine from other foods. Larsa’s Mediterranean Restaurant is a local favorite.

  3. Attend Assyrian cultural events and visit local museums.

    Many Assyrian organizations in diaspora hold cultural events celebrating Assyria, often around special holidays like Akitu—the Assyrian New Year. These events provide the ideal opportunity for Assyrian children to learn about their culture as they dance to the music, try different foods, and see native costumes worn and on display. If you’re in the Chicago area, a trip to the Oriental Institute is a must: the Assyria Collection will leave any young one in awe of their history. Check out photos from our students’ recent field trip to the OI.

  4. Keep traditions alive. 

    It is possible to incorporate some popular Assyrian traditions for your family today. Research Assyrian cultural practices and identify those that might fit with your family’s lifestyle. Make Assyrian Martyrs Day mandatory in your household. Play Assyrian music in the car. Make kilecheh for Christmas every year. Try an Assyrian-themed arts and crafts activity around Akitu. The possibilities are endless.

  5. Use books and films to help educate. 

    Stop by the Ashurbanipal Library here at AUAF to find many books that can help teach children about Assyrian culture and history. There are books appropriate even for young children. Encourage your teenagers to choose books that focus on Assyrians—perhaps for their next school book report. We’ve also got a ton of DVDs, including informative documentaries—some are a bit dated, but still worthwhile. We’ve also got pretty much every Assyrian CD (and cassette tape!) ever released.

  6. Learn the language.

    Assyrians who’ve emigrated from the homeland are likely already teaching their children the Assyrian language. But kids in later generations may not learn the language of their ancestors. There are many benefits of learning other languages. Learning new languages makes children smarter and more creative, it helps them become more observant and perceptive, and of course, it fosters cultural understanding. Speak the language at home. Take advantage of wonderful resources like Rinyo or Julia Sorisho Rodgers‘s children’s books. Register your kids for a local Assyrian language class—they’ll probably fight you on this one, but they’ll thank you years from now. In Chicago, the Assyrian National Council of Illinois offers language courses for students of all ages.

Arts & Crafts for Kids: Little Assyrian Scribes

Date: October 1, 2016

Over time, the need for writing changed and the signs developed into a script we call cuneiform. For thousands of years, Assyrian scribes recorded daily events, trade, astronomy, and literature on clay tablets. Cuneiform was used by people throughout the ancient Near East to write several different languages. Ancient Assyrians used cuneiform script until it was abandoned in favor of the alphabetic script.

Here’s a fun and easy pretend play activity that kids will enjoy and learn from. Children do not need to have any knowledge of the Assyrian language to participate. This activity can serve as a great introductory lesson to those children looking to learn the Assyrian language.


  • Clay
  • Craft sticks, bamboo skewers, or lollipop sticks
  • Printouts of Assyrian letters/words
  • Printouts of cuneiform symbols
  • Wooden plaque (optional)
  • Placemat (optional)
  • Photos of ancient Assyrian tablets (optional)


  1. Set up individual working stations with placemats. Place wooden plaque on placemat. Helpful tip: You can skip on the placemats and wooden plaques if you’re trying to cut budget—we’ll admit we used them mainly for the photos! To help avoid a mess, you can opt instead for newspaper, plastic tablecloth, and/or paper plates. We got our placemats from the dollar section at Target (it’s often a gold mine!) and the wooden plaques from Michael’s Craft Store for about a dollar each.
  2. Each station should include a writing utensil—we chose to use bamboo skewers (available basically everywhere for really cheap) because they include a pointed edge. The only downside is that they’re a bit long. Alternatively, you can try lollipop sticks or regular craft sticks. You can get a large quantity of these items anywhere for under two dollars.
  3. Roll a decent-sized ball of clay, place it on the center of the wooden plaque, and press down. Pat down the clay until it resembles a tablet—try to create as flat a surface as possible. Helpful tip: We got a tub of Crayola Air Dry Clay from TargetAny clay works for this project—you can even use PlayDoh—but stone-colored clay is ideal.
  4. Create printouts to serve as guides. You can choose to use the Assyrian alphabet, Assyrian words, or cuneiform symbolsor all three! For our activity, we encouraged children to write out the word “Shlama” in Assyrian. Keep in mind—we designed a 5-10 minute activity. If you’re aiming for a longer activity, we recommend that you create more options to keep children engaged.  Laminating the sheets helps keep them clean. Helpful tip: We’ve added some options you can use—including our own—below.
  5. Before getting started, take a few minutes to examine samples of ancient Assyrian writing. Share fun facts (see additional reading below).
  6. Give each child a guide to follow. Their instinct may be to write from left to right, but encourage them to write right to left, as this is the way the language is written.
  7. Once they’ve filled up a tablet, you can either choose to let it dry and harden, or restart by rolling the clay up into a ball again and repeating step 3.



  • Michael’s craft store always offers great coupons. Be sure to check out their website and/or RetailMeNot for the latest offers. Seriously, never pay full price.
  • Instead of printing out the images of the ancient tablets—consider sharing them off of a tablet to save paper instead.
  • If you’re based in Chicago like us, consider pairing the project with a trip to the Oriental Institute. Its Assyrian Gallery is home to a large number of ancient Assyrian artifacts. The museum is not necessarily kid-friendly (meaning, it’s not very interactive and there’s a strict do not touch policy), but our students aged 7 to 12 absolutely loved it.







Q&A with Children’s Books Author Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Date: August 15, 2016

Q: When did you know you wanted to write? 

A few years ago, I took my children to our local library in the Washington, D.C. area, and came across an international books section for young children. I flipped through bilingual books written in Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew. I was inspired by the collection and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to publish a bilingual Assyrian and English board book?”  I especially wanted to publish board books because my three children used to chew or rip every paperback book we owned.


Q: What attracted you to children’s books? 

I became a mom in 2010, and since then I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of children’s books with my little ones. Like many other parents, I believe that reading to young children can instill a lifelong love for reading and curiosity.  I was inspired by great writers and illustrators who seamlessly blend whimsy with beautiful art, particularly Eric Carle. He’s my favorite children’s writer and illustrator.



“My Assyrian Language Alphabet” by Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Q: Do you have a favorite among your own books? If so, which one and why? 

I really prefer my second book, Atwateh d-Lishani Atoraya. I worked harder at the illustrations. It’s bigger than the first book, and has over 20 illustrations.  I wanted to present the Assyrian Alphabet and corresponding words with images that children can relate to. For example, instead of painting a cross for the word “sleewa,” I painted an image of an Assyrian girl holding a Palm Sunday cross. I imagined that some parents would use the image as an opportunity to talk about Assyrian Christian traditions.  For the word “nooneh,” I painted clown fish thinking children might relate those images to “Finding Nemo.” I also included things children do, like build sandcastles, hold a teddy bear, kick a ball, and blow out birthday candles. I also tried to make some images countable.  Parents can help their kids count the geese, fish, apples, and zebras in the book and build basic math skills.


Q: When did you know you were an artist? 

I illustrate my books, but I definitely do not consider myself an artist.  I never obtained the training I’d need to refine my work. That is not a #humblebrag. Before I started, I did not know the difference between a filbert, a flat brush, or round brush. Often times I’d turn to YouTube and enter searches such as “how to paint skin tones” and “how to paint a beach scene.” I had to improvise and teach myself techniques late at night, after my kids went to bed.



Farm Animals by Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Q: What is the illustration process like? 

For me, it’s quite challenging, especially painting people and children realistically. I did not want to be too literal with my images, but I’m not a cartoonist either. I used Google image searches and perused stock photography to find images of kids, people, and animals that I think were interesting. My pictures are often a modification those images or a composite of many images. I used acrylics, colored pencils, and markers for the illustrations, and used Adobe InDesign to design the book.


Q: What comes first? The words or the pictures? 

For me, the concept comes first. I wrote Khaywate d-Khaqla (Farm Animals) because children have an inexplicable love for animals and the sounds they make. I also thought a classic alphabet book would be a great addition to an Assyrian child’s library. From there, I tried as much as possible to create a rhyme scheme in both books in order to make the books memorable and rhythmic.  I tried as much as possible to not torture our beautiful language. I enlisted the help of many linguists and experts (including Malpana Michael Younan of San Jose, California, and Dr. Alda Benjamen of Washington, D.C.) to fix practically every aspect of my writing – word choice, grammar, syntax, and usage.


Q: What part is more satisfying to you—writing or drawing? 

Definitely drawing. I wish I was a better Assyrian writer, but I definitely do not have the gift or ability to write the way I’d like to write in Assyrian: with whimsy and playfulness like authors such as Sandra Boynton or Dr. Seuss.


Q: What are you working on next? 

I am not sure yet. My relative encouraged me to write an Ancient Assyrian history book for children.  I think there’s a lot of potential in that idea.



Assyrian Alphabet puzzle available for purchase at the Ashurbanipal Library.

Q: What inspires you? 

There is a movement to create new and exciting products for the Assyrian children in diaspora, and I’m inspired by the creativity emerging from that movement.  Elaine Alkhas created a wonderful Assyrian Alphabet puzzle perfect for toddlers. It’s perfect for teaching fine motor skills.  Robert Oshana created an Assyrian Alphabet blocks set that can be used to teach both letters and vocabulary. My kids had a lot of fun playing with those blocks. Shameran Hanna published A Sailor Went to Sea, which is particularly great because proceeds support Christian genocide relief efforts in Iraq and Syria. Then you have an incredible array of apps and videos created by Rinyo, Base2Apps, and Ninos Warda. I am particularly fond of those products because they are fun, creative, and engaging.  In addition to publishing MoonSahraRomil Benyamino just published Benjamin and the Miniature Man. I’m looking forward to adding that book to our library!


Q: What impact do you hope your work will have? 

I hope more people join this movement to create new products for our children. We already spend a small fortune on Legos, Thomas the Train, American Girl dolls, and the like. We need Assyrian-themed toys like superheroes, princesses, and ninjas. We need an Assyrian “Bob the Builder.”


Q: Why do you feel it’s important for Assyrian children to learn their native language?

It’s tough to maintain bilingualism. It is very hard for me to speak Assyrian without making embarrassing mistakes. However, in publishing my books, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. Certainly, many “second gen” Assyrians are excellent in their reading and writing abilities, but many also share my struggles. Even though it can be hard to speak Assyrian regularly, I pray that we don’t give up. Our language is precious and beautiful. We have to dedicate the time to appreciate it and learn it so that it doesn’t become extinct.


Q: What does a typical day look like for you? 

I am a part-time consultant for a federal government agency (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).  When I’m not working, I enjoy the fun aspects of motherhood (i.e. building Hot Wheels tracks and ninja-fighting with my kids).  I also reluctantly tackle endless laundry and cooking and cleaning.


julia's gang

Julia’s boys.


Q: Do you read often? What is your all-time favorite book? 

Unfortunately, I do not read as much as I’d like to. The book I’m currently reading is by Dr. Sargon Donabed titled, Reforging a Forgotten History: Iraq and the Assyrians in the Twentieth Century. My favorite book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.


Q: What’s your favorite quote? 

It’s one of my favorite Bible passages: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Titus 3:4-6


Q: How do you balance your identity as an Assyrian and an American? 

I think I balance my dual identity in a myriad of small ways. I try to cook Assyrian food so that my children are familiar with dishes like dolma and kubbeh. Two of my children have Assyrian first names. I published the bilingual Assyrian/English books to help young families teach their children Assyrian. I also hope that non-Assyrians use the book to learn our language. I try to support Assyrian political activism in Washington whenever possible.


Q: Three words that come to mind when you hear Assyria

“Strong” because of our endurance through almost every horrific tragedy. “Fragile” due to our current persecution, out-migration from our homeland, and destruction of precious historic and cultural sites. “Eternal” because I believe God has a divine plan for our people and will not abandon us.


farm animals

Farm Animals by Julia Sorisho Rodgers

Q: What are you most proud of about your work? 

A few years ago, the Skokie Public Library purchased a few copies of Khaywate d-Khaqla as part of an early childhood literacy partnership with area preschools. I was thrilled to know that SPL was that committed to serving the Assyrian-American population in this way. Also, I was happy to receive grant support for both books from the Naby-Frye Assyrian Fund For Culture (NFAFC). The fund helped defray printing and shipping costs, which tend to be relatively high for board book printing. Finally, I’m most thrilled when I get emails from parents who tell me their children like reading my book with their grandparents — those are wonderful memories to make.


Q: Where can people purchase your books? 

Both of my books are available on Amazon: Atwateh d-Lishani Atouraya and Khaywate d-Khaqla. For bulk orders, email me at assyrianbooks@gmail.com.


twitteric Follow Julia on Twitter