Five Homeschool Language Learning Games with Usborne's Thousand Words Series

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If you are a homeschooling family studying foreign languages, I am pretty sure that you’ve seen these lovely books: 

Usborne Thousand Words.jpg

Usborne’s First Thousand Words series is perennially popular with homeschooling families studying foreign languages, and for good reason: these picture dictionaries are visually captivating, cover all of the essential vocabulary for new language learners, and are available in many languages: English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, Italian, Latin, Chinese and German. What’s more, many are available with internet-linked pronunciation support--a true help to parents of little language learners!

If you’ve got a copy of one of these books at home, chances are that your kids enjoy paging through them and discovering new vocabulary on their own, but did you know that Usborne’s First Thousand Words series lends itself to some great language learning games as well? (And if you don’t have a copy, but would like to play these games, scroll on down—I can tell you where to get one!)

Here are five easy (no-prep!) games that you can play with one of Usborne’s First Thousand Words books (or any picture dictionary, really):

1. I Spy: This is a game that my older son and I love to play with his picture dictionaries to practice listening comprehension and speaking skills. I'll say, “I spy…” and then name the object in the target language, so that he has to hunt it down. This helps him practice listening comprehension and builds his vocabulary, as he has to match the word I’ve said to the correct object. When we switch roles, he gets to practice his speaking abilities, as he identifies objects verbally and I get to find them.

2. Categories: Open your Usborne book to any page and look for objects that fall into a particular category—then, ask your child to identify them! This is a great way to practice categorizing things in a foreign language: by color, by type of animal, by size, etc. For example, you could ask your child to identify and then name all of the blue objects in one spread. Then, ask your child to identify and name all of the objects that start with the letter “a” in the target language. The sky’s the limit on this one—as long as you can keep coming up with categories, you can play this game for a long time!

3. Crazy Counting: Okay, this is not really “crazy,” but I had to come up with a name for this game. The rules are simple: once you’ve established a category of objects within a picture, ask your child to count the objects within that category. For example, “How many flowers do you see in this picture?” Here’s a few tips to get the most out of this game:

  • Be sure to have your child count aloud--this helps them practice pronouncing numbers.
  • If the objects are easily grouped, have your child practice counting in pairs--this is surprisingly difficult in a foreign language!
  • To add even more math to the mix, have your child do basic arithmetic between categories--for example, totaling the number of objects that belong to two categories.

4. Tell Me a Story: Have your child pick between five and ten objects from any given spread and make up a story that includes them. You can provide additional vocabulary reinforcement by having your child write out the story in a storyboard or comic book-like fashion. Language learning research shows that students learn vocabulary better when it is connected to an image, so having your child draw the images to go with the vocabulary words is a great way to help him retain that information!

5. Twenty Questions: For the advanced language learner, this can be an excellent game, as it challenges children’s vocabulary, grammar, listening and speaking skills at the same time! The rules are simple: choose one object on the page and then have your child formulate questions to figure out what it is. When he/she guesses correctly, switch roles!

If you’d like to get your own Thousand Words book to play these games, head right on over to my friend Amy's Usborne page where you’ll be able to find all of the books that Usborne currently has available in this series. Have fun and happy gaming!

How do you use picture dictionaries in your home—have they been a helpful tool for your language learner?