Three Ways to Do #Gameschooling With Foreign Languages

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About a year ago, I was listening to The Homeschool Sisters podcast when I heard a new word that caught my attention: gameschooling.

Wait, what!? That was my reaction when I first heard Cait and Kara (THE homeschool sisters and the hosts of the show) chatting about gameschooling. I was dying to know more, so I started Googling (of course), and found this definition of gameschooling:

Gameschooling is the use of games (video games, board games, and other games) for an educational purpose. While anyone in school or out of school can "gameschool", the term is often applied to homeschoolers who use games as part of their educational plan.

As a newbie homeschooler, I’d never thought about making games a part of our “curriculum,” but of course it’s a great idea. There’s tons of research on the educational value of games—this great TED talk gives a quick overview, if you’d like to hear it for yourself—and games were something that I often used as a classroom teacher.

If you’re interested in trying out gameschooling for yourself, why not make it a part of your family’s language study? There are a number of reasons why games are a particularly effective tool for language learning: 

  1. Games keep language learning fun by helping children to get over their (totally normal) inhibitions about speaking a new language.
  2. Games are often repetitive, giving kids a chance to do lots of deliberate practice that reinforces new vocabulary and grammar. 
  3. Games give children real-life scenarios in which to use their target language, which helps increase their motivation to learn it!

Convinced? Once you’re ready to start, here are three kinds of language learning games that you can incorporate into your daily or weekly schedule: 

Flashcard Games:

  • Linguacious flashcards are an excellent option for introducing foreign language vocabulary to kids of any age. In fact, they’re the tool that we’re currently using to introduce Portuguese to our sons and they’re a huge hit in our house—you can read my recent review of Linguacious flashcards to find out why we like them so much and how we use them in our homeschool. If you decide to grab a set for your home, be sure to use the code LANGHOME to get a special 10% discount that is available through the end of April 2018. They’re currently available in Spanish, French, Hebrew, Russian, English/ESL, and Brazilian Portuguese, but more languages are launching all the time! If your family is studying Arabic, The Zoo: Arabic Language Playing Cards is a very similar product that is sold on Etsy (although without the QR code integration)—and it is available fully transliterated, so no knowledge of Arabic is necessary on your part. 
  • For older students—think ages seven and above—Kloo Language games are another good option. Kloo’s flashcards go beyond simple vocabulary and help families actually start speaking full sentences in the target language—without any advance prep! Using color-coordinated cards and a set of simple rules, beginning to intermediate language learners can practice building phrases in Spanish, French, or Italian. Want to see how to play? Here’s a quick video: 

Flashcard games in our family are big right now, since my sons are still loving our Portuguese Linguacious flashcards. We keep them on our dining room table and play games during meals or right after. Yesterday, I even organized a "scavenger hunt" with our Linguacious cards--and it was a big hit with our preschooler! I randomly chose cards out of the pack (which is themed around household objects) and sent him off to find them. When he found each object, he had to show it to me and identify it in Portuguese--and it was truly amazing how many words he could remember thanks to our Linguacious study. Scavenger hunts like these are an easy way to connect flashcard games with real-life--which helps children see foreign languages as something both practical and fun!

Board Games:

  • For vocabulary review, it doesn’t get much easier than BINGO in your target language—and here’s an inexpensive BINGO set in Spanish and one in French that you can start out with. You can also make your own thematic BINGO boards in Spanish or French with this handy (free) BINGO generator. Or hand-draw them--they can include literally ANY vocabulary that you need to review!
  • You might want to also play a game that originates from a country that speaks the target language—like Mexican Loteria for Spanish learners, which is great for reinforcing basic vocabulary!
  • KLOO Languages also makes a number of board games that would be a great addition to the game closet for any family studying Spanish or French, and these come highly recommended by members of our Language Learning at Home Facebook community. These games—Race to Paris and Race to Madrid—build off of Kloo's award-winning flashcard games to help families practice speaking their chosen language through a little friendly competition! They’re great for family game nights or for a fun time with a homeschool co-op language class—and you can customize them to make them as easy or difficult as you need. 

Online Games

The number of online games for language learners—both video games and more traditional games—is truly astounding. Once I started my research, I realized that there are easily half a dozen more posts that I could write on the subject, so for now, consider this a quick overview—and look for future posts with more recommendations! 

For little language learners, here are a few sites where you can find family-friendly games:

Just be sure to look for games and video from Nick Jr. that include audio in order to maximize your homeschool students' learning opportunities--not all of the games available on these sites have audio in the target language.

Older students can get targeted language practice (which doesn’t feel like practice at all), through the free language learning app Duolingo. Duolingo is built like a video game to motivate language learners as they move through beginner to intermediate levels of proficiency. To see if it’s a good fit for your homeschool student, be sure to check out my extensive review of Duolingo for homeschool language learning.

And if you’ve got an enthusiastic video gamer at home, here are some games that you might want to check out:

  • Influent is a 3-D online game that teaches vocabulary by letting players explore a virtual environment filled with everyday objects. It can be played in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, Chinese, Russian, and quite a few other languages. If you'd like to see how it works, check out the game's trailer:
  • For Nintendo DS players, My Chinese Coach is another option (and it's available in Spanish, French, and Japanese as well!). It is designed to help students learn to practice writing AND speaking in the target language and gets high ratings from families who are using it at home! I would consider it especially useful for those homeschoolers studying Chinese or Japanese, since this is one of the few language learning games that prioritize writing practice in those languages' unique alphabets.

By the way, if you’d like to find more resources to help you add more games to your homeschool day, Cait has built up quite the library on her blog, My Little Poppies, and I highly recommend it!

If you’re learning foreign languages through gameschooling, would you share your experience here? What games have been most enjoyable for your family?