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After writing about gameschooling foreign languages last week, I was thinking a bit more about how we use games in our homeschool to teach our boys Spanish and Portuguese. And while I was mulling it over, I realized something: we actually play a lot of games to support their language learning!
For that reason, I thought that I would write a follow-up post to share a few more games that are essential to our language learning curriculum for younger kids—and which you can use with your homeschool language learners, regardless of their ages. All of these are multi-sensory games designed to challenge kids’ thinking and physical skills, so they make use of multiple intelligences and help to cement our kids’ language learning by providing them with rich opportunities to engage in the target language. Finally, each of these games requires five minutes or less of prep time, so they’re easy to implement at home!
So with no further ado, here they are:
We’re learning Portuguese at home with our young sons, and in order to keep it fun, I’ve been planning “vocabulary scavenger hunts” using the cards. As our older son is not yet reading, Linguacious’s visual flashcards are the perfect tool for me to use—especially since they are organized by theme. Last week, I used Linguacious’s “Around The Home” pack to help our son conduct an in-home scavenger hunt of everyday objects. For each round, I would pull a card, show it to him, review the word in Portuguese, and then send him off to find the object pictured. Once he had found the object in the house, he had to bring it to me and identify it in Portuguese. For each correct answer, he “won” a card. As a four-year-old, that was plenty of motivation for him, but for older kids, you may need to up the ante (maybe with competition between siblings?). This game took me literally thirty seconds to prepare, offered plenty of fun language practice, and (bonus!) helped tire out our little guy with all that running through the house.
Charades and Pictionary:
The rules of these games need no explanation, and they are great for reviewing new words—particularly concrete vocabulary, like animals names or professions. If your homeschool student is studying with a particular textbook or curriculum, you can pull vocabulary from those resources, or if you have a little one, visual flashcards can once again be a useful tool. I love using these games for foreign language learning because they help students to “experience” vocabulary in ways other than simple translation. By acting out words or seeing them represented as an image, foreign language learners dramatically increase their understanding and retention of new vocabulary, so these two games, while simple, are truly effective for foreign language practice.
If you’ve never thought about using Simon Says as a teaching tool, let me quickly list all of the skills that you can help your child develop with this simple game:
- The habit of attention
- Listening comprehension
- Using commands in the target language
- Body parts
- Action Verbs
- Counting in the target language
All that learning in a game that you can play almost anywhere! We like to play Simon Says when walking and waiting in lines, and I make sure to switch roles so that I can model all of the above and give my preschooler plenty of practice with those skills in our target languages—Spanish and Portuguese.
Given the ages of my children, this isn’t a game that I’ve tried at home yet—but it is one that I’ve played with my undergraduate students to great success! I love Taboo because it helps students develop the skill of circumlocution in a foreign language—a tool that is REALLY important for language students. Defined simply, circumlocution is the act of “talking around” a word that you don’t know or can’t remember. It’s something you likely do all the time in your native language—when you can't remember the name of a restaurant, for example, so you describe it to a friend by listing its location, the type of food it serves, and who recommended it to you. That same skill is put into practice by language learners learning to converse in another language, and it actually helps them to learn new vocabulary (as supplied by their whoever is talking with them!).
Taboo is a game best suited to intermediate and advanced language learners, since your child needs to have a good foundational vocabulary in order to play. If I were to do it at home, I’d make the rules simple: write the “target” word on top of an index card and no more than 2-3 “forbidden words” underneath. That way, it’s not too difficult for your child to play. Focus on thematic vocabulary rather than a collection of unrelated words, so that it’s not impossible to guess the words. Taboo would be a great way to review the vocabulary that you’ve learned in a particular unit, and will give you child a chance to prove his/her mastery of the new words.
And here are some more tools to help you play these games:
If you’re looking for thematic vocabulary lists, here are a few options to consider:
Linguacious's visual flashcards are organized by theme and are great for parents who don’t speak a foreign language, since they integrate with a QR code that provide the pronunciation of the new word. Decks are currently available in Portuguese, Spanish, French, ESL/English, and Hebrew, and more are being released every week! Linguacious is also offering a 10% discount to my readers through the end of April 2018—make sure to get yours!
Picture dictionaries—also known as visual dictionaries—are almost always organized by theme and a great way to introduce vocabulary to both readers and non-readers. Many of the latest picture dictionaries also NOW include audio tools for parents to use. I really like Usborne's picture dictionaries for younger children, but for older ones, I highly recommend DK’s Visual Dictionaries, which also have sound integration, so that you can hear the words pronounced in the target language.
Here’s a few links to help you find the right dictionary for your homeschool student:
- French-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary
- Spanish-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary
- German-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary
- Japanese-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary
- Mandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary
Most of the Spanish-language reference books that we use in our family are published by DK—they consistently publish aesthetically pleasing books with accurate translations, so we’ve been really pleased with them.
For high school homeschoolers, books with vocabulary lists can be an effective tool. I used these myself when I was learning foreign languages as an adult, and they helped me memorize tons of new foreign language vocabulary quickly. The challenge, of course, is to keep your homeschool student motivated to use these kinds of books, since they’re not the most exciting. (If you need some tips on motivation for foreign language learning, though, you might enjoy this post). Here are the books that I used and still recommend—and they now come with Audio MP3s, so that your homeschool foreign language learner can hear the words pronounced by a native speaker:
If you’ve played any of these games at home with your kids, let us know! Our community will benefit from what you have to share.