Tricks for Incorporating Games into Language Learning

So you’re interested in incorporating games as a teaching resource?! Good for you!! Whether you are a parents, tutor, teacher or babysitter who is trying to work games into foreign language learning, it makes no difference! Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind as you plan!

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Color Me Creative: A Guide to Teaching A Second Language Through Games

“This is BORING!” has to be one of the most feared declarations for any teacher.  As educators (and I mean parents, tutors and teachers alike!), we constantly have to juggle entertainment and academics in our lessons as a means of encouraging our children to want to learn.  We understand that many times, in order to motivate them, they need to view our lesson through a lens of fun rather than having us fatigue them with endless facts.  This “Mary Poppins concept” is nothing new. But how do you introduce something so intimidating as a second language through fun?! Well, my program (Language University!) introduces a target language through three different pillars of fun: music, arts-and-crafts and games. And in this blog, I’m going to walk you through how we incorporate games into our learning process and leave you with a few tips to help you create your own activities!

Just to give you some context, I mainly work with students ages 2.5 to 11 years old, and my programs are integrated into school curricula, extracurricular activities and summer camps. The goal of each session is for students to have fun and to confidently leave having learned something new.  And one of the easiest ways for students to find their own fun while learning is to have them get out of their seats and move about the room. It’s such a simple idea, but it’s not utilized as often as one would think. For our games, we prefer to play in large, open areas like a gymnasium or a cafeteria (the children deserve it!). When we have to be in a classroom or a living room, we aren’t afraid to move the desks and furniture aside-- which also sends a message to students that we are mixing it up! 

When do we bring in the games? Most likely, the game is going to help solidify the lesson you’ve just introduced. And don’t worry: even if your lesson wasn’t the most thrilling, the children will still be enticed to learn the material, because they want to successfully participate in the game.  Here are a couple things to keep in mind:

  • The activity you select or create should be easy and repetitive, at least at first. Simplistic directions help students become more at ease with the second language, while highlighting the material’s target phrases and words. For instance, when I teach colors, students learn them by jumping on color dots that I previously laid out. In the beginning, I tell them what color to find and I incorporate as much or as little of the target language as I’d like.  I can choose to say, “Trouvez le couleur bleu” (Find the color blue), or I can say, “Find bleu.” Either way, my students can easily figure out what I want from them after a round or two and they will be happy to play along with you!

  • Stress hinders the learning process. Studies have proven this time and time again. So once students feel comfortable with the core with the activity’s core (aka-- they will be looking around for colors), I introduce another layer to the game. Continuing with my colors game example, “The Floor is Laaava!,” students walk/dance around the room as music plays (in this case, we play our program’s colors song) and when the music stops, students have a certain amount of time to find and jump on top of the correct color dot before time runs out and the floor “turns into lava.”  This type of game is great for a second language because it takes the spotlight off of students who may feel pressured when it comes to learning a second language. Students entering puberty and older will feel the MOST pressure. Yet through this game and others like it, students gain familiarity with the sounds, the pronunciation of the words and the phrases because they are hearing them over and over again, without fear. And be assured that most times you will hear your students repeatedly say the color aloud as they search, which encourages organic word replacement.  So in this way, students end up learning their second language without memorizing a list from a book, and it gets them motivated to play and to win! (If you like my example game idea, you can find our Spanish FREEBIE colors lesson here and our full lesson here)!

So, before you write off incorporating games as being more of a headache than a teaching resource at home or in the classroom, think about how you can shift your lessons into something more engaging, light-hearted and all around fun! Learning doesn’t have to stop when the games begin! For tips on how to create games for your classroom, click on our game tricks blog here!