You’ll sometimes find foreign language games included in a foreign language curriculum.
But…part of really learning to speak a foreign language is doing things that people who speak a foreign language do.
Know what they don’t do? They don’t play games designed to teach them very basic, daily vocabulary in the language they speak.
Know what they do? They play fun games that are interesting, and they happen to talk to each other while they do it.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t play a foreign language game that’s included in a curriculum. On the contrary, I think that’s a great way to start. The key word there is start. Your kids are going to get bored with those games, even the most fun versions. A curriculum that includes games is still a great idea, but the game is probably going to be a temporary diversion, not something that lasts and lasts. You can pay hundreds of dollars for what is essentially a game – a fancy, computer-based foreign language game. Your kid is still going to get bored with it.
I can’t tell you how many moms have told me that a certain foreign language game or computer program was fun for their child at first, but after the newness wore off the game got boring.
Think about the kinds of games your children will play over and over. It’s the toys and games that have what’s called “open-ended play.” Do my kids play Minecraft over and over because it’s leading them through achievements and goals? NO. They play Minecraft because they can do whatever they want and they enjoy it. They’re building it, making decisions, working cooperatively, and discovering things that are interesting to them. Minecraft never gets old.
Well, I’m a little tired of watching them play Minecraft…but they’re not tired of playing it.
It’s the same with the rest of kid’s toys. A fancy, electronic toy just doesn’t get played with as often as something more simple and open-ended, like building toys, dolls, vehicles, art supplies, or modeling dough. You can use that closed-ended fancy toy basically in one way. Even if it’s a fancy game-based computer curriculum, you can usually still only click through the curriculum in generally the same pattern. BORING. Well, it might be fun for a while…but then it gets tedious.
If you’ve got a foreign language game lying around, or you’ve got one in mind, think about it for a minute…ok ….do you think that foreign language game is most similar to a closed-ended game, or an open-ended game? Most are closed-ended. If you’ve found an open-ended game you love, comment and let me know, I’d love to try it out!
There are a couple of fancy computer-based foreign language games that I know about that are open-ended and fun. One of them is called Influent. It’s a virtual world where you can go around a click on things you’re interested in. My kids like it a lot and say it’s helped their vocabulary. The other is a website called Inklewriter that easily lets you write your own choose-your-own-ending style stories. This pair of “games” is a good team because Influent improves receptive vocabulary, and Inklewriter improves language production.
Getting started playing games in a foreign language is TOUGH when nobody in the house speaks the language. That’s ok. It’s not a race. It’s going to take time. As your ability improves, you’ll get to the point where you can talk for longer and longer in the foreign language.
What I want you to do is look around your house at the games you already have. Which are open-ended? How can you use just a bit of foreign language vocabulary to those games? Check your board games – even though those are probably not technically open-ended, they’re an easier place to start because the vocabulary is limited. I bet you can speak some Spanish words while you play Candyland. Old toys get new life using this method, because even though your child has outgrown the toy in English, their foreign language vocabulary is limited enough that the toy could still be appropriate if you use it in, say, Spanish.
I’m going to show you three examples of how this works, all using the same simple preschool toy.Melissa & Doug Hide and Seek Farm Wooden Activity Board With Barnyard Animal Magnets
We don’t even own this game, my youngest child plays it at the library and this was a visit when I spontaneously suggested that we all try it in languages other than English.
Here is my son playing this game with me, in Chinese:
Here is my son playing this game with my middle daughter, in Chinese:
Here I am playing this game with my middle daughter, in French (both of us are complete beginners in French, so we are fumbling around, but that’s fine!):
Do you notice anything about these videos?
Which video is the shortest and has the least vocabulary? The one where my daughter and I are fumbling around in French, and we are both total beginners.
Which video is the longest and has the most vocabulary? The one where my son and middle daughter are playing together in Chinese, a language that my son had studied for 4 years, and my daughter had studied for 2 years at that point. The video is almost three times longer than the shortest video.
And in the middle? My son trying to teach Chinese to me, a beginner.
Did you get an idea of how these games can be used, and how they evolve through the years? This is a great developmental toy that kids can play with for years.