Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Board games to improve expression in a foreign language

Board games are an excellent choice for improving language skills in a foreign language. My children love board games and when they play with me, the target language applies, either English or Spanish! (When they play with each other, they play in French.) Not only do they increase their vocabularies, but they also develop many other areas of their listening comprehension and expression. Let me give you a few precise examples:

The game we played here is the child version of La Bonne Paie, which is a little like the game of Life. The board takes them around an entire month with bills to pay, lotteries to win and a paycheck at the end of the month. Another one of my children's favorites is UNO. Here's four ways these two games help us increase our language skills.

1. My children learn to count diverse amounts of money in the target languages. I was floored when I asked Elena to give me "quiniento cincuenta euros" and I realized that all the money amounts I had been asking her in Spanish (even going up to the thousands at times), she was able to understand no problemo!

2. "Es mi turno." "A quien le toca ahora?" "Quien acaba de jugar?" Phrases like these become very common-place as the children learn to keep track of whose turn it is, no matter the langauge!

3. Practice translation. In La Bonne Paie there are mail cards and event cards and they can purchase and re-sell objects that are also printed on cards. We read them aloud in French (this is important for my youngest daughter Gabriela who doesn't read yet) and then everyone jumps in with either a rough translation of the text or simply an interpretation of what the player needs to do next. My children are used to this now and do it without hesitation.

4. Playing games can teach and reinforce colors and numbers. When we play UNO, my youngest daughter Gabriela can see the card on top of the stack, but she likes to ask me, "Mama, cual es?" And then I tell her the color and the number: "Es rojo, siete." And then she goes about looking for a red or a seven card. (The children also practice counting aloud as they advance on a game board.)

The children are so busy playing and having fun that they hardly realize there are multiple language exercises going on! When one of them slips into French, I repeat or rephrase in the target language, sometimes asking the particular child to repeat with me.

Games mimic real life language, like the bills and the paychecks in La Bonne Paie or the colors and numbers in UNO. Playing board games helps them playfully exercise language skills, gain confidence and hopefully apply the same language skills later in real-life situations.

What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate language learning into your children's playtime?

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