Encouraging your children to speak the minority language isn’t always easy. You may encounter resistance or face kids who understand the minority language but prefer to speak in the majority language. To boost their use of the minority language, make it fun! Here are five games that will help get your bilingual children talking. They’ll be having so much fun they won’t even realize they are using the minority language!
I had a major bilingual “a-ha” moment this past week when playing the game of telephone with my kids. It is ideal for second language learning! I can say anything I want to them in the minority language, in our case Spanish with me, Arabic with my husband, and they are excited to repeat it into the ear of the person sitting beside them. I was amazed to hear their great accents in Spanish roll off their tongues as I overheard them saying things into each other’s ears. It was also fun to watch them laugh when they realized the end result didn’t make sense. We play this with just the three of us and even though it’s a short game of telephone with lower chances of error, it is still pretty fun. If you and your child make just two people, then add a stuffed animal as a third person. Ask your child who gets to be the voice of the animal.
Kids adore puppets and love pretending to be the voice of the puppet. Craft a puppet (or buy one, whatever you’re into) in a character or animal your child loves. The key is that the puppet is from your minority language country and only speaks the minority language. Take turns with who gets to be that puppet.
My Mama Went to the Store
My kids taught me this game when they came home from camp one day. I realized it was great for second language reinforcing, although they do have to be more advanced in the minority language for it to work well. One person says, “My Mama went to the store and brought home…” (and if you want to be less gender stereotyped then substitute dad if it makes you happy) then that person picks the first letter of an item. My oldest daughter started with a “p” tonight, and we guessed wrong with pineapple, peas or pear until we guessed it was pesto.
This game doesn’t require a high level of language competence as kids have to pick between two choices. If you are on a desert island and you can only have one of two choices with you, which do you pick? You can cycle through any random combination of things, making the words in the minority language however easy or challenging. Apples or mango? Fancy Nancy or Curious George books? Play doh or markers? Chocolate cake or cookies? A dog or a cat?
This game also gives parents insight into their children’s preferences and thinking.
In our house, the version of monster we play is octopus. Inevitably, I have to be the octopus and chase them but because I am an octopus, I can only move in certain places and in specific ways that they dictate. Octopus also doesn’t speak English. So if they get caught, then they will have to use the minority language to say, “Don’t eat me” or “Go away!” or whatever it is they want to yell. I tell them “I’m hungry” in Spanish and they bait me in Spanish “Quieres comer?” and “Levantate!” when I pretend to sleep.
And a bonus game I have yet to try but found on this site and think could make a fun bilingual game:
Good Decision/Bad Decision
This game is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require a high level of language competence, unless the kids are the ones doing the asking, which requires greater fluency. Pushing your sister: good decision or bad decision? Dropping your coat on the floor: good decision or bad decision? Putting the milk away in the fridge: good decision or bad decision? Killing a caterpillar: good decision or bad decision. You get the idea. Tailor it to the things that need reinforcing in your household, which in our house lately would be waking up Mama and Baba in the middle of the night for no reason? Good decision or bad decision?
And remember, above all, have fun!
Hey! Are you looking for more bilingual games and information? You can find many more, awesome (ok, we’re biased) bilingual resources here!