Second Language Acquisition Through Simple Games at Home

By Julia Solovieva – Language teacher with more than 10 years of experience in teaching English as a second language. You can follow her on FB on Random English.

Play is one of the most essential ways for young children to gain important knowledge and skills, including language learning.

You can easily assist your child in second language acquisition through simple games at home.

You surely know how to play with your kids, but with the tips in this article, you will be able to help them more effectively with second language acquisition – SLA.

What are the Benefits of Playing Language Games?

If you want your kids to learn a second language effectively, they need to hear it at home, whether they are exposed to it in other environments (i.e. pre-school) or not.

The most obvious benefit is, of course, more language practice, but there is more to it than that.

Here are some of the benefits of second language acquisition through simple games at home:

  • Meaningful context for language use
  • Bonding time alongside learning
  • Opportunity for you to track your child’s progress
  • Language practice in a safe familiar environment for the child
  • Increased motivation and more effective learning
  • Ability to learn/practice language in short sessions

When to Start Playing Language Games With Children?

Children start speaking their first language somewhere in the first three years of their life.

The timeline for second language acquisition is different for everyone.

There is no consensus of what the best age for learning a foreign language is.

Are you starting at an early age with your children? Then use the tips in this article to help you.

6 Tips on Second Language Acquisition Through Simple Games

To make sure you are making the most of playing language games at home with your kids, here are a important ideas to remember.

Make it Relevant

Make sure the game matches your kid’s age, development and language levels. For instance, don’t play word games before you learn the alphabet, introduce easy language concepts ( before harder ones, etc.

Make it Short

Play in short sessions and change things up from time to time.

Young children have rather short attention spans and are easily distracted.

After some time even the most fun game can get boring, so make sure you stop playing or switch to another game before your child gets bored and cranky.

Follow the Child’s Lead

No matter how great some games are, your kid may just not like them.

Don’t push them if they are not interested. Instead, try to find another game to play. For example if they are fond of dinosaurs, think of ways to use these creatures in games.

Be Patient

Second language acquisition takes time and patience.

Don’t rush things. Let your child do things at their pace.

Prepare Props

Tangible props often make language games SO MUCH more engaging and fun for the kids.

Before you start playing, prepare some toys, drawing materials, and other props. 

Don’t Overuse the Mother Tongue

Depending on your child’s age and language level, you will need to use your native language when playing language games.

Do your best to use it sparingly.

Use the target language as much as possible.

Word Game Ideas

Simple word games are a great way to help your kid with second language acquisition.

They are often easy to set up but are engaging and fun.

Here are some of the things you can do, depending on your child’s age and language level.

  • Name objects and ask your child to repeat after you
  • Point to objects and/or pictures asking your child to name them
  • Sing songs and read nursery rhymes
  • Put words together from letters using blocks or cards
  • Rhyme words
  • Come up with as many words as possible starting from a given letter
  • Learn tongue twisters
  • Play with homonyms – words that sound alike but mean different things
  • Describe an object and ask your child to guess its name
  • Tell/read stories with their favorite toys

Use Your Board Games

There are board games specifically made for language learning.

However, depending on your child’s second language, age, where you live, and other factors, good games can be hard to come by.

What can you do in this situation? Adapt the board games you already have.

Almost any game can be turned into a language game if you add a bit of the target language into it.

Playing Uno? Practice saying the numbers and colors in the second language.

Snakes and Ladders? Learn the words for ‘up’ and ‘down’.

Even a game like ‘Connect Four‘ can be turned into a spelling game by putting stickers with letters on the pieces.

Dominoes can be made with pictures of different objects to be named instead of numbers.

Get the Children Moving

First of all, many young children are simply unable to sit still for a long time.

And there is no need to force them to do it during language games.

Secondly, adding movement or such activities as drawing to the mix makes the games more engaging and the language material learned/practiced more memorable.

Here are a few ideas to start with

  • When playing some of the word games, draw the objects or act out some of the verbs
  • Organize a treasure hunt for the objects you name in the foreign language. If you have two or more children, they can draw treasure maps for each other.
  • Act out songs/nursery rhymes (e.g. Head, shoulders, knees, and toes)
  • Dance to songs
  • If you have a twister mat (or can make an alternative), you can use it to practice colors, words for ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘foot’, and ‘hand’
  • Make props together with your child before playing
  • Put shapes, letters, colored paper on the floor. Children need to jump/step on the right shape/letter/color (see a more detailed description of games like this here)

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