This week we have a guest blog from Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Games for language. Like us they are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. Over the them…
When you watch young children at play, you know: children love playing games. For them games are a way to explore the world around them and to try out how things work.
Indeed, many parents help their young children acquire their first language in a playful way. Who hasn’t imitated the sound of a cow or a dog for a child and matched it with the picture and/or word of the animal?
As young children learn to speak, they start to identify objects, learn letters and numbers, spell simple words, sing songs, etc.
Parents and caregivers often turn such a learning activity into a game they play with children.
Also, many children now play games on toy tablets or their parent’s tablet or phone. Some of the games are language based and improve a child’s native language skills.
For digital language learning games, the rules are often simple. The player gains points or advances for making the right match, and loses points or has to replay for getting it wrong. Graphics, sound, and gamification features add fun and excitement.
Games for very young children often match a picture or sound with a letter or word. Games for preschoolers teach them to recognize words, how to spell them, and how to sound them out. For school children, games can get more complicated. These often involve sentence building, spelling races, and grammar searches.
CHILDREN LEARNING A SECOND LANGUAGE
It’s clearly not difficult to introduce children to different words for various objects. Whether a “dog” is labeled a “Hund” (German), “chien” (French), “perro” (Spanish) or “cane” (Italian) will not matter to a child. Children remember a new “label” easily and correlate it to its picture or sound, as long as they hear the foreign word often and consistently.
Children that grow up bilingually have no problem retaining both languages, as long as they continue to use them.
Research has demonstrated the benefits of learning more that one language as a child. One important benefit is that the foreign sounds children hear in their early years are retained by them, even if they stop using the language.
Thus, exposing children to the sounds of a foreign language as they grow up will make it easier for them to relearn that language later on.
SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNING GAMES FOR CHILDREN
More and more language games for children are being developed, both as web apps or as native apps, available from App stores.
Typical ingredients of second-language games are:
- Fun graphics and sound
- Simple rules, involving hit and miss
- Rewards, in the form of advancement, points, trophies
- Lots of repetition
- Interactive play
Figuring out how a game works is all part of the learning.
Children as young as 2 1/2 or 3 can start with simple games, matching pictures with the audio of foreign words.
When children learn to read in their native language (ages 5-8), games can include simple words in their own language, plus audio of the foreign word.
Once children can read quite well (ages 9 and up), the games can be more challenging and include longer texts in the foreign language.
This French Quick Language Game, for example, shows some of the games included with our free courses. (Click on the link above or the picture to play it!)
Through feedback, we have learned what works for young players:
- The courses and games are interactive
- The travel story appeals to older children (4th grade and up) who travel with their parents
- The story sequel format with 36 (or 72) Scenes also works well for children
- Text-based games practice individual foreign words, phrases, and sentences, as well as English reading and spelling
- Foreign spelling is practiced with simple words
- Story podcasts advance listening skills
MANY DIFFERENT ACTVITIES FOR LANGUAGE LEARNING
It ‘s clearly a good idea for children to engage in all kinds of different activities to learn and practice languages. Digital games are just one tool.
Other favorites are songs, easy books, audio stories, board and card games, not to forget conversations with family and friends, at home or on FaceTime and Skype.
Our 3-year-old granddaughter, for example, is taking French Skype lessons with a tutor several times a week. She loves to sing “un deux trois” and is very proud when she can surprise us with a new French word from time to time.
Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
How do you do languages at home with your children?
Let us know in the comments below.