Though the rewards of mastering multiple tongues are immeasurable, nobody says that learning a foreign language is easy. From memorizing new vocabulary to making sense of unfamiliar grammatical structures, the language-learning process is fraught with challenges.
And the difficulties that language learners face go beyond the language itself. From lack of time to lack of money to lack of motivation, the realities of everyday life often prove to be a more significant roadblock on the path to fluency than the complexities of vocabulary and grammar.
Luckily for the modern language learner, there’s a simple and effective way to overcome these common obstacles that life throws at us: playing games. No, language games can’t simplify the grammar of a foreign language: they can’t take away the subjunctive in Spanish, or reduce the number of cases in Russian from six to two. But they can and do provide a host of other benefits for learners – even those of us who are busy, shy, or unmotivated.
Here’s how language games address common problems that learners face.
1. Games are fun.
The problem: It’s undeniably chic to be able to switch your language at the drop of a hat, but the process of getting there isn’t always so glamorous. Indeed, there are some aspects of foreign-language grammar that will prove dense or even outright boring.
How language games help: There comes a point in time when we simply can’t look at lists of irregular verbs anymore without falling asleep. But when we turn these lists into a game, we’re suddenly awake, involved, and perhaps even enjoying ourselves. Free games like this Spanish verbs race maintain our interest and attention when we’re reviewing topics that can often induce boredom. (Image via NIH / Wikipedia)
2. Games are low-pressure.
The problem: Nobody likes making mistakes, and this goes double for language learners. There are few experiences as uniquely frustrating as making grammatical errors when trying your hardest to communicate well in a foreign language. When interacting with native speakers, this can be a highly anxiety-inducing experience. Our fear of making mistakes can prove debilitating when it discourages us from conversing – and thus improving – in our language of study.
How language games help: Games constitute a perfect casual setting where we can make mistakes freely and without judgment. In conversations with native speakers, a forgotten article or misused verb tense can be embarrassing, but when we’re playing a game like Kloo, we can more easily just laugh it off – after all, it’s only a game!
3. Games aren’t work.
The problem: You’ve just finished a long day at work or school (or both!), and the last thing you want to do is MORE work. Although every language learner dreams of being able to devote their entire day to learning new words and phrases, the realities of school and work get in the way of this. We already have jobs, classes, and responsibilities, and learning a new language can seem like yet another item on our endless to-do list.
How language games help: If you’ve already spent all day in class, you’re not going to want to study even more at home. But what about playing a game? That doesn’t sound so bad! Language games help us view language learning not as work, but as something fun and relaxing. This way, we can look forward to the time we spend learning a language, even after a long day in the office.
4. Games are motivating.
The problem: Even the most diligent language learner will experience a dip in their motivation at some point. Indeed, motivation ebbs and flows, and sometimes we simply just don’t have the drive to stare at the same verb conjugation tables for the hundredth time. Of course, staying motivated is a key aspect of the language-learning process, and it can be difficult to make progress when our motivation is low.
How language games help: Games are goal-based, and are designed to be motivating. Whether the purpose of the game is to solve a puzzle, beat out our competitors, or get a new high score, playing language games is fun and exciting. Even when we’re running out of steam, it’s much easier to muster up the energy to play some games than it is to forge through a new chapter of our coursebooks.
5. Games are social.
Games are great for learners of all ages. (Image via Pixabay)
The problem: Especially if you live in an area where there aren’t many native speakers of the language you’re studying, it can be hard to find people to talk to. Indeed, language learning can be quite a solitary activity for many learners among us. But given that language is an inherently social thing – the purpose of learning a language is to communicate, after all – this lack of social interaction can be a hindrance in the language-learning process.
How language games help: Language learning is best done with friends, and a game is a perfect activity to share with others. If you can connect with native speakers, playing games with them will not only strengthen foreign language skills, but can also strengthen your friendships. And even if you don’t have any native speakers at your disposal, you can set up a friendly competition and challenge your fellow language-learners.
6. Games are quick.
The problem: You’re busy. Unfortunately, for most of us, learning a language is not our only responsibility. When we’re constantly on the move and running errands, it can be hard to squeeze in time for language practice – let alone find the time to devote to language classes every week.
How language games help: If you’ve got just five minutes to spare, it won’t do you much good to try hurriedly getting through half a page of your course book. But just a few minutes is all you need to play quick a quick game like these ones, which help you practice various aspects of French pronunciation and grammar. Games are a great way to fill those scarce moments of downtime in our hectic day-to-day lives.
7. Games are (quite often) free.
The problem: Between classes, course books, audio CDs, and other supplementary materials, learning a language can take a toll on our wallets. Nobody likes spending money, and for many of us, buying expensive courses and materials is simply not feasible.
How language games help: With the ever-growing prevalence of the internet, there are more and more opportunities to play language games – completely free of charge! All of the offerings from Games for Language are totally free, giving anyone with an internet connection the chance to improve their language skills and have fun while doing so.
Indeed, from being nervous to being exhausted to simply being bored, there are plenty of things in our daily lives that can prevent us from studying a foreign language and advancing our skills. But fortunately, taking advantage of language-learning games can help us combat these challenges – despite our social, monetary, and schedule restrictions. Games are a great way for us to stay regularly connected with our foreign language, and can help solidify language learning as a part of our daily routine we look forward to.
Bio: The above post is from Paul Mains, an English teacher who lives in Argentina. Paul writes on behalf of Listen & Learn, a language teaching service which offers foreign-language level tests as well as other free language-learning resources on their website. Check out their Facebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information