KALLPACHAY'S IMMERSION BLOG

Games that Foster At-Home Language Practice

Grow through Play!

Yo-Yo Ma, besides being a world renowned cellist, is a person that speaks freely about his life and process. He seems to really enjoy connecting with people, not only through performing, but also by sharing about his life. During a recent NPR Tiny Desk concert, he recalled the process of learning his first piece of music at the age of four, which was the very same Bach cello suite he had just performed.

He shared that the process was so gradual that it felt doable and knowable, and it helped him stay engaged. His practice schedule unfolded in a sequence that helped him retain the notes easily in his muscle memory. He recounts that he was encouraged to begin and then instructed using an over simplified process which perfectly matched his young age. When he came back to the beginning of the piece, he recognized that he retained most of what he’d learned from the day before, making it easier to add on just a few lines more of new material. He was not overwhelmed, and this style of learning, he recalls, enabled him to continue to build his repertoire.

Yo-Yo Ma sitting in a chair surrounded by floor to ceiling shelves in the office of NPR's tiny desk concert holding his cello.

Sixty years later, Yo-Yo Ma’s thousands of hours of recordings are a gift to humanity, but he is perhaps most famous for his heartfelt interpretations of the Bach cello suites. Something tells me that each time he plays these compositions, he’s going back to his beginnings. He’s feeling something special about the process and connecting with something new learned through the music with each new day, time, and venue it’s performed.

I do not think he would disagree with the statement that he is a life-long learner.

Music and language have a great deal in common, not the least of which being that neuroscientists have found that learning each at an early age is the easiest way to go about it! But as you can imagine, there’s much more to it than that, and Kallpachay experts are here to start breaking it down for you to inspire and encourage you to begin today!

Let’s introduce some simple guidelines that will help you take those initial steps:

  • Aim to incorporate bite-size bits of new information each day
  • Gradually build in new vocabulary while incorporating review of old vocabulary
  • Focus on the process, not the end result!
  • Come up with ways to reward yourself along your journey

The board and online game design model is a perfect way to break down how to adopt the optimal game-playing experience by creating your own home-grown games. The following game suggestions are hand-picked specifically because they do not require much preparation.

You’ll be asked to:

  • Create a topic to build the activity around (giving a context for learning makes things easier!)
  • Prepare simple visual and tactile game elements as choice vocabulary and preview them prior to game play so everyone is ready
  • Play in short bursts of found time, being mindful to stop playing while it is still fun and everyone wants another round!

These are games in their simplest form, but keep in mind that the intent is for you to change it up to match your child’s age and level in Spanish. Remember that adults play games too, so no one is too old to play to learn!

A youth standing with hands to ears facing group of five others that are guessing what animal the child is acting out.

game #1: charades

  • Choose your topic (animals, colors, kitchen utensils, food, school items, sports equipment, etc.)
  • Collect the five items for that topic. Use physical items in the beginning especially—so if you’re learning about animals, use your child’s stuffed animals. As the game develops you can instead use drawings, photos of items, printouts, etc.
  • Write the words in Spanish and tape them to the physical objects
  • Review the items and words
  • Now act out one of the words, and let the guesses begin!
  • On the first day you’ll learn five words. The next day you’ll review those five and bring in three more...you are now up to 8 and on your way!

An adult holding up a hand drawn picture of a palm tree.

game #2: pictionary

  • Choose your topic (animals, colors, kitchen utensils, food, school items, sports equipment, etc.)
  • Decide how many words you’ll review and how many new words you’ll incorporate
  • Create your own word bank by writing the words and taping or placing them under pictures or physical objects representing the words you are learning
  • Begin by reviewing all the words
  • Start drawing and guess away! For an added challenge, time how long it takes to guess correctly.

3 surfaces numbered 1 through 3. Number 1 is a colored illustration of bread and number 2 colored illustration of yogurt surface number 3 is an image of a question mark.

game #3: what’s missing?

  • Choose your topic (animals, colors, kitchen utensils, food, school items, sports equipment, etc.)
  • Decide how many words you’ll review and how many new words you’ll incorporate
  • Create your own word bank by writing the words and taping or placing them under pictures or physical objects representing the words you are learning
  • Begin by reviewing all the words
  • Place all items so that they are spread out on a surface—the floor works great!
  • Ask your child to close their eyes or turn around. Remove one item and see if they can guess what is missing. For an added challenge you can rearrange the items after they are removed, and/or remove two items at a time

A grid of 15 colored squares on a neutral background with 2 squares removed reveal illustration of balls in one space and the Spanish word, gimnasio, in the other.

game #4: match game

  • Choose your topic (animals, colors, kitchen utensils, food, school items, sports equipment, etc.)
  • Decide how many words you’ll review and how many new words you’ll incorporate
  • Prepare the set of cards using index cards, cut paper, or a deck of playing cards
  • Write out the words that match with an image (printed, drawn, or cut from magazines or store brochures) and tape or glue the images and words respectively to one side of the cards only
  • Begin by reviewing all the words
  • Now spread all items face-down across a flat surface and ask your child to turn over their first two cards. They have a match if they correctly match the word to the correct image, but the cards aren’t won until your child says the word in question.

When you are ready to advance further, you can adapt these four simple games by including variety in creative ways. This will ensure that your child is not only learning more Spanish, but also that they stay interested throughout the process!

  • Consider adding in math vocabulary by including competition and point systems.
  • Add a physical challenge, i.e. if you’re learning about animals, give extra points if your child acts out how the animal moves
  • For added variety, challenge your child to not only say the word, but spell it!
  • Have a final round where all the words are separated from the objects and your child has to match them to the correct object

Hopefully you are newly inspired to get started having hours of fun playing in Spanish using what you already have in your home. Not only can this up-front effort ultimately save you from the time you’d spend waiting for the right product to come along, but you also have the added benefit of tailoring games to exactly what you want your child to learn!

Before you realize it, you’ll be skilled at creative game design and it will become part of your routine. You may even notice that your time spent on Spanish practice will lengthen from minutes to hours per week! While adding reward systems is a feature you may want to explore, remember that these games come with the built in reward of quality time with your child.

Additionally, don’t think that you have to teach something. Instead, approach it like a new board game: you don’t have to force your child to learn it. You’ve already captured their attention and their desire to play, so they listen to the instructions. See for yourself! Here’s an example of a game we played with our own students.

Group of students with teacher sitting on floor about to play a game with Spanish vocabulary cards. One student is next to teacher facing the group.

For other examples of games we’ve played with our students, check out our Can You Find It?, What’s Missing?, Who Has It?, and Matching Game.

Let these teaching tips and videos guide you to create your own activities and continue to play with the Spanish language at home. If you’re in search of more ideas, feel free to email us! Send us a video of you and your child playing these games or the games these inspired, and stay tuned for our upcoming blogs on suggestions for language-learning adventures local and abroad. It is fun for us to think about and share new ways to keep up with the endless joy of learning to speak Spanish!

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