It’s an open secret among experienced language teachers: We love playing games!
During my retreats and lessons, I’ve had so many experiences when an hour of Articulate in German helped my students speak fluently with more ease than a hundred other lessons. In this guest post, Italian teacher Gloria presents her top 5 games for learning languages.
Many of these games will be a lot of fun for learning other languages, too. Over to Gloria…
Among the tools we can use to learn languages, games are surely the ones I love the most. I know it sounds weird said from a teacher, but I’ve never really liked traditional learning methods. Sure, when I was learning languages at school, these traditional methods made me feel like I was doing the right thing. Still, I found them endlessly boring and energy-consuming. All those drilling activities, fill-in-the-blank exercises, multiple-choice quizzes… they just made me feel anxious and in the end, they weren’t contributing to my learning.
The Problem With Traditional Study Methods
When you feel tense or anxious, you are pushing yourself away from your learning goals. Why? Because we need to create positive memories if we want to store new information into our brain. If we want to secure a long-term learning or, in other words, if we want to truly acquire new information, we need to be in a relaxed and stress-free state of mind. Stress prevents new information from coming in. Conversely, happiness and calmness open us up to letting new information in.
This is especially true for Italian.
Italian is known particularly for its charm, but also for being quite a complicated language. If English is your first language, you might have experienced a few tough moments when approaching Italian for the first time.
Group Games for Language Learners
Below you will find some creative group games which will help you add some fun to your Italian practice and secure yourself a stress-free and efficient learning.
1) Strega Comanda Colore (Witch commands colour)
This game comes straight from my childhood and is a part of the Italian kindergarten-games tradition. Here I would like to propose it with a small variant. Originally, we have one person who plays the witch and who says “strega comanda colore…” (witch commands colour…) and then he or she adds one colour of their choice. Once the other players have heard the colour, they have to run and touch one object with that specific colour before the witch catches them. If someone gets caught, they become the witch, and the game continues until everyone gets caught.
Now, here is the variant I would like to propose to you: When you touch an object, you can also shout the name of that object. This way, you will create an opportunity for learning and revising new Italian words.
You can also stick a post-it note on the objects you haven’t learned yet. After that, you can remove the post-it note and add a bit of a challenge to your game by relying on your memory. If you want, you can use this game to revise words in other languages as well and spread a little bit of the Italian traditions all over the world.
2) The Miming Game
We can use this game for many languages, and for Italian it comes particularly in handy when you want to revise verb conjugations. When you struggle with verb conjugations, the miming game gives you an opportunity to practice Italian verbs in a laid back and fun way.
First, write a subject pronoun like io (“I”), tu (you) or lui (“he”), on a paper or a whiteboard, and mime a verb of your choice. The other players will have to guess the verb and say it conjugated according to that subject. If, for example, you choose the subject “noi” and you mime the verb bere (to drink), the participants will have to shout beviamo. The first player who guesses the right answer will take your place, and the game will continue until you all decide it’s over.
You can then choose which tense you want to revise. You can begin with the present tense and then shift to the passato prossimo or the imperfetto as well. If you want, you can also choose to revise more tenses together.
It’s the perfect game to play with a language buddy or a small group of friends. One person begins by drawing a picture, and the other participants have to guess what that picture is and say their answer in their target language.
You can draw pictures representing nouns like cane (“dog”), albero (“tree”) and libro (“book”). You can even draw adjectives like felice (“happy”), stanco (“tired”) and triste (“sad”). Then, you can also draw verbs like mangiare (“eat”), dormire (“sleep”) and leggere (“read”). You can use this game to revise what you’ve already learned.
It’s a good opportunity to spend some good time with friends and turn a leisure moment into a learning opportunity.
4) Pronunciation Memory Card Game
Everyone loves the sound of the Italian language, but how many out there find Italian easy to pronounce? So, here I want to propose a variant of the classic memory card game.
You can still match pictures and words, but, in order to help you with your pronunciation, you can focus on tricky words like ciao, chiesa, schiena, sci, formaggio, laghi… When you find a matching pair, shout the word out loud. If you don’t remember how to pronounce that word, the other players can help you with that.
Remember, this is all about teamwork, it’s not a competition. Plus, working to support each other is going to lead you further than competing against each other.
5) Game of the Goose
It’s the famous board game where you throw a dice and move pieces from one box to another around a track. You can build this game gradually, as you learn new sentences and words.
First, print out a blank template for the game of the goose (there are plenty online) and in each square you can write a question you’ve learnt to answer. Once all the squares are filled in with a question, you and your partners can throw the dice, move your pawns and answer the question where your pawn has landed.
Remember this is about team support, instead of competition, especially if you’re shy and you feel a bit intimidated when it comes to speaking.
As you can see, when it comes to learning Italian - and languages in general, applying creativity is the first step towards a new kind of language-learning experience.
You can play these games with your friends and classmates, or you can even involve your family, if you’re learning together. You will see how easy it is to transform a learning moment into an enjoyable shared moment that will bring beautiful and positive long-term memories.
What Are Your Favourite Games for Learning a Language?
Gloria Spagnoli is a playful Italian teacher online and founder of Speakita - Playful online Italian lessons for beginners. She’s committed to helping shy beginners and false beginners speak Italian confidently, with no stress and by having fun.