English as a Second Language: What’s in a Game?

One thing we’ve learned as foreign exchange parents is that homesickness pops up at random moments. Social isolation, no can do. Enter family game night.

Apples to Apples, and its much dirtier sibling, Cards Against Humanity, make frequent appearances in our circle. If one must play a board game, it might as well be an entertaining one. Find an extra chair and deal another handful of cards, and you can keep a whole party going. Somewhere during the process of deciding what to play the other night, it occurred to me that there probably is no simpler game out there for building English vocabulary.

There are plenty of other word games, of course. Classics. Boggle. UpWords. Scrabble. Taboo. But I have not seen one so amenable to breaking the ice around the table and expanding an ESL student’s understanding of English nuances than a solid round of Apples to Apples. It’s easy, it’s squeaky, G-rated clean, and it never fails to get everybody talking.

The premise is simple enough: Each player chooses a noun card–a person, place, or thing–and tries to match it t

o the adjective card displayed on the table. “Hungry” might be paired with “vampires,” or “peanut butter and jelly.” Of course, not all matches are great ones, and general hilarity ensues. It’s a perfect opportunity to discuss exactly what the words being played mean and explain how to use them correctly.

Our student picked up the rules just fine, well enough to win and beg for a second round! Language is easiest for students to acquire when we treat it as the functional creation it is. And vocabulary lessons are much more fun when you make a game out of them.

What’s your favorite vocabulary game?

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