Games are a fun way to spend time with friends and family. Or, depending on how competitive your friends and family are, they’re a fun way to make new enemies and grudges that will last your entire life. While you may have spent time learning things from games like how to barter in Settlers of Catan, or how to raise a family in Life, there’s another subject that you can try to tackle through games: language. Using language games is an engaging way to integrate your language learning into everyday life!
We rounded up a few language games that either exist in other languages, or that you can adjust to work in other languages. Anything could technically be made to work with speaking a new language, but here are the best options for an enriching language games experience.
Language Games For Learning New Languages
Guess Who? — Beginner
Though generally advertised for children, Guess Who? is a good tool for practicing questions in another language. It focuses mostly on vocabulary for describing a person, but that in itself can be useful. Especially if you ever have to describe someone to a sketch artist.
One of the benefits of Guess Who? is that if you already own the English version of the game, there’s no need to get a different one. The rules are exactly the same in any language, and there’s no difference from one to another.
This game is most likely for the beginner language learner, but there are always ways to make it more advanced. You might focus on different, subtler details of the pictures to try to describe to the person you’re playing with. Or, you can swap out the cartoon pictures on the cards for celebrities so you can refer to their lives and careers, thus expanding the vocabulary.
Hangman — Beginner
Hangman is a staple of time-wasting for kids. Or, at least it was before phone games were invented. Still, its simplicity has helped it remain popular: all you need is a paper and a writing implement. If you’ve somehow missed this game all your life, the basic idea is that there is a mystery word or phrase that you try to figure out by guessing which letters appear. If you guess too many letters that don’t appear at all, you lose (the exact number differs).
To use this game for language purposes, you’ll have to adjust it a little bit. Guessing at random words or phrases might help you refresh your vocabulary a little bit, but not much. To make it more useful, you can add other rules. Instead of it being any word or phrase, you can add specific categories (kind of like Wheel of Fortune). Make it so that to really “win,” you have to know the translation of the word, too.
Babbel Practice Games — Beginner
Most of the games on this list require another person to play them. It’s not so fun to guess what the word or phrase is if you’re the one making them up. If you’re looking for quick games you can play on your own, you should check out Babbel’s games in the practice section of the app.
The three games on offer so far — Phrase Maze, Word Trax and Sink or Spell — are all word-based adventures. The biggest advantage over other word minigames is that Babbel pulls directly from the vocabulary you’ve been studying, so you get a personalized experience. It’s always worth it to inject some fun into your vocab drilling.
Apples to Apples — Beginner
Apples to Apples is a fun game because it can be funny, imaginative and also build solid language skills. It’s especially good for boosting your adjectives and nouns in a new language.
While there are versions of Apples to Apples in other languages (Manzanas con Manzanas is the Spanish one, for example), it isn’t super easy to find one in the United States. Fortunately, Apples to Apples is an easy enough game to make your own version of. You can just find lists of, for example, German adjectives and nouns and put them on different color index cards (you might want to find interesting/weird words to make the game more exciting, of course).
Apples to Apples can also be adjusted if you want something a little more challenging. Because many non-English languages require adjectives to match the case of nouns, you can add a little grammar challenge where you have to make them agree. That might not be super exciting, but it’s good practice.
Scrabble — Intermediate
When it comes to board games about language, Scrabble is probably the most obvious choice. The game where you’re trying to make words with letter tiles lends itself easily to practicing a new language. It might be difficult early on, but as your vocabulary grows, you’ll get better and better.
There are a few options for going about Scrabble in other languages. Some foreign-language Scrabble editions are easy enough to purchase online (Spanish especially). If you’re learning a language that uses the Latin alphabet, you could also use your regular English-language Scrabble (though the point values assigned to each letter might not make as much sense). If you’re really committed, you could design your own version of the game by checking out the Scrabble letter distributions and point values in other languages.
Foreign-language Scrabble is also kind of a thing in competitive groups. One of the best Scrabble players living today is Nigel Richards, who won the French-language Scrabble World Championships — but he doesn’t speak French. Instead, he memorized as many acceptable words in the French Scrabble dictionary and has used that to win. This is just to say that Scrabble doesn’t force you to actually know what words mean, and so adding an element to your gameplay where you have to define the words you’re putting on the board could add to your learning through language games like these.
Charades — Intermediate
Board games and card games are fun, but it’s nice to have options that don’t make you buy anything. Charades, the classic party game where someone tries to act out a word or phrase which others have to guess. If you think about it, this game is already about translation: the translation from non-verbal to verbal ideas. Adding in a language component, then, is not too large a leap. The easiest way to add a new language is to make it so that people are only allowed to guess in that language.
While we mention charades specifically, there are lots of party games along the same lines that you can add languages to. Pictionary, Catch Phrase and “Who Am I?” are all games that can be linguistically elevated. When you think about it, it’s surprising how many of the most popular games involve playing with and manipulating language.
Scattergories — Intermediate
This is another one of those language games that works in a huge number of languages (though still confined to Latin alphabet languages, for the most part). The goal of the game is to come up with as many words as possible that start with a specific letter, and those words have to fall under one of the 12 possible categories (like “fruit” or “animal” or something else like that).
You can either buy the physical version of the game, or you can develop your own version that fits better with the language you’re learning. All you really need is a piece of paper, a list of categories (they can even be the categories of vocab you’re studying!), and a way to pick which letter to start each round.
Like Scrabble, Scattergories provides another opportunity to not only name vocab, but also define it. Okay, so going through each word and defining it probably doesn’t make for an exciting game night, but you could make it so you get more points when you translate the word correctly. And competition is fun!
Dungeons & Dragons — Expert
If you haven’t heard, Dungeons & Dragons is cool again. It’s one of the most imaginative games you can play, and there are limitless ways to play it. It might be a tad advanced to play Dungeons & Dragons in a way that helps you learn a language, but it can be a very rewarding experience for those who have advanced beyond Apples to Apples.
Like Dungeons & Dragons itself, the ways in which you could incorporate language learning into the game are limitless. You could just hold the entire game in the language you’re practicing, combining your language-learning group into a Dungeons & Dragons group (that’s one way to spice up the conversation). You could even make it a bilingual game, where certain characters speak one language and certain languages another. Or, for more beginner players, you could just put certain elements of the game in another language. Thus, as you adventure in this fictional world, you can take your own adventure through a new language.