Games to Learn a Second Language

Category Game in Mandarin

We get a lot of our Chinese through our au pair — a lovely, patient woman who helps us get ready in the morning, but also facilitates all of the Mandarin games that I create. However, as the kids get older, we have less and less time for Chinese as school, lacrosse gymnastics and water polo (and the list goes on) take over our available hours. As a result, we realized that the kids know breakfast vocabulary really well (“Take another bite”)  and some great nagging vocabulary (“Put away your backpack”), but outside of those limited phrases, the kids are starting to lose other words (how often does “octopus”, come into daily conversation?)

The solution? The Category Game! 

My kids created lists based on categories (things that are yellow or kinds of dessert) and made them for each other to guess. We did English, character and pinyin versions for each of the lists. By the end, the kids expanded their vocabulary in topics that don’t come up often in our lives!

We will continue to add to our category game when water polo season is over, but for now, here are a few for your family to enjoy!

screen shot of category Game


 This page contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Chinese, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling

Headbands for Second Language Learning

Headbands is probably my favorite game in our house. Everyone can play it and everyone enjoys it! The concept is simple. Someone picks a card for you that has an image on it (cat, spoon, rake, etc.) and you need to figure out using yes/no questions the object that is on your head.

How is this a language game?

You can play this game in any language! The object is simply to guess what the object is on the top of your head and just THINK about all of the vocabulary needed to figure it out! We play this game with our Chinese-speaking babysitter because she is able to provide the kids with a ton of vocabulary of objects (like hammer, fire hydrant, etc.) that the kids might not know.

Some Tips:

  • Make it more challenging by using  a timer with the game. The student needs to guess the answer in the set time (2 minutes or so). This way the guesser and the other players don’t get frustrated as it can take a long time to figure it out.
  • If your child gets stressed out with a timer (as one of my kids does) don’t use it! Just let the child guess the object in his/her own time. This version may work better if there is an adult giving the answers as children might lose patience if the guessing lasts too long.
  • Instruct your kids to ask big questions. I have to remind my little one, Hudson, of this idea every time because otherwise she will just start guessing random words and you can imagine how long that game might take (yikes!) Some questions that you can give them as starters are the following:
    • Does it fly?
    • Does it live in the ocean?
    • Would you see it in a farm?
    • Do we have one in our bathroom? Kitchen? Garage?
    • Is it a food?

Have fun! Let us know how it went in the comments section of this post!

This post contains affiliate links.


Filed Under: Chinese, Flashcard Fun, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Posts with Videos, Product Reviews, Spanish, Uncategorized

Basketball to make flashcards more fun

How can you use basketball to make learning flashcards more fun? Lucas, my 11-year-old son, came up with this idea to do with his Chinese tutoring students. He and I brainstormed tons of ideas to make learning Chinese characters more fun and this one is one of our favorites!


  • Find flashcards that you want your children to use or make them yourself. Put one word on each card.
  • Decide on the number of cards that you want your student to learn
  • Review those cards with your student
  • Place the cards in a semicircle around the basketball hoop (farther for older kids, closer for younger ones)


  • The student needs to say the word on the flashcard before he/she can try to make a basket
  • If the student gets the basket, he/she gets to keep the card as a “point”
  • If the student does not make the basket, he/she needs to move to another card and read that one.
  • The student keeps on moving from card to card until all of the cards are “won”.


  • If playing with multiple students, make sure that they take turns. One child goes, and then the other. You don’t want the students so focused on making the basket that they forget to stay the word on the card.
  • Designate a spot for students to put the cards that they have “won” so that the cards don’t get messed up in a pocket or mixed up with another child’s cards.


  • If your children enjoy competition, set up a challenge to see who can get the most cards.
  • If your children do not enjoy competition with one another, set up the game so that the children see how well they can improve. How many cards can they get in a certain time period? Can the student get the points within two shots for each card? Set up the game so that your child finds it enjoyable.

Have fun! Please let us know how it went in the comments section of this post!

This post contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Chinese, Classes, Flashcard Fun, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Posts with Videos

Rush Hour Game to Learn Numbers and Colors

We just love this game Rush Hour. It is challenging! It is fun! It is portable! It is hard to lose too many pieces! 🙂

Seriously, though, we love it. My son, Lucas (11) recently decided to start a Chinese tutoring class fueled in part by a desire to buy Pokeman cards (which he has yet to purchase – thank goodness) and a new-found pride in his Mandarin-speaking skills. He has rush_hour_gameused this game often during his tutoring sessions because it is a great way to explore numbers, directions and simple vocabulary while still challenging his students. His students range from 5 to 11 and so he needs to find games that will appeal to all ages — and this one is it!

Here are some colors to get you started:


black   noir/noire
white   blanc/blanche
gray     gris/grise
red       rouge
blue     bleu/bleue
yellow jaune
green  vert/verte
orange orange
purple violet
brown marron
pink     rose


black      negro
blue        azul
brown    marrón, pardo
green      verde
grey        gris
orange  anaranjado
pink       rosado
red         rojo
white    blanco
yellow amarillo


whitebái sè 白色
bluelán sè藍色
yellowhuáng sè 黃色
greenlǜ sè 綠色
redhóng sè 紅色
orangejú sè橘色
brownkāfēi sè咖啡色
blackhēi sè黑色
purplezǐ sè 紫色
greyhuī sè  灰色

This post contains affililate links.

Filed Under: Chinese, English Literacy, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Playdates, Posts with Videos, Spanish, Uncategorized

Chinese Calligraphy Made Fun!

kids learning chinese charactersThis year we play a lot with ithese fun Reusable Chinese Calligraphy Brush Water Writing Magic Cloths with the kids. It is an easy and inexpensive way to explore writing in Chinese characters. You simply dip the calligraphy pen into water and write on the cloth. A few Chinese characters are pre-written for your child to trace and the rest are blank squares for your child to explore writing any character he/she desires.

I also love how the words disappear quickly! For kids just learning how to write in Chinese (and adults too!), it can be frustrating to not have a character turn out the way that you expected. With this Reusable Chinese Calligraphy Brush Water Writing Magic Cloth, the words just disappear after a few minutes! If the character is not perfect — POOF — it disappears quickly so that you can start fresh again!

Check out this video of my older daughter (8) teaching my younger daughter (4) how to write simple Chinese characters.

Good luck and have fun!

This post contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Chinese, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Posts with Videos, Uncategorized

Hiding Game for Flash Card Memorization

There is really no better way to learn something than to teach it to someone else. Studies have shown that active learning is the best way to learn. So you can see why we were thrilled when my son wanted to make use of his Chinese speaking and writing skills to teach other kids (and gain a little money to buy Pokeman cards!)

Lucas and I have had a lot of fun coming up with creative ways to make learning Chinese fun for the beginner. Flashcards are sort of a necessary evil with learning Chinese. A ton of characters need to be memorized before you can even begin to start reading. And as I am sure you remember — flash cards are super boring.

Lucas and I have taken this as a  fun challenge — how to make Chinese flashcards learning fun! He has been testing all of these games with his little sisters and have enjoyed every one!

Hiding Flashcard Game: 


  • box large enough to be able to lay down 5 cards so that they don’t hide another card
  • blanket
  • flashcards/index cards

How to Play:

  • Show the student the 5 (or however many you are going to study at that time) cards
  • Put the cards in the box so that the student can see all of the cards
  • Cover the box with a blanket
  • Take out one of the cards while the student covers his/her eyes
  • Take off the blanket and see if the student can figure out which card is missing
  • Voila! Learning with flashcards becomes fun!

Check out some of our other ways that we make learning with flashcards fun!

Have fun!

This post contains affiliate links.


Filed Under: Chinese, Flashcard Fun, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Posts with Videos, Uncategorized

Story Cubes for Building Vocabulary

story-cubes-second-languageHave you looked in your games closet lately? I bet that there are a ton of games in there that you can use for building vocabulary and fluency in your target language!

The other day, I rummaged around in my own closet and found a great game that I had forgotten about — Story Cubes!  This game’s premise runs on a very simple concept. Players of Story Cubes use 9 cubes with images on them to tell a continuous story. It starts with one player throwing the cubes on the table. Each player takes turns picking one of the cubes and telling part of a story inspired by the image shown on the cube. The next player picks a cube and adds to the first person’s story using the image as inspiration. And so on, until all of the cubes are gone and the story is over.

thumb_img_3507_1024The story possibilities are unlimited since the combination of the 54 images will always be different. My kids love story telling and Story Cubes is a wonderful little game to spark their little imaginations. Besides — if we did not have Story Cubes as our foundation, my daughters would probably start off every story with a mermaid 🙂 !

A Bonus: This box is travel-sized at about 6 x 3 inches so perfect for taking to a restaurant or on an airplane.

Helpful Hints: 

  1. Set up ground rules: No one is allowed to criticize the other person’s story.
  2. Timing: Limit each person to a certain amount of time that they can tell his/her part of the story. We usually limit it to one minute — otherwise, the story can lose momentum if one person takes up too much of the plot.

Have fun!

This post contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Chinese, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Uncategorized

Advent House Number Game

Why not make use of your Advent House for something other than waiting for Santa to come? We use this magical little house to explore numbers in a second language in a fun and challenging way!

Not sure where to get an Advent House? Amazon has a ton of great ones!  Check them out here:

Four Game Variations: Print out these number PDF pages below (numbers from 1 – 25) and cut them out. Scatter them in front of your Advent house and set a timer on your Educational game with advent housephone.

  1. Solo Race-  How quickly can your child put the number in the correct door? Try this game several times to see if you can beat your previous score.
  2. Sibling Competition- If your children like to compete against each other, set a timer and race to see who can be the fastest to put the numbers in the correct doors.
  3. Work Together –  Your family can work as a team to put the numbers in the correct doors. How fast are you guys?
  4. Other ideas? Please comment below!

Print Outs of Numbers 1-25: 

Mandarin Numbers

Spanish Numbers

French Numbers

English Numbers

Print Out of Numbers 1-31 (if you are crazy like us and have a Halloween Countdown) 

Mandarin Numbers

Spanish Numbers

French Numbers

English Numbers

This post contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Chinese, English Literacy, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Spanish, Uncategorized

Your Library’s Free Language Resources

Use Your Library for Free Language Resources

Right now, we use Rosetta Stone as our French curriculum (we once had Rosetta Stone for Greek, but that, along with my computer, got destroyed in a Rosetta Stone, both from a user’s perspective and as a parent. Its immersion-style of learning mimics the way we naturally learn languages, so you quickly gain a certain level of fluency. And for the kids, it’s nice to have a program that they can do entirely on their own. However, it is not cheap (although you can often find it up to 40% off, so make sure you price check before you rosetta-stonebuy), and if you want practice to grammar or writing, Rosetta Stone isn’t really structured to provide that kind of instruction.

For our other foreign languages (Spanish and Greek), we don’t have any “official” program. My intention was to wait and slowly add more languages to my Rosetta Stone collection, but I keep finding a lot of other uses for that money. I’m also just not convinced, given how many free resources are out there, that I have to pay for anything (at least not at this early level of instruction).

All you need is a library card and a dream!

I don’t go the the library as often as I should, given how much I love the library (and how often I am buying books that I should just go check out of the library). But I have a very bad habit of racking up late fees, and until recently, my 3 year old thought of the library as his own personal playground, with books instead of balls to throw. We didn’t make a lot of friends among the staff or other patrons.

We are, more or less, past all of that now, so I have begun to re-discover the library.  Although I knew you could get more than books at the library, I had never investigated all of the free e-resources available through most public libraries. At libraries across the country, with nothing more than the account number on your library card,  you can access, at home or anywhere else, a treasure trove of educational tools, from audiobooks, ebooks for kids and adults, test prep, magazines, (even Us Weekly, yay!), and online membership to language learning programs.

Muzzy and Mango

Through my library, there are two different language programs available: Mango Languages and Muzzy (both of which you would normally need to pay for.) By logging on to my library’s website using my library card and a pin # they gave me, I can use these two programs on my home computer (or any computer), as though I was a paying customer.

Mango is not designed specifically for kids, but as long as they can read at a mid-Elementary level (a strong first grade reader, or average 2nd grader), they will be fine. The program is offered in 63 languages, although some languages have a lot more lessons than others. Unlike many programs, Mango doesn’t focus on teaching you the foundations of the language, but rather getting you to a point where you could function if you were dropped off in the middle of the country on your own.

Each lesson starts with a list of conversation and grammar goals, which l like; there are also cultural notes interspersed throughout the lesson. As a starting point for language learning, I like Mango (especially if you get it for free). I could definitely see us using it as a replacement for Rosetta Stone, at least for the first level or so. On the negative side, it’s not very interactive, which could cause some kids to lose interest, but luckily the lessons are short and sweet.

Muzzy, produced by the BBC, is one of the oldest, and best-known language learning programs for children. I was very excited to find this program offered through my library, because I have wanted to try it out for years, but didn’t want to buy it. It offers 8 languages, including Spanish, French and Mandarin (but not Greek, sadly!). It uses cute animation, videos and games, implementing a “see and say, listen and learn” m