Games for teaching young children a foreign language

We started our young daughter (seven years old) on Latin this year. She absolutely loves Latin, and I think a lot of that is due to the Song School Latin program from Classical Academic Press. At this stage, she is primarily learning new vocabulary and simple phrases. We are gently introducing some of the grammar, but that’s not the focus yet.

A lot of folks ask me how we have such a young child studying Latin. The answer is to make it as fun as possible. That means lots of songs and lots of games. I have seen other programs (like Memoria Press) that are based on rote learning. That is simply not a good way to teach gifted children, in my opinion. All children loathe boredom, but gifted children completely shut down with boredom.

Anyway, here are some games that we’ve found very useful for learning new vocabulary (and you can apply them to any foreign language).

Simon Says – This is a preschool favorite, but brilliant for teaching a foreign language. You do not need to limit it to parts of the body, either. You can do commands of all sorts. (Simon says dance. Simon says sing. Simon says point to the youngest person in the room. Etc.)

Bring Me – Name something in your physical environment for your child to fetch. It does not have to be obvious, either. (Bring me a red book. Bring me something you love. Bring me something you do not like. Bring me something that belongs to the dog.)

Scavenger Hunt – Give your child a list of clues in a foreign language with a prize at the end. This is an opportunity to include directions or make them ask someone else for information.

Grocery List – Make a list of things to buy in a foreign language while you are out shopping. This is great for introducing quantities and counting too.

Matching Games or Memory – Write the foreign language vocabulary and translations on index cards. If the child can pair them all correctly, they get a prize.

Write a Book or Story – Young children love writing stories or narrating stories. A fun twist is to use as many foreign words or phrases as possible. It’s sort of a more intelligent version of writing with emoji.

One thing I find amusing is how much Elise has started working Latin into everyday conversation. Because building a vocabulary has been a game, she now almost invents her own games by seeing how many things she can name. It’s like how kids become secret counters when they start learning new math skills.

She has also become very curious about word origins, since I mention the word origins of everything (or we Google them in the middle of conversations). We are talking about lizards, so we look up the origin of the word reptile. From the Latin, to creep. The Romans used arches frequently in architecture, and the word for rainbow is arcus. If you have your children doing this when they are very young, imagine how familiar with language they will be as teenagers.

One thought on “Games for teaching young children a foreign language

  1. I suppose there are other languages that have just as complex an origin story as English does. I just don’t know of any.
    In any case, growing up speaking English should give a kid a head start in the Romance and Germanic languages.

    Liked by 1 person

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