Games and puzzles with young learners

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It is generally accepted that language teaching not merely can be, but should be enjoyable. This is not to assume that it is easy, but only that there is no need, by excluding enjoyment, to make it more difficult.

Games are enjoyable. The essence of many games lies in out- stripping, in a friendly fashion, someone else’s performance, or (and adult learners often prefer this) in bettering one’s own, as in the world of sport. The goal is visible and stimulating: outdoing others, and improving on oneself, are by and large enjoyable pursuits. Enjoyable also is the active cooperation with one’s fellows. In a group or team activity, rivalry and cooperation go hand in hand. There are the other groups or teams to surpass, and friends to help surpass them. One’s own activity takes on importance in the latter’s eyes.

But in spite of all the effort -and sometimes, when attention is sharply focused and the learner’s energies stretched to the full in a game, it is hard to see any difference between ‘work’ and ‘play’ -there is a pleasant, informal, and often relaxed atmosphere, favourable to language learning.

Nevertheless, the case for language games is not identical with the case for enjoyment in the language lesson. An agreeable although busy atmosphere can be attained by other means, even if games are absent, and games have other and equally important virtues. They banish boredom and so make for willing learners, who look forward to language lessons. But after all, any kind of interesting activity would make them do that. We should ask, therefore, what other advantage language learning games offer than the creation of an enjoyable atmosphere in which to learn.

A language is learnt by using it -and this means using it in situations and communicatively. Disembodied sounds, words, phrases, and sentences, however, wrapped about with rules, do not carry language learning far; although it is helpful up to a point to remove such elements and look at them closely, much as one examines components of a machine, before returning them to the intermingling streams of discourse.

The situations which bring a foreign language to life in the classroom are provided by gestures, by handling and touching things, by incidents and activities, by pictures, by dramatization, by interesting stories spoken or in print -and not least by certain contests and games. In these, the language is linked with action and is no longer a disembodied thing.

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