Grammar, grammar, grammar…grammar games?
Now, if you're still reading, then this is the post for you! 🙂
Cher Hale, who writes about learning Italian over at the Iceberg Project shares five awesomely creative grammar games that you can use to level-up your language in no time.
I like this post because it forces you to get your head out of the textbooks. And start using grammar for all the right reasons.
Dammit, I wish I'd thought of this post! 🙂
Take it away, Cher…
By the way, if you want to learn grammar and get fluent in your target language through stories, not rules, try one of my Uncovered courses for 7 days, for free.
What if I told you that learning grammar doesn’t have to be boring? Yup, despite what the grammar villain might whisper in your ear.
Even if we don’t know it, we have ideas in our head about what learning a language should be like. And one of the assumptions that we often make is about grammar.
We think it’s boring and secretly wonder if all of those grammar rules are really going help us when it comes to making conversation.
There are people that enjoy learning the nuts and bolts of grammar like we did in school. But since that isn’t the majority, that isn’t going to help us.
Lucky for us, there is a way to make grammar more entertaining. And when we're having a good time it's been scientifically suggested that we’re more likely to remember and use new information.
In order to keep myself more entertained while learning Italian and Mandarin, I’ve created five grammar games for learning grammar that don’t send me to sleep!
Note that these activities are aimed at an intermediate level and above – they’ll be more difficult to do if you’re just starting out with a language.
However, you can tinker with them to fit your level if you find an idea you like!
1) Create A Sprint Review Game
Olly often talks about sprints as opposed to goal setting on the site. He suggests that we spend up to three weeks focusing on one method while going as deep as possible.
Within these sprints, he also suggests setting 5-minute goals so we can build better habits toward language learning.
In this game, we mix the idea of 5-minute goals with review because when we’re learning a language we need as much review as we can get.
Here’s what you do:
- Choose a specific piece of language. For example, if you’re learning Mandarin, you might choose measure words, like 杯 (bēi) for something that has liquid, like a drink. If you’re learning Italian, you might choose the preposition “di”, which can mean “of, by, about, from, at, than”.
- Get out a blank sheet of paper and a pen.
- List as many of these phrases as you can in context until the five minutes are up.
What does in context mean?
When I say in context, I mean that you’re not writing words by themselves.
You’re writing phrases or full sentences.
For example, let’s go with the preposition “di” in Italian, which can mean a variety of things like “of, by about, from, at, than”.
Instead of just writing “mal di testa”, meaning “headache”, I would write a full sentence like “Ho mal di testa”, to mean, “I have a headache.”
It’s important to do this so you know how everything you’re learning fits together.
If I didn’t review things in context, I might use a verb, like essere = to be, that didn’t fit right in this situation.
2) Write A Ridiculous Story
Write a ridiculous story, a love letter, or a romantic sci-fi.
The more ridiculous the better, as you’ll be entertained and remember more.
It’s up to you how long you want it to be, but I recommend no more than 10-15 sentences so it’s easier to focus on your errors along with what you did correctly.
Once you finished the story, here’s what you do:
- Choose a topic.
- Set a timer for three minutes where you correct your own mistakes.
- Try to catch at least five errors by yourself. These errors could be a mistake of placing a word in the wrong part of the sentence, using the wrong preposition, or conjugating a verb incorrectly.
- Post it for corrections to a native speaker on a free site like Italki or Lang-8.
- Once you get the corrections back, I encourage you to rewrite the story correctly.
- Then, compare the rewritten story with the one that you originally wrote.
- Ask yourself questions like, “What errors did I correct by myself were right?”, “Do I keep getting one specific thing wrong, like prepositions?”, “Which sentences did I get correct?”
When you take the time to reflect on your mistakes and what you did right, you’re more likely to remember them next time.
Some starting points for ridiculous stories could be:
- Your significant other revealing themselves as a time-traveling alien
- Having something of yours stolen only to be asked for ransom in the sum of candy
- What happens when a very old, wise Asian man invites himself to live with you
Give your imagination plenty of breathing space, and see what happens.
3) Explore Different Ways Of Writing One Type Of Sentence
Choose one sentence from an article, a book, a podcast episode, or a video clip in the language you’re learning.
Set the timer for five minutes, and make as many crazy sentences as you can using that same sentence structure.
Go through the sentences and see if you can find any errors by yourself.
Here’s why this step is important.
When you try to correct yourself instead of waiting for corrections from others, you’ll be more aware of what you’re saying and writing in the future, which leads to less mistakes during conversation and in writing.
Then send them off to a native speaker for their corrections.
4) Find The Patterns
The human brain naturally looks for patterns (like when someone you know gets pregnant and you start seeing pregnant people everywhere), so let’s use that to our advantage and create a game that helps us learn grammar.
Find an article that you’re really interested in available in both your native language and in the language you’re learning.
Some sites that have dual-language articles are:
- Twelve available languages – Project Syndicate
- Italian – Italy Magazine
- Mandarin (Traditional) – Liberty Times
It may take some digging to find dual-language articles for your target language, but take the time to find them, as they can be a gold mine of information.
Choose 10 sentences from the article.
Take a look at them and try to find patterns in the grammar by asking yourself questions.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Where do the verbs typically go?
- Where are the transition words or phrases, like “so, therefore, that’s why, or then”? Basically, these are words that connect one thought to another: “I wanted to eat a sandwich, so I went to Port of Subs.”
- Where are the adjectives placed?
5) Create Your Own Version Of Mad Libs
Do you remember filling out Mad Libs stories in school?
They were the notepads that had you fill in body parts, random nouns, colours, weird adjectives, and funny names to complete a story.
I used to be obsessed with creating the most random stories, and it’s something that I wanted to transfer over to language learning.
Here’s what you do:
- Find a fairytale or some random story in your target language and remove between eight to ten words (characters, descriptions, objects etc.) that are important to the story. (You could even use yours from game #2 after it’s corrected.)
- Each time you remove a word, write down what kind of word it is on a separate sheet of paper.
- For example, in this sentence “Beyoncé was wearing a blue shirt”, I could remove “blue” and write “color” as the category to fill in later.
- Put the story away, and turn your attention to the blank piece of paper.
- Choose random words to fill in your categories on the blank sheet of paper.
- Fill them in for your story.
You could make it even more unique by giving specifics to your categories.
So, instead of filling in the blank with another name, make it the name of a celebrity.
Or instead of filing in the blank with any color, be specific that it should be the colors of some country’s flag.
Here’s an example of one I made for Italian (click to enlarge):
You’ll notice that my example has more technical grammar words in it, like “singular masculine noun” and “singular feminine adjective”, but yours does not have to be this way at all.
Plus, it changes according to what language you’re learning. So if I were to make one for Mandarin, I wouldn’t need to specify whether it’s the third person of a verb because there are no verb conjugations in Mandarin.
It turns into a pretty weird story depending on how creative you get and that’s good because our brains like weird things.
I found the story here.
For more inspiration on how to make these interesting, try filling out a few in English on the site WordBlanks.com.
Bio: Cher Hale is best described as a relationship counsellor between humans and the Italian language. Once they’ve fallen in love and the honeymoon period ends, she helps them stay committed until they’re conversational. You can read her vocabulary speed-dates, grammatical musings, and cultural cocktail party facts at The Iceberg Project. You can find her tweeting about linguistics, Doctor Who, and entrepreneurship @cherhale.