Language game to provide more comprehensible input: Guess Who?

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

As I mentioned in my previous post about story listening, I am part of an amazing group on Facebook called “CI Liftoff” where educators around the world are discussing about how to use pure comprehensible input in the language acquisition process. I am learning so much from this group and the posts are always so thoughtful with in-depth analysis that if I could I would spend my days reading those beautifully written posts but unfortunately I don’t even have enough hours through the day! This morning, one post from Tina Hargaden caught my eye. Tina was writing about the common belief that children and adults learn differently and that children can learn another language faster than adults because their brains are like sponges. When it is true that children may seem to be able to speak another language effortlessly, is it really true that they can learn another language faster than adults?

Tina writes that: “Forty years of research on adult second language acquisition has cast serious doubt on this; in fact, in some quarters of second language research the evidence overwhelmingly points toward the same mechanisms underlying language acquisition in both children and adults.

To be sure, there are external differences:

1. Adults “like” to be in control of learning, children not necessarily so.
2. Adults “like” things to be explained to them, children not necessarily so.
3. The communicative demands placed on adults are different from those placed on children.
4. Adults tend to find themselves in formal language-learning environments (e.g., classrooms) whereas children often do not…(if we are considering first language acquisition).

But internally, adults and children appear to be constrained by the same mechanisms during language acquisition regardless of context, and the fundamental ingredients of language acquisition are at play in both situations:

1. Input (communicatively embedded language that learners hear),
2. Universal Grammar coupled with general learning architecture,
3. Processing mechanisms that mediate between input and the internal architecture.

Now that I am teaching adults online, I have come to realize that the above points are true. It is true that “adults “like” to be in control of learning and that they “like” things to be explained to them”. However when story asking and story listening, adults are put in a “child’s situation”. They create stories and they listen to tales and legends, the same things they did when they were children. They do not need to be in control of learning any longer, they need to focus on the content and not the form. Their need for things to be explained (like grammar rules for example) tend to disappear. Therefore, they can learn/acquire another language as fast as children!

Another tool which can be used in language acquisition and which take adults back to their childhood is the use of games. Children like to play games and they learn by playing games. Adults can do the same too but language games need to be an input provider. They should not force output. Games should generate more input for learners.

The Jean-Jacques Julier game generates the use of target structures and gives access to a wider range of vocabulary. Another well-known game called Guess Who? is perfect to provide input to describe people. When story asking, I usually start by describing someone or something and by asking my learners for details: ” Est-ce qu’il est grand ou petit ? Est-ce qu’il est beau ou moche ?… “. The Guess Who? game goes hand in hand with stories.

In the actual game, players take turn to ask yes or no questions about the people on the cards but in my version of the game, I tend to only talk and ask questions. All the learner has to do is to listen to my questions and to answer by yes or no in the target language. Learners are listening to a lot of comprehensible input, they are focusing on me guessing the right character on the card and therefore they are acquiring the language unconsciously. In a classroom environment, I would either show all the different cards on the board or I would give out one set of cards to each learner (but they would have to be printed in color). I would ask the class or one student in the class to choose one character for me to guess.

Since I have been playing with French learners, I have used the wonderful sets created by Tiphanie Montus on her blog BonjourFLE!. I have used the Astérix version which also ties in with French culture. I can then speak about the comics and how the French love Astérix and Obélix as a symbol of French independence and stubbornness!

As a reading extension, I then give my learners sentences describing one character to read and they have to guess to who the description refers to. It allows for even more comprehensible input!

When learners are ready to produce output, we can then play the game properly and I can even ask learners to write a description of the characters for me to read and guess!

My adults learners enjoy playing at this game and some can remember playing it when they were children! It also fuels our co-created stories as the characters from the game inspire my learners to invent funny characters for our stories (i.e. the man has a big nose, a mustache, she looks furious…)!

What about you? Can you share a fun game which allows for more comprehensible input?

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