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Games to Play at Christmas with Non-English Speakers

Christmas Games for Non-English Speakers

Whether you're aboard and someone inquires as to what you’re playing or you're at home and you have your long-lost cousin from Timbuktu who, like many people in the world, may speak and understand some words in English (a common second language in many countries), verbal is usually easier to say (rather than hear, and both are, generally easier than reading).

Board games vary significantly in terms of ‘in-game’ text. BoardGameGeek is very good at providing one of my classifications relating to the depth of the language it is printed in. I, for one, will be with German in-laws for Christmas. Whilst they learnt it in school, there do not live in a touristic location and thus haven’t had the need to practice their English.

They love board games, in fact it’s why I became hooked. However, since buying many, I’ve been conscience that I need to bring and play games they can understand.

Games to play with, let’s say, retired people firstly, shouldn’t be complicated, whilst they like board games, they do not play many, nor do they play when we’re not with them. For this reason, they haven’t experience the gradually learning curve established as you pick up and apply one innovation in a game to another. (Games over the past 20 years have borrowed and overlapped mechanisms, making the entry and enjoyment faster).

In addition to ease of play, with those not having English (as an example) as a mother tongue, choosing a game without text is also beneficial, and there are a few reasons.  For one, they might not understand it. Another, they might have to reach across the table to read it, and it might be upside down. They also will no doubt have to ask you, as the rulebook would probably be in English. In all, there would be significantly more downtime. Plus the frequency to play with them would mean they wouldn’t memorise it for another occasion.

Many board game groups I attend in any week contains Spanish, German, Kazak, Bulgarian, French, Hungarian and other nationalities. For those people living and working in England, whilst still understanding the text, perhaps “enjoying” the opportunity to continue learning, the opportunity to relax and not have a language lesson would also be welcome with games with less text.

What Games to Play this Christmas?

Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Skull are all games that I would recommend. Whilst the first two don't require you to have any necessary talking, Skull requires you to count/state a number, but those numbers are possible to hear from prior attempts, and thus I would recommend it.

Kingdomino, Photosynthesis and Klask are also considerations. However, I wouldn’t recommend Photosynthesis to explain unless you bring out your inner dramatic persona to demonstrate how to play (classic – “Be a tree” improvisation).

My final thoughts are to play something that engages, can involve a tit-for-tat discussion to break the ice (literally in Hey, that’s my fish! An excellent non-verbal game) or one where you can get to know someone by derailing them in Ticket to Ride!