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I have set two goals here:

  1. Introduce my wife to board gaming
  2. Improve her English.

Does anyone have personal experience with similar goals that could recommend a best course of action?

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I was going to suggest Agricola... but then I realised that your wife would end up with an amazing vocabulary for living and working on a farm, but perhaps not so much for more general purposes! –  thesunneversets Jun 10 '11 at 18:58
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Can you elaborate your question with some background on your wife's current fluency in English? Does she need help improving her vocabulary? With spelling? With sentence structure? With reading comprehension? None of the above or all of the above? –  Scott Mitchell Jun 10 '11 at 19:00
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@Scott Mitchell - I'm not too worried about her grammar, but I am concerned about her very limited vocab. Reading comprehension is also another area she needs to work on, perhaps even her biggest challenge. –  System Down Jun 10 '11 at 19:26
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Possible duplicate of boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/2502/… ? –  LittleBobbyTables Jun 10 '11 at 19:37
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@SystemDown - I've substantially rewritten your question to remove focus on the list of games. I think by asking for specific games you are limiting your pool of responses. Also, answers should include personal experience, a large list of people guessing at what might help probably isn't helpful (This really makes the difference between Good Subjective, and Bad Subjective IMHO). –  Pat Ludwig Jun 10 '11 at 21:01

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Tales of the Arabian Nights

This game has a ton of reading, but simple mechanics. You'll be getting a fun game, and an English exercise at the same time. Your wife will practice:

  • Reading English text aloud
  • Listening to English (when others read)
  • Reading English text silently (from cards / other private information sources)
  • Conversing in English (playing the game!)
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+1, this definitely sounds like a game that you'd actively learn English by playing, as opposed to "a game that I like where the rules and cards happen to be in English". –  thesunneversets Jun 10 '11 at 21:42
    
yes that does seem to fit what I have in mind. thanks! –  System Down Jun 13 '11 at 17:55

A number of English Foreign Language (ESL) teachers here in Japan have had success with Dixit. I've never used that, but I have had success using Battleships, Go Fish, my own board-game creations and, to some extent, Werewolf (aka: Mafia). I teach high school, from low to medium ability (ie: some students get confused if I say "hello" instead of "good morning". Most struggle with tenses and plurals).

First of all, you need to assess your wife's English level, because that will have a big impact on what you can use. For vocab, a game like Memory, but using words, might work really well. If she can, you could play Scrabble. I'd suggest letting her use a dictionary and maybe a few more house rules to balance things.

I'd really encourage you to look for "graded readers". They aren't board-games, but easy to read books that repeat vocab and build on it intuitively. They work very well. You may even find ways to incorporate the readers into your gaming, or find people who are building games around the readers. The readers, like games, work because they are fun and should not be too challenging. This is an important principle to keep in mind when you choose a game.

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Dominion might work.

  • If you start with just the basic set you can limit the diversity of Kingdom cards to keep it from being overwhelming. Then as she becomes comfortable with the contents of one set you can add an expansion.
  • The basic concepts of counting money and actions and buys have symbols and numbers to help make up for the language barrier.
  • That said, the game is very careful about how verbs (such as discard, trash, gain, reveal, etc.) are used. That might be useful in terms of practically teaching the subtle differences between these words.
  • The cards in your hand at any given time may be secret, but the cards available in the game are there for everyone to see, so she can ask for help (hey, what's that card mean again) without giving up what's in her hand.
  • The English comprehension isn't really that critical to winning so she might be able to give you a run for your money despite your fluency.
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I think getting a few card games that have English on the cards would be an excellent idea.
Of course, from a game standpoint, you want to make sure that not being conversant with the language isn't much of a hinderance. You don't want to have to show your hidden cards to get a translation every single turn. To that end, I've come up with a few suggestions off the top of my head, ranked in order from least to most difficult for a non-English speaker to understand. All are good 2 player games, and all but the last one play well with more as well.

  • Citadels - There are a few role cards with descriptions of their powers on them, and a bunch of building cards, usually with just the title on them, but there are a few buildings which also have special powers listed on them.

  • San Juan - Each building card has their powers written on them, but there are still only a handful (20-30, IIRC) to deal with. These blurbs are no more than a few words in each case. There are a few public-facing role cards as well, again, nothing more than a few words each.

(Large dividing line between the first two and these two. Tread carefully.)

  • Agricola - There are a ton of specialty cards, each of which has a description of their power on them. Only a fraction of them are used in any game, so you'll have to play a lot to see them all. (Personal note: I own the German edition, and can vouch for using this game to help learn another language)

  • 1960: The Making of a President - Ton of cards, ton of flavor text, detailed descriptions of the card's power on each one. Certainly not a good choice to start out with, but this would be a good test once you need something more difficult.

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