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! Jun 10, 2011 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? Jun 10, 2011 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. Jun 10, 2011 at 19:26
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/2502/… ? Jun 10, 2011 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, 2011 at 21:01

5 Answers 5


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!)
  • +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". Jun 10, 2011 at 21:42
  • yes that does seem to fit what I have in mind. thanks! Jun 13, 2011 at 17:55

I'd suggest than any of these games would be both fun and really helpful:

1) Snake Oil

Snake Oil is a party game where the players create a products to pitch to prospective buyers. The game is a lot of fun and it is extremely rich linguistically.

Good for practising: relative clauses, describing, pronunciation of compound nouns, linking ideas, clauses of contrast, negative inversion for emphasis, making a convincing pitch.

2) Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

In Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, players have to work together solve a murder case based on some clues that they are given. The kicker is that one of the players will be the murderer! In fact there are a total of 5 different roles available, and these are randomly allocated at the outset with each role playing quite differently.

Good for practising: comparing and contrasting, vocabulary (common, everyday items. Oh, and numerous causes of death), present speculation, making accusations, agreeing and disagreeing, making a persuasive argument, the passive for emphasising an action when the actor is unknown,giving a brief narrative.

3) Apples to Apples

Apples to Apples is one of the classics. From what I hear, it’s been quite popular in the US as a family game for some time, but it’s only recently popped onto my radar. It is a fantastically versatile game and is a great way of engaging students to practice lots of different kinds of vocabulary. From the original adjective version, all the way to idioms.

Good for practising: vocabulary (general + most idioms), persuading, explaining, describing.

4) Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time has a long tradition in education, both mainstream and EFL. So much in fact, that I almost feel a bit cheeky writing about it, to be honest. I only decided to write about it as it seems to have criminally fallen off the radar in recent years.

Good for practicing: narrative tenses (past progressive, past perfect simple/progressive), storytelling, vocabulary (fairy tales and folk tales).

5) Man Bites Dog

Tabloids are fascinating. It’s extremely interesting how most are specifically written in order to be easily understood by the average native speaker, while at the same time remaining almost completely incomprehensible to most high-level learners.

Good for practising: passive forms, vocabulary (the kind of slang you see in tabloids), sentence structure and word order, narrative tenses, sensitivity to formal and informal register.

6) FunEmployed

Funemployed sells itself as a satirical party game. It is not wrong. It’s a lot of fun both in the classroom and over a few drinks with some less prudish friends. Players need to be able to both think on their feet and spin a good yarn. In short, this is a game for bullsh*tters. With the right group, FunEmployed is absolutely splendid.

Good for practising: clauses of purpose, linking and organising ideas, negative inversion for emphasis, cleft sentences

7) Sheriff of Nottingham

Sheriff of Nottingham is one of the few games which works just fine straight out of the box. If you’ve never heard of or played Sheriff of Nottingham (SoN), then you should definitely try it twice. Why twice? Because you’ll learn so much about the game the first play through, that it’d be a shame not to play it again.

Good for practising: negotiating, bartering and haggling, agreeing and disagreeing, real conditionals (making suggestions), hesitating.

8) Pandemic

In Pandemic, players cooperate to save humankind from four aggressive and fatal diseases. They have to work together closely, use their unique abilities and carefully plan their moves if they want to be successful in finding the four cures and winning the game.

Good for practising: the names of nations and places, polite suggesting, agreeing and disagreeing as part of collaborative decision making, using real conditionals for speculating about solutions to problems.

9) Mysterium

Tormented spirits, psychedelic dreams and a murder most foul. Can your budding detectives discover who committed the crime?

Good for practising: present speculation, describing abstract images, comparing and contrasting, hedging (sounding less certain), agreeing and disagreeing.

10) Wits and Wagers

A really neat twist on a trivia game, where it doesn’t matter if you are right, but whether or not you can guess which of the other teams is right.

Good for practising: present speculation, numbers, measures, comparing and contrasting, hedging (sounding less certain), agreeing and disagreeing.

If you'd like some extra materials (glossaries and useful language, then you can find this post in it's original form at: http://www.teflgamer.com/top-10-best-board-games-for-teaching-english/


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.

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.


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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