Playing with children, despite a language barrier!

During my visit to Brazil we visited a public school, a private school and a daycare center for children from the age 1 to 4. The children, especially at the daycare and the public school, only spoke Portuguese. And we didn’t speak Portuguese. We found out that there are multiple ways to play and communicate with them and I would like to share my tips and tricks with you!

1.    Play a game or sing a song they know!

In Brazil soccer is a well-known sport, so playing soccer with the kids is very easy and a lot of fun! Soccer is game that almost everybody knows, just as volleyball or hockey. You don’t have to explain the rules, you only need the right equipment and you can start playing.

Little children like singing a lot, but singing in a language you don’t know is quite difficult. Go and look for songs that both of you know, in your own language. It could me an international pop song (Let it Go, from the Disney movie Frozen was very popular in Brazil) or a song like ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’. The children in Brazil knew the Portuguese version of this song, and we could do the movements that belonged to the song together, it was a lot of fun! You could also look for a song which has a little dance / some movements attached to it, like the Dutch song ‘In de Maneschijn’ or the English ‘If you’re happy and you know it’

2.    Be creative!

Painting and coloring can be done with children from quite a young age, the only thing you should worry about is using materials that can easily be removed from their clothes (or faces J). Small children are often very easy to entertain using only small things, like balloons or bubble blowers.

3.    Explain a unknown game

There are a lot of fun games to play, but with a language barrier it’s hard to explain the rules of a game. The easiest way is to look for a game with simple rules and then show the kids how it’s played. We played a game where we tied a balloon to the children their ankle. Next they needed to run around and try to pop the balloons of the other children. When your balloon was popped you needed to sit down. You can also play Pictionary or a game like cat and mouse. There are two groups standing in a line facing each other, one group are the mice and one group are the cats. When the game leaders screams cats, the cats turn around and sprint away, and the mice try to tap them. If the game leader screams mouse, the mice turn around and sprint away, while the cats try to tap them.

4.    Use technology!

In a lot of schools there are laptops and beamers present. So you could use Prezi, or PowerPoint to play a quiz. Show a simple question with two pictures representing two answers, divide the classroom in to two and name one of the parts A. and the other part B. If the children think picture B. is the correct answer they walk to part B. The ones who answer the question wrong need to sit down, until you have a winner.

5.    Photobook

Before I went to Brazil I made a photobook with pictures of my family, my house, my dogs and my friends. Below the pictures I wrote down what you could see in the picture, in English and in Portuguese (using google translate)  so I could also practice a little English with them. They absolutely loved it!

These were the tips and tricks I had to have a fun time despite having a language barrier, I hope they will be useful!


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Teaching Material of Daphne Hilde Klerk
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