French practice with board games

We were in a rut.  There were a few things in our homeschooling routine that were sucking the life right out of the kids and quite honestly me too.  Not that everything we do has to be fun – as I keep telling my children, we all have to do things we don’t want to do (clean the bathroom, anyone?).  But when something ceases to provide value in some way and it’s a drag, it’s time to let it go, even if you spent good money acquiring it in the first place.  That’s what we had to do with our online subscription to a particular math program and our French Caribou books.

Both programs started off well, but went downhill.  In the case of Caribou, which I had previously reviewed favourably, the kids started absolutely detesting it.  They found the stories were getting boring and the questions were overly repetitive.  I agreed with them, but plodded on anyway, making them work through it with me several times per week.  Then it got to the point where I could read through an entire section aloud with them and not absorb a single thing because my brain refused to focus on what we were doing.  That was when I took pause and asked myself what we were really trying to accomplish with these books.

I realized that what I really wanted for the kids was more French practice.  Ideally, I’d like them to have 25 hours per week of French exposure (counting everything, including TV, music, etc.), but realistically I settle for 20 hours each week.  The Caribou books were a way to get more French exposure through story reading and comprehension questions, but I didn’t necessarily need those specific things because we cover them with other programs.  Putting those pieces together helped me to come up with something else that would be even better.

I decided on introducing board games to our French routine for several reasons:

  • Talking practice is even more valuable than reading practice, and we definitely talk while we play
  • We can all play a board game together. I invest an hour of my time and the kids each get one hour of French exposure.  With the books we were using before, each child did theirs separately, so I invested 40 minutes of my time, but each child was only getting 20 minutes of exposure.
  • We own a ton of games already. Adapting them to incorporate French should be reasonably easy, right? (not so much, but I’ve done the work for you already)
  • Board games are fun! We needed something to pull us out of the March & April blues.

Monopoly

I started with Monopoly because it’s a simple game.   Even young kids who are past the choking hazard age can play Monopoly, although it will be slower with them as you’ll need to help them count out their money each time.  Of course, money counting is a valuable skill too!  As I was writing this, I remembered that I actually wrote a post a long time ago about using Monopoly to teach about money.  My kids were 7 and 5 at the time – you can read that post here.

At the ages of 10 and 9, my kids are quite good at counting their money and making change.  I don’t police the bank at all – they just pay for their properties on their own as they buy them.  However, this game really helped solidify the higher French numbers.  You know, those crazy 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s?  Who came up with soixante-dix, quatre-vingt, and quatre-vingt dix anyway?  In any case, those were a bit shaky before, but after playing Monopoly numerous times, they are solid.  Finally!

French components

The main French practice we get from this game is by speaking in French the entire time we play.  If you/your children aren’t completely fluent, pick a few key phrases that you all agree you will say in French while you play.  For example, whenever someone lands on your space, you could say “Le loyer est…” (The rent is…)  Or, you could choose to work on numbers.  Whatever you pick, just focus on that phrase for the game, and then add another phrase the next time you play.

In our case, because I wanted the entire game to take place in French, we used our existing game, but I made Community Chest and Chance cards in French.  We use the cards that I made instead of the ones that came with the game.  I translated many of the cards that were in the original game, but also added a few of my own to make the game more interesting and go faster (for example – get 3 free houses, a $500 bonus, etc.)  If you subscribe to this blog by email, the link at the bottom that takes you to subscriber free stuff will have the link to the French cards that I made.  Obviously, the cards are not stand-alone.  You need to own the game already.  If you don’t own it, there are probably some French versions you can buy to save the trouble of printing out specialized cards.

Our house rules for quick Monopoly in French:

  • We speak French the whole time we play. Anyone who speaks English has to put $10 in the middle (it becomes part of the money you get when you land on Free parking).
  • We shuffle the properties and deal out 3-4 to each player at the start. The rest are available for purchase.
  • We start with an extra $1000 on top of what the rules say to start with.
  • You don’t have to go around the board once before you buy – you can buy right from the start.
  • Hotels cost what it says on the property card plus 3 houses instead of 4.
  • We set a timer for one hour from the time we start. Whoever has the most assets when the timer rings is the winner.  (This is probably the most important rule – otherwise the game goes on forever.)

This was a huge hit.  We played Monopoly every weekday for two weeks straight.  My kids loved playing so much that when it was apparent that one of them was going to get wiped out and the game was going to end early, they were waving off the rent due just so they could keep playing.  🙂

Of course, you can only play so much Monopoly before it gets tiresome, so I knew we needed more options.

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan gameSettlers of Catan is definitely more complicated than Monopoly, but still doable.  Older kids can get into the strategy, while younger ones just play it at face value.  For this game, we used all of our existing English game pieces, but I made development cards in French.  Like I did with Monopoly, I translated the cards that were in the English game, and added a few of my own.  Many of the ideas for the specialized cards came from this site, although I tweaked most of them slightly and used public domain images.  If you are an email subscriber, you can download my cards on the free stuff page next to the Monopoly cards described above.

This game is a lot harder to put a specific time limit on.  The first time we played with my custom cards and some short game rules (including no robber), we were done in about 40 minutes.  I felt that was too short a time span for all the effort that goes into setting up the Island of Catan.  The next time around, we played the quick version of Seafarer with the robber and pirate added back in.  The game took about 2.5 hours to complete.  This was consistent the next several times we played, even though the resources were sitting on better dice rolls.  So, we’ve settled on these rules to aim for a 1.5-2 hour game:

  • Start with one settlement and one city rather than 2 settlements
  • For everyone’s first two turns, 7’s get re-rolled (so no robber effect or card limit for those rounds)
  • Use the robber in the game, but not the pirate so the robber doesn’t sit on the same resources for many turns on end while people move the pirate instead
  • We speak French the whole time we play – anyone who speaks in English has to put one of their resource cards back in the bank

Again, a huge hit!  If you have never played Settlers of Catan and therefore didn’t understand anything in this section, it’s a great game that you can buy in English here or in French here.

To adapt this game to lower fluency levels, here are some key phrase ideas that you could focus on (choose one for the first time, then keep adding one each time you play):

  • numbers – say the number out loud in French every time the dice get rolled (great practice for numbers up to twelve)
  • game parts – rue (road), colonie (settlement), ville (city), bâteau (boat) – if you’re playing the Seafarer version, voleur (robber)
  • names of the resources – argile (clay), bois (wood), laine (wool), blé (wheat), and minérai (rock)

If you have the English version, I found this link with the full rules in French.  It helps with the vocabulary that they use for the game, and can give you some ideas for even more key phrases to focus on.

Agricola

AgricolaAgricola is my favourite game.  My husband would say that’s because I always win, which may be true (update:  no longer true – I lost last week), but I really like the way you can string together different cards and develop a winning strategy with the special abilities that the cards provide.  A word of caution when trying to use it for French development… I would only attempt this if your kids:

  • already know how to play the game well in English and their French is pretty decent OR
  • their French is advanced (in which case they could reasonably learn the game in French)

The game itself is rated for ages 12+ because there are a lot of things to think about while playing.  The standard game comes with a second board on the reverse side that you can use to play “family rules”, with a manufacturer’s recommended age of 10+.  All that being said, my kids have been playing since my youngest was about 7-8.  We just adapt the rules a bit.

House rules – kid handicap:

  • Kids get a free family member at the end of the second harvest, whether they have space in their house or not, even if they have already expanded their family (which they usually have not, although my oldest is catching on to how important it is to do this early on).
  • Kids pay two food for the first two family members, but only one food for each additional family member.

These two helps have made the game easier and more enjoyable for the kids.  They still haven’t won yet, but they are getting much better in their game strategy each time we play.

House rules – French usage:

  • Speak French while we play. Anyone who speaks English pays one food or one resource to the bank.  If you’re adapting to a lower level of fluency, again, just pick a key phrase to focus on as described in Monopoly & Settlers of Catan above.
  • We play the family rules, which don’t allow for occupation cards. So, we give everyone 5 occupation cards at the start of the game and we all get to choose 3 to keep.  These 3 cards are active immediately at the start of the game.
  • Usually in the family rules, the minor improvements aren’t used either, but we play with them. We deal 10 to everyone to start.  The kids keep all 10 in their hand, and the adults get to keep 7.  The cards must be paid for and played as in the regular game.

The cards are text heavy.  There was no way I was going to do all that work of translating them from English to French, but I didn’t want to buy the entire game in French when we already owned it in English.  So, I bought two French-language expansion packs from Filo Filo:  The France Deck, and Championnat Mondial.  Expansion packs just replace the minor improvement cards and the occupation cards.  The rest of the game stays the same.  This was my first time buying from this store and their service was great.  They ship to Canada and I had my stuff in a few days.

If you don’t own the game yet and would prefer to buy it in English, you can find it here.

The complete rules (to help with vocabulary during the game) are here.

France DeckThe France deck is the expansion pack we’ve played with about 5-6 times so far.  The cards are relatively easy to understand, and yet still interesting.  Because of our method of having occupation cards active right at the beginning, I had to pull a few from the deck – for example, cards that gave food, points, or resources for occupations played after the first one.  However, there weren’t many of those cards, so overall the deck has been good.  The images on the cards are tied to French culture, and it has been encouraging when my kids exclaim things like “Hey mom, the painting on this card is by Paul Cézanne!”  Apparently a few things from our ongoing art appreciation study are sticking. 🙂

 

When we eventually get tired of the France Deck, we’ll try Championnat Mondial.

The downside to this game is that it can easily take 3 hours to play, especially if you’re just learning.  I haven’t been able to track down any way of shortening it.  Because each person can choose a different strategy, there is no way of really starting at stage 2 without messing someone up.  So, when choosing this game, I make sure it’s on a day when we have time to commit a few hours to it.

Our plan going forward

We aim to play each game once a week.   Most weeks it happens, so count 5-6 hours towards our French tally each week while having fun!

Do you own any French board games?  I’m sure we’re going to get bored of these three eventually, so I’m looking for suggestions! 

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4 thoughts on “French practice with board games

  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    We get together with another family for a range of subjects—including French. I had already decided that at our next gathering we were going to play board games (and that we’d each make sure our kids had some game related vocab that they _must_ use while they play), so this post is _so_ timely! I probably would not have included Monopoly (even though kids in both families love it) because of the length of play, but Catan would have been likely on my list. Now I’ll probably take both:-)

    Thanks for doing the work of translating/re-writing cards… my French is absolutely not to the stage where I’d be confident about doing that! I’d love to hear about any other games you ‘convert’:-)

    (I do remember playing ‘Taboo’ many years ago, when taking a class at Alliance Francaise… was indeed challenging! But lots of fun:-) The teacher did pick and choose a little from the card set, so the truly dastardly words weren’t included:-) I also have Il était une fois . I have it in English too, and used it (with very modified rules!) for a low-level English class… it was after seeing an exchange student play that I sought out my French copy… but I haven’t actually had a chance to play with anyone else with an ok level of French—so I haven’t used it yet:-( )

  2. (I was planning on taking Tsuro—because the game is so simple it doesn’t require _much_ talking, and the 4 and 5 yo can play:-) And contemplating Werewolf/Mafia… because most of the repetitive portion can be done in French, and they can just do the ‘arguing’ bit in English:-) )

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