6 Ways to Make Language Learning an Adventure for your Students!

Teaching Adventure

Guten Tag! And welcome back to Adventures in Language! If you’re like most language teachers, you want your students to share your vision of seeing language learning as an adventure. After all, learning new languages opens students up to new ways of thinking. It also allows them to communicate with others in ways not otherwise possible. All of this can set them up for exciting opportunities down the line — in their professional as well as their personal lives. That’s why in this article, we’re sharing 6 EASY (and fun!) ways for you to help your students see language learning as an adventure. They all boil down to the following fundamentals of any adventure:

Group 3030

How do these relate to language learning? Well, இதுக்கு அப்புரம் (‘without further ado’ in Tamil), let’s get to it!

#1 Adventure means BEING CURIOUS

Look for opportunities to spark curiosity in your students by showing them how bits of culture and history are hidden in plain sight all throughout the language they’re learning. Oftentimes, our students look at the language and all they see are words that need to be memorized and grammar rules that need to be studied. But what if they were encouraged to look a bit closer – and wonder what cultural or historical background led the language to look and sound the way it does today? For example, in Spanish, there are many words that start with the letters ‘al-’ (e.g. almohada, algebra, alfombra). This fact doesn’t stand out to many language learners and the pattern is hard to catch in a vocabulary list and homework assignments. But their curiosity is piqued when their teacher tells them the backstory – that those words are actually NOT of Spanish origin. Those words ended up in Spanish because of language contact with the Arabic-speaking Moors who lived in and ruled Southern Spain between the 700s and up through the late 15th century. It’s little connections and did-you-knows like this that can really bring the language to life for learners. And an added benefit here is that once their interest is piqued with story-based information like this, it usually helps them store it more effectively in long-term memory, as they now have more memory associations with which to ground it cognitively. If you’d like more ideas on how to incorporate culture meaningfully into your class, then check out this video we created for you!

Fun fact: Those of you who already use the Mango Languages app with your students already know this, but the app intermittently reveals relevant cultural and historical notes that explain how things in the language came to be and what that reflects about the culture.

#2 Adventure means TAKING RISKS

Encourage your students to try new and difficult things with the language by offering low-stakes learning opportunities. Low-stakes learning opportunities simply refer to assignments and activities that are detached from grades. Here’s why that’s important. If grades are involved, students are incentivized to “play it safe” and stick to the grammar and vocabulary they know well. If grades aren’t involved, they are likely to be more adventurous with the language — trying out more complex grammar and vocabulary. Examples of low-stakes assignments include rough draft essays that are graded only for completion or a Ticket-In routine, by which you start every class with a challenge prompt to get them thinking and talking in the language. Looking for more examples of low-stakes learning opportunities? Simple! Just take any activity or assignment you already have in mind and detach any performance-based grading from it. Easy as that! It can also help to regularly remind your students that error-making is a powerful and crucial part of the learning process. Students often think of errors as a sign of failure, so reframing them as an efficient part of the learning process can be key in getting them to produce longer sentences, use more complex vocabulary, and take the driver’s seat in their language learning journey!

#3 Adventure means EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED

Keep your students on their toes by mixing things up every once in a while! One of the best mantras for lesson planning is “build routines, but embrace disruptions.” Maybe you usually follow the textbook exercises to structure your Words of the Day vocabulary practice. To mix things up, you could instead have students find memes or celebrity tweets that use the target word and ask them to share and discuss the relevance of what they found. Structure and routine are great – but mixing things up can preserve a sense of excitement and adventure in your students. Who doesn’t want to come to class every day, wondering what fun or exciting activities might await them!?

#4 Adventure means SEEING THE BIGGER PICTURE

Guide your students towards communicative competence with activities that prompt them to take a step back from the textbook. It can be easy for students to get bogged down by the technical details of what you’re covering in class that week. Of course, having a razor-sharp focus on the current content isn’t necessarily a problem! But if that’s their singular focus (at the expense of practicing previous content), they may be missing sight of the bigger picture, which is to develop communicative competence cumulatively, over time. To help your students shake off the technical details of the language, try incorporating some play-based learning, where their focus is directed solely on communicating! Connection over perfection. Boardgames, card games, and even free-form conversations are a great way to help them connect with the bigger picture of communicative competence.

#5 Adventure means FOLLOWING PASSIONS

Help your students find personal connections with the language and culture via “Pick your own Adventure” assignments. These can be singular or recurring assignments wherein students get to explore and then write about a facet of the target culture that interests them (e.g. social justice issues in Brazil, K-pop music trends in South Korea, the latest fashion trends in Tanzania) – but in the target language of course. To get them started, you could curate a list of suggested topics that you and previous students have found interesting. Student-driven activities like this are great for encouraging your learners to connect with and explore the culture on their own. Moreover, it’s always great to encourage students to connect their language learning with their other hobbies. Maybe they do an at home workout video, watch a movie, or follow a cooking tutorial in target language. It’s their choice. Then, they write a reflection piece on what was challenging, what came easily, what vocabulary and grammar points they picked up on, what was new that they picked up. “Pick your own Adventure” assignments are individualized learning at its best.

#6 Adventure means GETTING INSPIRED

Invite your students to dream big by doing a “Learning Languages Opens Doors” project. This one is quick and simple. It’s a one-time assignment that you can add in at any time during the semester or school year. You give students a blank piece of paper or poster board and ask them to visually represent how learning the language can open doors for them individually. It’s a creative and open-ended project that can yield great results for learner motivation and self-efficacy. The idea is to help students reflect on their goals with the language and manifest some of the exciting opportunities that may be available to them as they continue to learn and master the language. You can choose to have them turn them in or share them out in the form of a Gallery Walk activity. Pssst – here’s a fun goal-setting worksheet to accompany this activity!

Well, there you have it!

Six ways to make language learning an adventure! To recap, they were:

1. Spark curiosity in your students by showing them how bits of culture and history are hidden in plain sight all throughout the language.

2. Encourage your students to try new and difficult things with the language by offering low-stakes learning opportunities.

3. Keep your students on their toes by mixing things up every once in a while!

4. Guide your students towards communicative competence with activities that prompt them to take a step back from the textbook.

5. Help your students find personal connections with the language and culture via “Pick your own Adventure” assignments.

6. Invite your students to dream big by doing a “Learning Languages Opens Doors”

Thanks for reading!

Auf Wiedersehen! We look forward to seeing you back here for our next article!

Wondering what languages were used in this article?

  • English | Base language
  • German | Guten Tag! is ‘Hello! (lit. ‘Good day!) and Auf Wiedersehen! is ‘Goodbye!’ (lit. To seeing you again!)
  • Tamil |  ‘இதுக்கு அப்புரம் (ithuku aprom) means ‘Without further ado’ (lit. ‘After this’)
  • Interested in learning English, German, Tamil, or one of the other 70+ languages that the Mango app offers? Click here to learn more!
Meet The Author:
Author - Emily Rae Sabo
Emily Rae Sabo
Linguist at Mango Languages
Emily Sabo (Ph.D., University of Michigan): A travel-hungry content creator with a Linguistics Ph.D. in bilingual language processing, Emily has studied 7 languages and loves getting to use them to connect with people around the world. When she’s not creating content for the Mango community, you can find her dancing, yoga-ing, or performing some good ole’ fashioned standup comedy.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

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