English can be a difficult language to learn, and when students are learning a new language, they are usually juggling additional challenges.
However, there are an array of ESL games and apps available for students, parents, and educators to take advantage of that can help with learning English. In this guide we will highlight the best apps and games for ESL learners and tutors.
ESL apps and games for children
Teaching English to children requires several different educational approaches, but there are a variety of apps and games designed to make learning English fun.
It is important to choose games that are age and language-level appropriate. Listed below are some examples of apps and games specifically made for children:
- Kids Picture Dictionary: Kids Picture Dictionary helps language learners connect words with pictures and improve their vocabulary. The site includes sections on animals, appliances, body parts, clothing, food, events, houses, numbers, schools, sports, things, and places.
- Monkey Puzzle: Monkey Puzzle is an education app that is specifically aimed at ESL students at the A1-A2 CEFR level. It contains some mini-games to help with reading skills and you can download it on the App Store.
- Little Bird Tales: Little Bird Tales helps language learners through multimedia storytelling. Students can take pictures, draw, record, and write text to help create their multimedia stories. This helps them develop oral and written language skills. Little Bird Tales is available for free on the App Store.
- Kids Learning Ville: Kids Learning Ville has a number of games and activities on their site aimed at ESL students. There are memory games, crocodile games, and pirate games that cover introductory language essentials like food, drinks, animals, colors, clothing, transportation, numbers, time, school supplies, and many more subjects.
- Hangman: Hangman is a great game to play with young ESL students. Simply draw out the hangman diagram, think of a word, and have students guess letters to fill in the blanks. This is a great way to get familiar with the English alphabet and to think about letter combinations.
- I Spy: I Spy is another option to play with younger language learners. Have one person locate an item in your vicinity, then they need to offer a clue for finding the item (e.g. I spy, something brown. Item = desk). This helps language learners think about different characteristics while recalling vocabulary that is associated with the clue’s characteristics.
- Simon Says: Simon Says is another good choice to play with young ESL students. You can choose to be Simon yourself, or you can have children play Simon as they become more comfortable. Prompt students to follow your actions every time that you say “Simon says.” If you say an action without saying “Simon says” and a student does the action, they must sit down. This helps with listening comprehension and expanding vocabulary.
ESL apps and games for teens and adults
The following apps and games are age and language-level appropriate for teens and adults:
- Duolingo: Duolingo helps language learners listen, read, write, and speak a new language. Duolingo has several different mini-games, challenges, and activities to help learn a language. When you get something right, you earn coins, but when you get something wrong, you lose lives. There is a web version available and the mobile app can be found on both the Apple Store and Google Play for free.
- Memrise: Memrise is a free website and app that helps build up language learners’ vocabulary by memorizing words and phrases. They offer different courses, blog posts, and interactive videos to help ESL students learn real-life phrases and understand language in a real-world context.
- 20 Questions: 20 questions is a guessing game where an individual chooses a person, place, or thing for other participants to guess by using only “yes” or “no” questions (e.g. Is it a person? Is it blue? Is it large? etc.). The game requires a small group of participants (between 2-5). This helps with critical language thinking, vocabulary expansion, and creativity.
- Categories: Categories is a game that is focused on vocabulary. Create a list of different categories that you have recently learned (states, animals, foods, etc.). Choose a letter and set a time limit. Once you choose your letter and time limit, you need to write as many different words that start with the same letter and fit into each category.
- Crossword puzzles and word searches: Crossword puzzles and word searches help expand vocabulary, solidify definitions, and create contextual connections to help improve language usage and comprehension. You can find both in your local newspaper, you can purchase them online, or there are numerous free ones available online like The Word Search or Dictionary.com’s daily crossword puzzle.
ESL apps and games for ESL teachers and classrooms
There are specific ESL apps and games that teachers can utilize in the classroom for alternative language learning approaches. Again, the types of games and apps you utilize should be based on age and language level. Below is a list of possible apps and games for ESL teachers and the classroom:
- Quizlet: Quizlet is a great resource for educators to create a variety of flashcards, practice quizzes, interactive games, and assessments for your students. Quizlet has a variety of pre-made study sets available, or you can create your own. Quizlet is free to use, there is a web version, and an app for both Apple and Android users.
- Kahoot: Kahoot is a popular choice for educators to create a game-based lesson. You can assess ESL students in a fun manner through multiple-choice surveys in all subject categories in the classroom. Kahoot is free to download. There is a web version and a mobile app that you can find on the App Store and Google Play.
- Cram: Cram is a database full of pre-made flashcards and essays created by students and educators. Students/educators can utilize the pre-made options, or create their own to help with understanding concepts and learning new important information. There is both a free website and apps available.
- Mad Libs: Mad Libs is a book composed of phrasal templates that require players to fill in the blanks in different stories with English categories (e.g. nouns, adjectives, pronouns, exclamations, body parts, animal, etc.). While the outcome is generally a funny story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, this game requires language learners to use their vocabulary and understand different parts of speech. Educators can purchase the original Mad Libs booklets, look for alternatives online like Mad Takes, or create their own.
- Jeopardy: Jeopardy is a great game to play to test/assess knowledge in a fun manner. It is a classic television game show where the game host provides the answer, and the players answer with a question. Players choose a specific amount of points from one of the categories provided. The more points, the harder the question. You can create your own game board using a whiteboard or projector, or you can find different pre-made games using sites like Jeopardy Labs. Eslgames.com offers a “how to play ESL Jeopardy” page on their site to help educators create their own board and understand the rules. Jeopardy helps language learners think critically about language usage, expand their vocabulary, and answer in question formats.
Additional ESL resources and learning options
Games and apps are not the only way to teach language learners, there are many other ESL resources to consider. Students learn in different ways, so it is important to diversify your teaching methods to tailor to different learning styles. Listed below are additional ESL resources students and educators can take advantage of:
- Tutors: A student may need extra one-on-one time to bolster their language comprehension and fluency and an English tutor is a great way to do so. Take your time and do your research as it is important to pick a good tutor for you or your child. As students dedicate time towards learning a new language, they may lose some of their native language fluency — especially if they are in a region where their native language is not commonly spoken. There are so many different online language tutors to choose from, teaching Spanish, French and everything in between.
- YouTube: YouTube is a great learning resource. There are a range of different videos and YouTube channels to help learn English for beginner, intermediate, and expert speakers.
- Online courses: In some cases, a few additional English courses can truly improve the language learning process — especially courses for beginners. There are multiple options online for all levels of language learners. The price, what is covered, and how they educate will vary between courses/providers, so do your research and pick the right one for you.
- English exercises: You can find a surplus of different daily English exercises online to help practice your speaking, writing, reading, and comprehension skills. These can help you continue practicing outside of school, and they can give you insight into areas you may be lacking, and where your strong points are.
- ESL websites: There is a surplus of websites that are useful for English language learners as well as educators. Some notable examples include:
- Activities for ESL Students
- WSU’s “Common Errors in English Usage
- English Media Lab
- Talk English
- ESL Gold
- ESL Galaxy
- Music: Music is a great teaching tool and it is especially effective for learning languages. You can find a number of Music ESL lesson plans or activities online, or you can simply listen and analyze a song of your choice with your class, or by yourself.
- Reverso: Reverso is an online translator based on AI technology that seeks to provide accurate results by offering translations in context. While other quick online translation tools are known for being inaccurate from time to time, Reverso has improved accuracy through this AI integration.
- Podcasts: Podcasts are an excellent language learning tool. You can choose to listen to topics that interest you in the language you are learning, or you can take advantage of educational podcasts that focus on vocabulary, grammatical rules, or other aspects of the language. Take a look at our recommended podcasts to learn English.
- Television/movies: You can watch televisions or movies in the language that you are learning to help absorb certain words or phrases. Start by watching movies with subtitles, then as time goes on, turn off the subtitles. It may be helpful to get the most out of using television or movies as a learning resource to watch television/movies that you are familiar with, but if you want a challenge, choose to watch some material that you are unfamiliar with.
The benefits of game-based learning
There are numerous ways to learn, but learning through games is a unique approach that features a variety of different educational benefits for all students. There are online browser games, language exchange games/websites, and educational apps to help learn English online, below we’ve listed some of the benefits behind game-based learning:
- Educational games are competitive and they can encourage participation: Playing games can help reduce feelings of isolation and exclusion through increased involvement and engagement.
- Educational games create a fun way to learn: Traditional learning methods can be considered less fun than game-based learning, and they can create additional stress. This can result in less participation and a negative attitude towards learning. When you create a fun way to learn, students become more engaged and your educational attempts can become more effective as a result.
- Educational games help develop important skills: Game-based learning helps students develop problem-solving, strategic thinking, creativity, teamwork, hand-eye coordination, reading, memorization, and many other skills that are important for effective education.
- Educational games improve technology fluency: Many of the language learning games available are online or through applications. When a child learns how to access the games, and how they work, it creates a foundational understanding of how computers or (other technology being used) function.
- Educational games create a less stressful form of assessment: Educational games give teachers an alternative method for assessing what students have learned. You can identify knowledge gaps by playing these games without making students feel overwhelmed or stressed with traditional assessments like exams, quizzes, or tests. You can then tailor your future lessons to address areas that need additional coverage.
The importance of learning English
In 2021, more than 1.35 billion people claimed to speak English as their native or second language around the world. Below are some of the reasons why more individuals are choosing to learn English and why learning English is important:
- English is the global language of business: English is the most common language used in business, and an increasing number of multinational companies are beginning to adopt English as their primary business language.
- Speaking English can improve job prospects: Speaking multiple languages can increase your job prospects, and since English is the global language of business, learning English can help position you in a better place for employment. Additionally, English fluency can help you earn more money as well.
- Learning English helps your brain: A National Library of Medicine study shows how the growth of foreign-language acquisition has positive effects on the brain. The parts of the brain that language acquisition affects are responsible for memory, conscious thought, and creativity. A different study from the National Library of Medicine shows how bilingualism helps delay cognitive decline and onset symptoms of dementia.
- English is the language of the media and internet: As of 2020, English is the most common language used on the internet — making up 25.9% of the information found online. When you learn English, you increase the amount of information you can access and understand without needing to use subtitles or a time-consuming online translator.
- Learning English can be useful when traveling: Since English is the most common language spoken, when you travel, there is a greater likelihood that you will be able to communicate with others using English. Learning English can help with things like recommendations, directions, tips and warnings.
What is ESL?
“ESL” stands for English as a Second Language. ESL students are non-native speakers who are looking to learn English.
Some schools have specialized ESL programs that are designed to ease language learners in. These programs are generally taught by a teacher who has specialized in or received additional training on the ESL curriculum. In most cases, these programs will be taught with smaller class sizes in a more intimate setting to provide more one-on-one opportunities and interactions.
Although there are specialized educators and ESL programs for ESL students, it is common for ESL students to be placed immediately in a mainstream classroom. Educators should be prepared to teach ESL students English based on the language proficiency level they are at.
ESL levels of English language proficiency
For a student whose first language is not English, it is important to understand where they stand with English language proficiency and to make an appropriate individualized education program (IEP). Language “fluency” can be a hard metric to measure, so the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) was created by the Council of Europe as an international guideline to measure language ability on a six-level scale, from A1 (language beginners) to C2 (language masters). The CEFR English language levels are as follows:
- “A1 (Basic User): Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows, and things he/she has. Can interact simply provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
- A2 (Basic User): Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment, and matters in areas of immediate need.
- B1 (Independent User): Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst traveling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on familiar topics or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
- B2 (Independent User): Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
- C1 (Proficient User): Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic, and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors, and cohesive devices.
- C2 (Proficient User): Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.”
When an educator understands what level their ESL student is at, they get a better understanding as to where they should start with language learning to position the ESL student for success and to eventually include the student in all mainstream curriculum. Teachers can utilize online language level tests to help them determine their student’s language level.
Important terms and acronyms to know
There are numerous terms and acronyms related to ESL that can cause some confusion among language learners, parents, and educators. The following terms/acronyms are commonly used words and phrases to become aware of:
- English language learners (ELL): This term/acronym is another phrased coined for non-native-English-speaking students who are working towards English language proficiency,regardless of what their proficiency is classified as.
- English as a foreign language (EFL): EFL is for non-native-English-speaking students who are learning English in an area where English is not the primary language used. For example, a student is learning English while located in France.
- Teachers of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL): TESOL is a professional body of educators who are focused on researching, establishing, and educating language learners and other educators on the best practices and methods for teaching the English language.
- Native language: An individual’s native language refers to the first language they were exposed to in life.
- Primary language: An individual’s primary language refers to the language they use most often. For example, if a person was born in the U.S. and their native language was English, but they moved to an area of Mexico where they exclusively communicate in Spanish, their primary language is Spanish.
- Bilingual: Being bilingual means that you can communicate with two different languages proficiently.
- Language proficiency: Language proficiency refers to an individual’s ability to participate in oral and written components of a language outside of their native tongue.
- Language fluency: Language fluency refers to an individual’s ability to participate in all components of a language outside of their native tongue (read, write, speak, understand).
- English language proficiency standards (ELP Standards): The ELP Standards were created to identify and define the oral, reading, and writing skills that are necessary for mainstream education — specifically to ensure that language barriers aren’t holding ESL/ELL students back from other learning areas.
- Accommodations: Accommodations are changes made by educators to ensure that ESL/ELL students can viably participate in assessments. If you are excellent at math, but you don’t understand the questions due to a language barrier, your assessment results may not truly reflect your math abilities. Some examples of accommodations are providing the assessment in the test-takers native language, giving additional time to complete the assessment, or providing a dictionary.
- Basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS): BICS — also referred to as “playground English” — refers to the foundational English communication skills that can be supported using everyday language and hand gestures.
- Limited English proficiency (LEP): LEP was the acronym originally coined for ESL/ELL students. The term is used for individuals enrolling in elementary/secondary education who do not have a sufficient enough level of English to meet state requirements.
Challenges that ESL students face in school
There are many different challenges and barriers to education that affect ESL students. All students are generally challenged in one way or another at some point during their schooling, but these barriers are specific to ESL students. These challenges are important to be aware of if you are a parent or educator:
- Culture shock: It is common for ESL students to feel overwhelmed, confused, and anxious with unfamiliarity if they are in a new area — this is called culture shock. ESL students aren’t always just learning a new language, they are oftentimes learning new social norms and expectations, studying new cultural aspects that are different from their own, and figuring out foundational aspects of life in their new country, all while navigating language barriers. This culture shock can result in a feeling of social isolation as well. When an ESL student is struggling with culture shock, it can deter from the effectiveness of their education.
- Time constraints: When you are learning a new language while going to school, your entire time is not always dedicated to learning and this can feel overwhelming and discouraging. ESL students are being taught other subjects (math, science, health, etc.) without fully understanding the language in the first place. This can be a challenging barrier to overcome and it can often create knowledge gaps. Additionally, some educators may not be giving ESL students an appropriate time accommodation to fully understand and complete their work to the best of their ability.
- Shame or embarrassment: When you are learning a new language, it can feel overwhelming and potentially embarrassing at times. This is especially true if you are surrounded by fluent speakers. Practicing is crucial for learning a new language, but it is common to take a step back and become an observer with feelings of shame/embarrassment instead of practicing.
- Lack of established approaches: There is a common debate between inclusion or exclusion surrounding educational approaches for language learners. Some believe that being fully immersed in English classrooms provides the most effective learning experience while others believe that specialized ESL programs provide the best learning experience. When the educators that are responsible for teaching ESL are unsure of best practices for helping language learners acclimate and learn in the best way possible, this creates additional challenges for ESL students to overcome.
As you can see, there are a wide variety of resources for ESL students, parents, and educators. While learning the English language can seem intimidating, these resources can help learners make the most of their study time, immerse themselves in the language, and have fun while they learn!
What are some fun ways to teach ESL? ›
- Board Race.
- Call My Bluff / Two Truths and A Lie.
- Simon Says.
- Word Jumble Race.
- The Mime.
- Hot Seat.
Duolingo is the most popular language-learning app out there — the chances are, you've used it many, many times before now, maybe even to learn more than one language. It gives users 5-minute long games to learn English words and a little bit of grammar.
- Duolingo – The best all-rounder. ...
- Quiz your English – The best for exam prep. ...
- The British Council – The best for grammar. ...
- 6,000 Words – The best for vocabulary. ...
- Beelingu – The best for reading. ...
- HelloTalk – The best for speaking. ...
- Grammarly – The best for writing. ...
- BBC Learning English – The best for everyday English.
Games provide language practice in all the four skills, namely, reading, speaking, listening, and writing. For use of language, these games not only create a meaningful context but also can be fun while learning English.What is the best way to teach ESL students? ›
- Connect with your students.
- Create a safe learning environment.
- Establish routines.
- Speak slowly and enunciate words.
- Use non-verbal communication.
- Make things visual.
- Check for understanding.
- Be adaptable.
A language game (also called a cant, secret language, ludling, or argot) is a system of manipulating spoken words to render them incomprehensible to an untrained listener. Language games are used primarily by groups attempting to conceal their conversations from others.