Few things are more fundamentally human than our love of playing games.
We all love to kick back once in a while with a favorite pastime—a sport, a video game, a hand of solitaire, what have you. The trouble is, between work, school, errands and learning a brand-new language, it can be hard to find time to relax.
The good news is, language learning doesn’t have to stop during playtime. That’s because there are plenty of fun games out there that can help sharpen your vocabulary skills. With a little bit of game savvy and an open mind, you can find fun ways to learn how to express yourself better in Spanish.
We’ll show you seven of our favorites to get started, including everything from authentic Mexican card games to addictive online carnival games and more.
How to Pick Games That Work for You
There’s really no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to picking a game that’ll help you learn Spanish. You may need to try a few different ones before you find one that’s right for you, but the satisfaction of learning through games is well worth the effort. While you’re looking for a game to play, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind:
Try and find a game that’s suited to your skill level and existing vocabulary knowledge. Most online games let you select your skill level before playing, which makes this easy.
For non-digital games, beginners might look for more picture-heavy, matching-style games, while more advanced learners could focus on word-heavy games that demand some existing Spanish knowledge.
The goal here is to blend learning and relaxation, so find something you’ll enjoy playing. The most helpful game is one you play often.
Vocabulary games come in a wide variety of styles, which means there are plenty of ways for you to get your learning/gaming fix.
If you get hooked on unconventional and fun ways to learn Spanish, you should also check out FluentU—an innovative tool that blends vocabulary building with entertainment and authentic Spanish language videos.
It’s an awesome way to actively grow your vocabulary without ever getting bored—and while learning Spanish the way native speakers really use it!
All Work and All Play: Games to Learn Spanish Vocabulary
La lotería (The Lottery)
We’re not talking about Powerball; if you hear a Spanish speaker use the word lotería, chances are they’re referring to a bingo-style game that’s also called “Mexican Bingo.”
The difference between this game and the bingo you may be used to, though, is that la lotería uses pictograms instead of numbers and letters. So, instead of breaking a sweat waiting for the emcee to call out that elusive “I29,” you’ll be marking off pictures with names like el borracho (the drunkard) and el catrín (the dandy).
The game has a total of 54 pictograms, many of them featuring words you may not have learned in school. You can play alone or with a group to expand your vocabulary and experience an iconic slice of Mexican culture. Plus, who doesn’t love a game of bingo?
The playing cards can be downloaded online, and the lotería deck (for emcee purposes) as well as the full game are available in app form. The cards are also readily available to buy; you may be able to pick up a set in the toy or game aisle depending on where you live.
Think back for a moment to a simpler time before iPads and Netflix, when all you needed to while away a rainy afternoon was a set of cards lying face down and the task of turning them over two at a time to create matches.
It may have been a while since you played a matching game, but this childhood pastime can actually help you improve your Spanish vocabulary.
In addition to being a pretty low-stress activity, playing a matching game can be a big help in building strong associations between English words and their Spanish meanings. Certainly you can buy a set of matching cards or print some online, but if you’re feeling crafty, why not pick a set of words you want to learn and make your own cards?
Then, the next time one of those rainy afternoons comes along, you can spend some time racking up matches and getting more and more used to recognizing a brand-new set of Spanish vocabulary.
4 Fotos 1 Palabra (4 Pics 1 Word)
Remember 4 Pics 1 Word? Remember the late 2000s? Yeah.
For those of you not familiar with the brain-teasing English version of the app, the object is simple: arrange letters to guess the mystery word based on four different images.
It’s definitely an unconventional vocabulary tool since it doesn’t teach you words outright. Instead, the game requires you pick out words you know from a jumble of letters, which means you’ll need to think outside the box (hint: just because there’s an A and an R doesn’t mean you’re going to be spelling a verb) and summon some wide-ranging associations with the photos you’re looking at.
Oh, and did I also mention it’s great for learning words with multiple meanings? You won’t see a doll (muñeca) and a wrist (also muñeca) together while playing the English version of this game, that’s for sure.
I don’t recommend this game for beginners since it’s actually geared toward native speakers (albeit at a third-grade reading level). However, if you’ve already got some Spanish under your belt, this game will help you practice calling Spanish words to mind without relying on translations to English. Consult a dictionary if you get stuck, and with a little skill, you’ll be greeted with the phrase “¡Has acertado la palabra!” (“You’ve guessed the word correctly!”)
Freerice.com is a gamified quiz site with an addictive format and a concept that’s hard not to love. For every question you answer correctly, the World Food Programme donates 10 grains of rice to hungry people—paid for with sponsored ads that appear with each question.
The site defaults to questions on English vocabulary, but if you click on the Subjects panel at the top, you’ll be able to navigate to the Spanish vocabulary questions.
The site has a built-in learning curve: answer questions correctly, and you’ll soon move up a level and be presented with rarer, more difficult words. Wrong answers will bring you back down a level, but with a few more correct answers, the site will give you another chance at the word you missed and allow you to move back up.
With only 10 levels of difficulty in the Spanish setting, advanced speakers will encounter some diminishing returns as they quickly rise to the top and start encountering duplicate questions in the same sitting. However, the learning-curve aspect makes this a good site for beginners, and the wide sampling of vocabulary means even advanced speakers have a chance to learn some new words and brush up on the ones they’d forgotten.
This site has a pretty wide array of educational games, but for our purposes, we’re going to focus on two: Spanish Word Toss and Spanish Word BINGO.
Both of the games are based on matching, but the formats are slightly different. In Spanish Word Toss, you start by picking a vocabulary set, then throw a dart bearing a word from that set at the balloon with the correct translation.
In Spanish Word BINGO, you pick two vocabulary sets and get a bunch of words mixed up together on a bingo card, which you then mark off one by one as you hear the correct translations.
It’s clear this site is geared toward younger learners (the color scheme alone is a dead giveaway), but adult learners will appreciate the ability to target a specific vocabulary set. You can also choose between English-to-Spanish or Spanish-to-English challenges, which can mix up your practice and keep the vocabulary fresh.
Rockalingua is a subscription-based service with many tools for language learners, including a whole slew of vocabulary games. This is another site that’s geared toward children, but its variety of vocabulary sets means it can also be useful for adult learners depending on which words you still have to learn.
The games are organized by vocabulary set; you can play to learn las partes del cuerpo (the parts of the body), medios de transporte (means of transportation) and more. From there, you can choose the type of game you want to play and the level of difficulty.
The Concept Race game, which requires you to type a Spanish word before the corresponding picture drifts off the screen, is especially helpful for pinning down those few words you don’t quite remember. Choose this game after clicking on the vocabulary set you want to learn.
The site’s adjustable difficulty levels and many vocabulary sets make it useful for any skill level. Depending on your abilities, you can hone your vocabulary in a few chosen word sets or simply work your way through the list.
Sopa de letras (Letter soup)
Sopa de letras is the Spanish name for what English-speakers call a word search. Maybe you enjoy searching systematically through a set of letters; maybe you prefer to glance around haphazardly until something catches your eye. Whatever your method, solving a word search is a low-stress task that requires you to use spelling and word recognition, so if you want to learn vocabulary, these puzzles can help.
There are a lot of different ways to satisfy your craving for letter soup—you can download an app, solve online puzzles or buy a book if you’re a pen-and-paper kind of person. You’re going to encounter a ton of new words this way, so keep a good dictionary handy to look up the best translations.
If you’re looking to reinforce a particular vocabulary set, try solving a themed puzzle based on whatever topic you care to learn—or pick a favorite app/site and just start looking!
Incorporating one or more of these games into your daily routine will put you ahead of the pack when it comes to learning new words and reinforcing useful vocabulary sets. For language learners of all stripes, the key is to work hard and play hard.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.