Role-Playing in a Second Language – 10 Minutes at a Time

by contributor · 8 comments

Role-Playing in a Second Language - 10 Minutes at a Time

By Franck & Cristina
Photo credit: starrynight_012

Like many parents raising kids with more than one language, we are often concerned about how much talk time our kids get in the second language. Creating an environment in a second  language requires a lot of reading, a lot of stories and a bunch of songs. We also use audio books and cartoons in French and Spanish.

Finding ways to encourage our kids to speak in French and Spanish, however, is key.

Reading in French is great, but how do we find fun ways to make our kids speak in French? Both Elena and Pablo go to school (all in English), and all of their play with their neighbor friends is in English.

To encourage them to speak French and Spanish, we make a conscious effort to fit in role-playing into our week. Like many parents we are busy with work and chores, so we find little moments during the week or on week-ends for our role-play. Our kids create a simple imaginary world where we talk in French or in Spanish.

Here are our favorite role-playing activities, that we do 10 minutes at a time which involves each of us becoming a new character. The only rule is that it has to be in French (with Dad) or in Spanish (with Mom):

Ordering at a restaurant

I was raised in our family restaurant, and being the customer, the cook or the waiter is something I like to play a lot. We play as if one of us would come to the restaurant and order some dishes. We have fun while Elena and Pablo learn the names of most vegetables, ingedients and kitchen ustensils in French.

Sherlocka Holmes solves a mystery

Elena likes little mysteries. She even likes to act them out with her dolls. She becomes Shelocka (yes, with an A) Holmes that tries to solve a robbery or a kidnapping. One of us is her assistant. Being her assistant (that only speaks French or Spanish), we ask her many questions. Since she is in a mentor-like role, she is happy to share her wisdom in French or Spanish.

Soccer with Messi and Ronaldo

Pablo, just like his father, loves soccer. Most of the time Pablo is Messi, and we have to be Ronaldo. We reenact the heated Barcelona vs Real Madrid games, making lots of comments and contesting the referee’s decisions.

Little bedtime puppet show

Sometimes at at bedtime we play with puppets. We take one of our kids’ “doudou” (teddy bear) and act out a little story for a couple of minutes, in French or in Spanish. Elena or Pablo then do the same. They become the actors and we are the audience.

School teacher

Elena (7), like many big sisters, loves being the school teacher. She becomes a Spanish teacher that teaches vocabulary and class rules in Spanish to her brother Pablo (4) and her Mom. This is a double whammy: Elena reviews what she learned while Pablo learns from her sister.

Peter Pan and Captain Hook

Pablo likes to run, jump, fight, well… he is a boy. He loves superheroes, and one of his favorite cartoons is Peter Pan. Therefore, on the lawn we play Peter Pan vs Hook, reenacting scenes and dialogues from the French version of the cartoon. Although at times I try to convince Pablo to change characters, I always end up being Hook, chased at the end by a French crocodile!

We’d be delighted to hear about your tips and tricks to help your children speak their second language! Please let us know in the comments below. Every tip helps!


Don’t miss Franck & Cristina’s other “10 Minutes at a time” posts:
Helping Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time

Technology to Help Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time
Music to Help Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time
Making Homework in a Second Language Fun for Children – 10 Minutes at a Time

Franck & Cristina are from France and Spain and now live in New Jersey, USA. Cristina grew up in the Basque Country, in Spain. Her best high school memories come from teaching English to young school children. She learned French when she met Franck. Cristina works for a consumer goods company. Franck grew up in Alsace, France, speaking Alsatian (a German dialect) with his parents and friends and learning French in school. He started learning German in elementary school and English in high school. He came to Boston where he was inspired to learn Spanish when he met his wife Cristina. Elena (7) and Pablo (4) are Franck & Cristina’s children. They live in New Jersey with their parents and speak English, Spanish and French. The whole family is learning Chinese. In order to expose Elena and Pablo to their first Mandarin Chinese words, Franck and Cristina created a free iPhone and iPad app, “Princesses Learn Chinese”. Since then, they also released “Princesses Learn French” and “Princesses Learn Spanish.” You can visit their blog at

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew November 14, 2012 at 11:36 am

That’s fantastic, I’d love to come up with a way to do something similar for adult learners–perhaps having them reenact a scene from a Spanish-language movie or TV show or something? I don’t know, I’ll have to think about this–thanks for the inspiration!



2 Annika Bourgogne November 15, 2012 at 1:07 am

Andrew, the way I’ve done that with my students is that I show them a scene (with people talking) from a movie or TV-show, but without the sound. Then I have them imagine what the characters are saying and play it for the rest of the class. It’s a lot of fun and at the end we watch the scene with sound to hear what was really said in the movie.


3 Andrew November 15, 2012 at 11:33 am

Ok, that REALLY sounds like fun! That’s awesome, I want to do that…sounds to me like something you could do on your own as well if you wanted, just play the scene with sound off, take your best guess at what they’re saying, then play the scene, find out, learn whatever you need to in order to understand them, then practice saying what they said until you sound like them. That’s one way to make it fun!

Fantastic little game, thanks.



4 Franck November 15, 2012 at 3:50 am

Hello Andrew, learning Chinese as adults, we like it when we learn a chinese song and sing it in duo. Role playing singing stars!


5 Andrew November 15, 2012 at 11:31 am

Thanks Franck, that sounds like fun!



6 Annika Bourgogne November 15, 2012 at 1:11 am

A great post! Pretend play and role-playing are very important for children’s development, fantastic to do it in the minority language! At our house the girls always wanted to do Lilo and Stitch, and my husband or I ended up as Stitch. We didn’t have many lines, but the girls got to talk a lot and that’s what matters the most!


7 Adina November 17, 2012 at 7:30 am

Thank you for all these great ideas! We do lots of role playing in English and French – mainly for the classical stories – Hansel and Gretel is an all-time favorite!


8 Two Wed Multilingual April 2, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Great article! Incorporating a foreign language on old school games and activities is a guaranteed way of boosting foreign language learning. Thanks for the tips. Very much helpful.


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