The Best Games to Learn English and Have Fun!

Girl laying down smiling playing a game on her cellphone - image by Magoosh

No matter your age, it’s a good idea to use games to learn English. These are a great way to improve communication skills. Games can support many learning styles. They also help develop you to develop skills for thinking in English. Those skills will speed up your language learning development.

You can tailor the games to support any level of English language development. So, whether you’re working on business or conversation or you’re increasing your English level from B2 to C1, they’re great for practicing necessary skills that will help you achieve your language learning goals.

Charades

 

Mechanics of the Game

Charades is a game that is popular worldwide, and while it goes by many names, it is a great way to work on your vocabulary. The rules of the game are informal and can change based on who you’re playing with, but the basic mechanics remain the same.

Players divide into two teams, and phrases are chosen at random to be acted out wordlessly by one teammate while the others guess the phrase. The phrases are sometimes restricted to certain categories like movie quotes or song titles, and teams have a time limit on how long they have to guess the phrase. Teammates will alternate acting out and guessing the phrases.

Example

Here is a video of a group celebrities playing charades.

Pros and Cons

Charades is good for learning vocabulary, syllables, presentation skills, and culture (especially pop culture). However, it is not so useful for practicing full sentence structures, as the game is limited to short phrases or titles. Also, it requires at least four people to play.

Needed to Play

  • At least four players
  • Paper and a pen or pencil
  • Hat or container to draw written phrases from
  • A timer (smartphone)
  • Something to keep score on

 

Hangman

 

Mechanics of the Game

Hangman is one of the most common games to learn English in classrooms, but you can play it outside of the classroom too. It can be played with any number of players. To play, one person thinks of a word or phrase to be guessed by other players. The word or phrase is hidden by a series of lines or dashes that represent the number of letters in the word or phrase.

For example, the words Magoosh English are hidden as: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.

The rules vary on what words or phrases you can choose. Some enforce a rule that no slang, proper names, or proper nouns can be used, but in the same instance, you could make it a rule that ONLY slang or proper nouns can be used, to better learn specific words.

Once a player chooses a word and hides the word with dashes or lines, other players take turns guessing letters in the word or phrase. At the beginning of each turn, a player can attempt to guess the whole phrase. If a player incorrectly guesses a word or phrase, a part of a hanged man stick figure (a drawing showing the head of a human being or as a circle and all other parts as straight lines) is drawn. If the guessers are incorrect enough times that the word creator finishes drawing the hangman, the word creator wins. If the guessers complete the phrase before the drawing is complete, they win.

Example

This video explains the game.

hangman illustration

Pros and Cons

Hangman is a great game for learning individual words and phrases, and can be tailored to better learn words regarding specific subjects. Once you reveal the word or phrase, it’s a great opportunity to learn or reinforce the meaning, origin, pronunciation, syllable breakdown, and usage of given word. You can play with only two people or as a large group.

However, this is another game that doesn’t help with full sentence structures. Also, it can be mundane for advanced English speakers if you don’t play with a specific goal in mind.

Needed to Play

  • Two or more players
  • Something to draw on (a sheet of paper, marker or chalk board, computer drawing application).
  • Writing utensil to draw diagrams and dashes

 

20 Questions

 

Mechanics of the Game

Twenty Questions is a spoken word game that encourages players to use reasoning skills to figure out the identity of an object secretly chosen at random by one player. To begin, one player chooses an object. The object can be a person, place, or anything really. Then, the other player asks a series of yes-or-no questions (questions that only have two possible answers; yes or no) to figure out which object the other player is thinking of.

The idea is to use your questions to narrow down the possible correct answers until you can guess the object. The guessing player can ask up to 20 questions to figure out the correct answer, and the person answering cannot lie. If the player doesn’t guess the object within 20 questions, the person who chose the object wins.

Example

This video explains the game.

Pros and Cons

This is a game that has it all! It allows English learners to use creativity and English thinking skills, while they put together questions in English. The person who picks the object also has to use listening skills to understand the questions. Another advantage is that you don’t need any materials to play.

The only con to this game is that beginning learners may have a more difficult time playing, as they may not have the language skills necessary to ask or answer the questions needed to win the game. Also, there is a limit to the number of questions that can be asked. This can be discouraging for language learners as they may need many more questions to figure out the object. Lastly, the questions asked in the game are only yes-or-no questions. Language learners need to develop many other ways of asking questions as well.

Needed to Play

  • Two or more people. That’s it!

Bonus: A Few Online Games to Learn English

The three previous English learning games are classic examples of ESL games that help students master their English skills. You can play them anywhere! For these games, try to play with a moderator who has advanced level English skills, or keep a smartphone handy. That way, you can make sure you’re playing with the correct answers.

Speaking of mobile phones, games to learn English can be played online too! We live in a digital world, so there are also tons of web-based resources out there for games that will help you learn English. Here are a few links:

Games to Learn English

Games to Learn English has a variety of ESL games (including a couple of the ones above) to help you master a range of skills.

Merriam-Webster Word Games

English word games for advanced, adult learners. These games come from the dictionary publisher and will help you with your vocabulary.

English Club

English Club offers is a great English learning website, and it has a special section dedicated to games to learn English. These games focus on adverbs and adjectives, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

Magoosh Vocabulary Builder

We created our very own vocabulary builder for students who want to do well on the GRE exam. The app contains advanced words that are useful for learning upper level English. You can build from basic to advanced words within the program. Note that this isn’t a game in the traditional sense of the word, but it is a wonderful tool to use! And it can help you build skills in the other games to learn English that we’ve discussed.

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