La tête de Robbie Williams

You'd be amazed how much you can learn, and how much pleasure you can get, from games involving messed-up pop songs, chopped-up celebrities, and (that old favourite) imaginary shopping
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1 Role-play

Role-playing is an effective, fun way of introducing everyday situations in the language you are using. Begin with a shop. Choose some common food items – an apple, a banana, cereal, bread, milk, tea, sugar, cheese, crisps, and so on. Choose six of them and practise naming them in the language you are using. Gather the vocabulary to say what you want ("Je voudrais" etc) and ask how much each is ("C'est combien?" etc). (Our examples are in French, but you can use any language.) Then do the following role-play, with you as the customer and the child as the shopkeeper. The customer enters the shop and greets the shopkeeper ("Bonjour" etc), who responds in the same way. The customer then asks for some items ("Je voudrais" etc). The shopkeeper hands them over. The customer then asks how much it is, and the shopkeeper answers ("Cinq francs" etc). You can use counters, each representing one franc or which- ever currency is appropriate. The customer hands over the money, takes the purchase, and says goodbye ("Merci, au revoir" etc). You can play this game with other items or make the shopping list more complicated.

2 Themed collages

Choose a subject: perhaps a shop, or a zoo, or a street scene, and get your child to draw a simple background on a large piece of card. Then cut out and add pictures to build up the view. Mount these pictures on small pieces of cards so they can be moved around the scene, and ask where they are, using phrases like "under", "next to", "left" and "right" ("Le bus est à côté de la voiture", "Le chat est dans le jardin" etc.) Ask your child to put things in different places ("Mets le bus à côté de la voiture"; "Mets le chat dans le jardin" etc). Then have the child ask you to do it.

3 "Beetle"

This is another game that works well in different languages. It practises numbers and also learning parts of the body. Establish the vocabulary for head, body, arms, legs, eyes and mouth, and throw the dice, saying the number as it comes up. You must throw a six to start, and when you have a six, you can draw a head. Throw a five to add a body, then four to draw arms, three for legs, two for eyes and one for the mouth, saying each as you draw it. The winner is the first to complete the picture and say "I've finished!" in the language you're using. For a modern twist, use magazine pictures of celebrities cut up and mounted on card; throw a six for Robbie Williams's head etc.

4 "Funny Animal"

Another activity that practises parts of the body, this time alongside colours. First establish any new vocabulary for body parts, including tail and whiskers. Then ask your child to draw an unlikely animal, giving the instructions in the language you are practising. For example, ask the child to draw a green dog ("Dessine-moi un chien vert" etc). Ask the child to give him three noses ("Donne-lui trois nez"), then say that his legs are red ("Ses jambes sont rouges"). Once the picture is complete, let the child give you similar instructions. Or ask the child to draw an animal with the head of a cat, feet of an elephant, arms of a monkey, and so on.

Draw a picture to illustrate a simple foreign-language phrase such as "The dog is on the chair" ("Le chien est sur la chaise"). Make this into a series of pictures by changing one word in the sentence each time. For example: The dog is on the chair/The cat is on the chair, and so on (Le chien est sur la chaise/Le chat est sur la chaise etc).

5 Music and song

Music and song are widely used tools for language-learning for children. Get your child to make up some foreign words to a well-known tune. Squeezing foreign words on to a Britney Spears hit appeals hugely.

6 Board games

For a rainy afternoon, pull out some straightforward games like ludo, snakes & ladders or dominoes. They can all be played – and made considerably more intriguing – in other languages.