How to Improve Your English by Playing Like a Child

What is the natural state of children? Playing, of course!

We all know that children can master new languages more easily than adults (Philips, 2002).  Science has shown us that children’s brains are set up to learn language, but the fact that children learn through playing helps as well!

What does it mean to play? Playing can be fun but it can also be serious.  When we play, there is no right and there is no wrong.  We can be silly, strange, and creative.  We can even work through difficult situations through play.

We can use play to learn language (Sambanis, 2015).  You too can play your way to better English!

SEE ALSO: Language and Technology: Teaching and Learning Methods for Future Generations

Here are 3 different ways you can incorporate play into your English studies:

1.  Role-play

Children role-play when they pretend to be the mother, the baby, or the dog.  You can think of role-playing as acting or theater! When we role-play to practice English we might pretend to be a shop owner, a tourist, or a businessman.

Sometimes we shy away from role-playing, perhaps because it’s difficult to ‘stay in character’ (like an actor) and also because we don’t want to feel silly.  But I encourage you to try studying English through role-playing because this kind of practice REALLY HELPS.

If you already know you are going to be in a certain situation (asking for directions, ordering at a restaurant, filling out a government form, etc.) and you get the opportunity to practice and feel what it would be like before experiencing it in REAL LIFE, wouldn’t you feel more prepared?

That’s just what role-playing helps us to do: feel prepared.

Ask your English teacher, tutor, language exchange partner or friends to role-play different situations with you!

2.  Play games

Suddenly, at age 12 (or maybe even younger), we start to think of games as only for kids.  We might even think that playing games is not a TRUE way to learn language.

But think about the last time you played a game.  You probably used interesting and unique vocabulary.  You probably used game phrases like “Go ahead, it’s your turn.”

If we play word based games we are gaining confidence speaking English.Try out word-based games to practice your pronunciation and learn new words and phrases!

The games we use to practice English can include table games, games on the board or even video games.

According to a study done by Kaplan (2012), some of the most popular video games are The Sims, World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto and Pokémon.  Pick one of these games and see if you enjoy practicing English this way!

3.  Use “children’s” art materials

Find some art materials that you would consider “for kids”:

Maybe you have some old crayons in a box somewhere.  Or, maybe you can borrow crayons from your little cousins, nieces or nephews or even from your own children!

In my classes, I’ve even had adults work with finger paints! When was the last time you finger painted? In kindergarten?Or maybe never?

Try some play dough or clay, even!


Play with any of these art materials and create designs, cartoons, pictures or shapes that remind you of the vocabulary or phrases you are trying to memorize.  Or pick a word you find difficult to pronounce and draw or paint a picture that symbolizes its meaning.  Put the picture up somewhere you can see, and practice the word every time you walk by your work of art!

I recommend children’s art materials to help overcome wanting to create something advanced and perfect.

Using art materials from our childhood can help you get into a playful mood.The point is to have fun with the process.

Here is a short YouTube video I put together about these three ways to play your way to better English:

If you would ever like to try playing to learn English, I use these practices in my online classes! To contact me you can send me an email, leave me a message below, or even comment on my YouTube channel.

Do you ever study English through play?

Which of these fun ways to play and learn English (role-playing, games, or using children’s art materials) would you like to try?

Answer in the comments below!


Kaplan International English.(2012).  How to Learn English Infographic.//

Philips, M.  L., (2002).  Second Language Learning.//

Sambanis, M.  (2015)Language Learning Through Play.//

(Thanks to morgueFile for the beautiful image)

Sabrina Fletcher is an online English teacher with a Master’s degree in Contemplative Education from Naropa University.  
Sabrina shares free English resources for adults who want to have more confidence speaking English.  Sign up for her free English eLearners study tips emails and see more at her blog.

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