Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

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Speakeasy
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Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Aug 05, 2019 6:04 pm

Snakes and Ladders
This is actually a serious question concerning language learning. When I was a small child, that is, at a time when most households in our neighbourhood did not have a television set, my sister and I would amuse ourselves by playing “Snakes and Ladders”, an ancient Indian board game which is known throughout much of the world.
Snakes and Ladders 1.JPG
Snakes and Ladders 1.JPG (100.39 KiB) Viewed 636 times

Over the years, I have become accustomed to seeing two rather common artifices in contemporary language-learning textbooks/workbooks for use in a classroom. I would point out that their use extends to materials which are specifically conceived for the instruction of adults, not children. I am referring to use of the “snakes” which contain items of vocabulary, as well as jumbled letters, which the student is meant to decipher. The images below are taken from Langenscheidt’s Berliner Platz, Deutsch im Alltag.
Snakes and Ladders 2.JPG
Snakes and Ladders 2.JPG (55.98 KiB) Viewed 636 times

Snakes and Ladders 3.JPG
Snakes and Ladders 3.JPG (67.09 KiB) Viewed 636 times


A similar device is the crossword puzzle. I have never enjoyed solving crossword puzzles, they simply do not appeal to me. Nevertheless, I believe that I have a reasonable command of my native tongue and, according to a number of online tests (for whatever they’re worth), it seems that I have a passive vocabulary well beyond 29,000 words in English. I acquired this vocabulary by reading, not by playing word games. Ditto for the “snakes” and similar artifices which plague the contemporary language-learning textbooks/workbooks for use in a classroom. I refuse to complete these exercises. Not only do they not appeal to me, I find them irritating and, quite frankly, an insult to my intelligence. I am offended by their very presence in course materials which are specifically designed for use by adults. I feel that I am being treated either as a small child, or a dolt, or a doddering old fool (which I may very well be, but we'll leave my wife to be the judge of that!). And yet, I believe that my obstinate refusal to play these games has not-in-the-least impeded my progress in the study of several foreign languages.

Pedagogical Value of Snakes and Crossword Puzzles in Language Learning?
My first question is: what pedagogical value do these artifices truly possess? Are there are studies (real studies, not psycho-babble studies designed to prove the author’s preconceived ideas) justifying their use?

My second question is: how do you react when you encounter these games in your language-learning materials?

EDITED:
Typos, as always.
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Re: Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby Iversen » Mon Aug 05, 2019 6:55 pm

I hate games in learning materials, but sometimes do crosswords in newspapers if I haven't got more sensible things to do (although only in Danish and sometimes English bcause I wouldn't be able to do them in my weak languages). The only kind of games I regularly do is sudokus, probably because there you don't have to know anything - just be able to think and calculate.
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Re: Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby David1917 » Mon Aug 05, 2019 8:23 pm

I also skip the games in "learning" materials and also find them to be insulting to my intelligence.

I'd like to say that perhaps some less-inspired publishing house board members who owe their positions more to economic circumstance rather than intellectual rigor thought to impose such tragic "pedagogical" devices on the masses, commensurate with their own ineptitude, though unfortunately that might not be the case. For example, an acquaintance was telling me about her 3rd year French course at University employing a "Jeopardy" style game in class. More personally, this past weekend I was part of an alumni workshop/event for a prestigious national scholarship at which we were required to create "vision boards" of our futures by means of cutting images and words from magazines and gluing them down in some artful fashion to brightly colored pieces of paper. These examples illustrate that even the very institutions and organizations purportedly dedicated to the cause of higher learning are feeding into this cycle of infantile approaches to education in general.
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Re: Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby Nogon » Mon Aug 05, 2019 9:58 pm

While I don't like games in learning materials either (they usually are far too simple), I found my daily newspaper's crosswords very helpful when learning Swedish. I increased my vocabulary alot, when trying to solve the crosswords with the help of several dictionaries.
But so I like to do crosswords in my native language too.
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Re: Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby devilyoudont » Mon Aug 05, 2019 10:10 pm

I like to play these kinds of games on my own time sometimes, I don't do it as part of my study routine.
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Re: Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby Speakeasy » Mon Aug 05, 2019 10:25 pm

David1917 wrote: … employing a "Jeopardy" style game in class … we were required to create "vision boards" … cutting images and words from magazines and gluing them down in some artful fashion to brightly colored pieces of paper … feeding into this cycle of infantile approaches to education in general.
David, this is absolutely fabulous! Infantile esoterica in higher education? If it might be of some small comfort to you, during a three-year period in the 1990’s, my employer (the world’s second largest multi-national company in its industry) demanded that all managers, staff, and shop employees attend compulsory “sensitization sessions” during which we were required to wear different coloured eye-glasses (rose, amber, green, blue) in “perception-changing revelations”, be educated in the “new sciences” of astrology, numerology, and “dynamic personality exploration”, define ourselves by the pet animals whose company we preferred, chant “ancient healing” songs, draw pictures of our “sacred animal soulmates”, wear animal masks and costumes, and share in the “collective wisdom” as members of a secret society. These “team building” sessions, for which a “spiritual guide” was engaged, were scheduled once a quarter over a three-year period. We were “sworn to silence” and required to sign binding agreements that we would never reveal the “powerful secrets” which our guides were transmitting to us as the knowledge and techniques were to be the guarantors of our prosperous and harmonious future. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to the atmosphere that these sessions created in the workplace. These activities ceased abruptly when the company’s union representatives (who had ensured that their members be paid time-and-half for attending these sessions, whereas the rest of us simply had to make up for the lost time) became aware of an international cult which was reportedly practicing similar “arts” and whose members had committed collective suicide (no joke!). I was so darned happy when they sent me off to early retirement!

But yes, I did experience silliness, some years ago, in the only German class that I have ever attended. All of the course participants were adults who had recently taken their retirement. None of us were impressed by the “new teaching techniques” of cutting out images from sheets of coloured paper, tossing foam balls to one another as a signal that we were inviting the receiver to speak to us in the L2, being handed balls of twine to “bind us together in conversation” with more than one language partner, and the like. I experienced more enjoyment with my sister playing Snakes and Ladders! About a third of the way through the course, I feigned sickness, withdrew, and wrote a kind note to the Programme Director praising the enthusiasm for learning the L2 that the Instructor had instilled in us all (yah, even I can play the hypocrite, at times).
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Re: Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby MorkTheFiddle » Mon Aug 05, 2019 10:42 pm

On rare occasions I have done crossword puzzles, sometimes in connection with Quizlet. I have never encountered the other games and activities. Including "Snakes and Ladders" :)
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Re: Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby Adrianslont » Mon Aug 05, 2019 10:50 pm

Just a few quick comments.

That’s not actually a crossword you have pictured there, Speakeasy. It’s a Wordsearch or whatever you call it. I’m not trying to be picky - I just imagine it provides a very different kind of language practice and I hope that my clarification may be useful. I imagine that crosswords focus your practice on meaning while Wordsearches focus you on spelling.

I don’t actually do Wordsearches as I don’t think it’s an efficient way to learn, I have done them in the past with a phone app which makes me think this. And my thumbs started to hurt!

Crosswords - I don’t go there.

And I won’t play scrabble with my family because they always beat me even though I have the best vocabulary and spelling in the household!

So, these things are not favoured by me either but I do suspect Wordsearches help a little with spelling.

As to the other kinds of activities you mention, team-building etc, I think some are innocent fun, some are annoying and some are outright cultish. I think the best team-building is when teams are forged by doing/learning something together - where the something is actually substantial and relevant to the course/conference/whatever.

On the subject of “infantile” activities, I appreciate that not everyone can tolerate kids stuff but I don’t mind watching cartoons and reading Tintin and Diary of a Wimpy Kid in my TLs - but I was pleased to see the author of Diary actually originally intended it for adults.
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Re: Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby Chung » Tue Aug 06, 2019 1:32 am

I've never liked games or puzzles of this type in language-learning. I hated it when my Ukrainian instructor would make us do word searches in Ukrainian - such a waste of time.

However, there is a place for games but more along the lines of expressing something in the target language within the rules. The best example I've ever encountered is when a Couchsurfer who's also a tutor for German played a kids' version of Taboo in German (Tabu) with me and her boyfriend. The goal is to use circumlocutions for a word on a drawn card in the hope that your team member will guess the word within the allotted time. The circumlocutions or roundabout descriptions come about because you're not allowed to use "taboo" words in your description which would significantly help the other person guess correctly before the timer runs out. The bigger challenge was that her boyfriend and I had to do this in German - a language that we have been learning. Even forcing us to describe simple concepts in German orally and listening to a circumlocution in German so that we would guess correctly were good challenges for us. Needless to say, this type of game would work best when you're already around B1 as her boyfriend and I would have struggled to play the regular version of Tabu.

I've also played board games with non-native speakers of English, and in at least a couple of cases, I was the only one in the circle who spoke English natively. Playing something like Monopoly would be a fun way for advanced learners to practice a foreign language so long as everyone uses the target language (e.g. instead of saying things like "Whose turn is it?" or "You're on Park Place and you now owe me $35 in rent. Pay up!", one would say these things in another language like Kenen vuoro? or Sä oot Mannerheimintiellä ja oot nyt mulle velkaa 350€. Maksa heti! if it were the Finnish version of Monopoly). In a classroom setting, this could work quite well if there's at least one native speaker (be it the teacher or a teaching assistant) at the table to enforce discipline and maximize the chances that the students/other players communicate only in the target language.

Lastly on the idea of "infantile" techniques in learning language, I fully second Adrianslont's idea of language-learners of any age reading modern literature meant for children (or rather pre-teens) who are native speakers of the target language - especially when the learners' ability is closer to A2 than B2 since the language used in these kinds of books is modern in contrast to what's in fairy tales which can sometimes include archaic or non-conversational phrases and words. Translations of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" or "Le Petit Nicolas" in the desired target language are good choices for intermediate learners or even advanced beginners looking for something native speakers (or rather native-speaking children) could read since they're both collections of short texts (diary entries and short stories respectively) from the point of view of preteens. They aren't intellectually demanding and the lexicon isn't overly complicated with the books describing fairly mundane or relatable topics (for adults). For intermediate learners, they're great because the variety and quantity is enough to noticeably boost one's vocabulary (especially the passive one) and the regular reuse of certain structures/conjugations/declensions trains the mind to recognize what "looks/sounds good" or is idiomatic.
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David1917
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Re: Snakes, Ladders, Crossword Puzzles

Postby David1917 » Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:39 am

Reading children's literature, watching cartoons, etc. are perfectly reasonable ways to acclimate oneself to the use of a new language for the reasons espoused above. That is not the same as forcing adults to throw foam around, or play with construction paper and gluesticks.
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