Board Games and Learning English: DixIt

I was taken by the whimsical art and semi-cooperative game play of Dixit since I saw it reviewed on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop YouTube series. (Video at the link is nearly 30 minutes long; if you’re in a hurry, save it to watch another time!) I put off getting a copy for years—we don’t have room for enough guests for a proper game—but I finally relented and accepted it as a birthday present this year. My reasoning was that it would be a great tutoring supplement, and it turns out I was right!

I mentioned in a review of the graphic novel Light that having a collection of whimsical, kid-friendly imagery would be a huge boon for tutoring young learners. Dixit brings the same kind of advantage, with the wrinkle of completely non-sequential, unrelated images. It’s not better or worse than having a thematic set of images from a story; it’s just different.

Eight sample images from Dixit
Image courtesy Libellud / Marie Cardouat

First of all, students respond really well to the art (from my admittedly small sample size). It’s worth having a deck on hand just for that. Taking a break from staring at words and thinking about words and manipulating words to just drink in some visual art is relaxing, but you can also put that art to good (and fun) language practice.

I’ll admit that some of these cards lend themselves better to some activities than others; I take a specially curated Dixit deck to my lessons, with the images that seem (to me) the most interesting and dramatic, as well as the ones my students really respond to.


Choose a card from the deck and give the student a few seconds to look at it. Take the card from them and ask them to describe as much as they can from memory. (If they’re lower level or if you’re feeling kind, you can ask them simple questions instead.) Switch up the roles to have students practice asking questions.

Writing Prompts

There’s so much dramatic tension and otherworldliness in so many of the cards that they lend themselves to creative writing practice! Beginners might want to start out just describing  a scene, but more advanced students can tell the story behind an image, or offer a prediction.


Ideally, you’ll need space to lay out all of the cards, but in a pinch you can allow students to go through the deck in their hands. Name a category (“food” or “winter”), and their job is to go through the cards and find all of the options that fit. You can be as concrete or as abstract as you like (more advanced students can try to convince why an anchor in the middle of the desert might be “empty,” for example).

Sketch Artist

One person has a card, which they describe to another person (who has to draw it).

Two-Player Dixit

The minimum number of people you need for a regular game of Dixit is three, but it’s surprisingly easy to adapt the game for two players. No one holds any cards in their hand; instead, the “storyteller” either goes through the deck or draws three random cards from the top and places them face-up. The storyteller then chooses one of the cards (privately) to be the winning card and gives a hint to the other player. If the other player guesses the winning card right away, they get two points; if they guess it on the second try, each player gets one point. Otherwise, no points. Play can continue until the deck runs out or until a set number of points.


ArmchairBEA, Day 1: Introduction

ArmchairBEA is the Internet/social media version of BEA: Book Expo America. BEA is a chance for readers, authors, and publishers to mingle and share their love of the written word, not unlike Stockholm’s own (much smaller) Litteraturmässan.

I missed ArmchairBEA this year, which is a shame because it’s my favorite way to hear about new books and to find new book bloggers (and, increasingly, BookTubers — people who vlog about books on YouTube). It’s a potpourri of Twitter chats, giveaways, and blog prompts, and I’m so bummed about missing it that I’m going to participate anyway.

The first prompt is, as usual, a simple introduction prompt. In case you wanted to know more than what’s on my About Me page!

I am . . .

Most basically, I’m an American expat in Stockholm who cobbles together a living from freelance editing and EFL tutoring. I don’t see the fields as discrete; rather, they interact with and reinforce each other.

Currently . . .

I’ve just wrapped up lessons with three different students, just in time for me to pick up work on two (rather large) editing projects.

I love . . .

I love giving people the tools they need to articulate themselves. This is where editing and tutoring overlap, and it’s the best part of both jobs for me.

I also used to work in a jewelry-making supplies store, and incidentally that was my favorite part of that job as well. Only I was helping people articulate themselves through a very different medium!

On a less career/aspirational level, I love being outside in the sunshine (and being at home in the rain), reading, a good cup of tea, and Korean food.

My favorite . . .

My favorite Korean dish is budae jjigae (a spicy stew that includes assorted American-style meats), my favorite tea is Söderte, and choosing my favorite book would be like choosing a favorite child. You can read about my favorite books according to GoodReads, if you’re curious about my tastes.

My least favorite . . .

My least favorite precious gem is the diamond. Controversial opinion time, I guess! But even if they weren’t an ethical nightmare, I would still be unimpressed. I’ve seen properly cut, high-quality quartz that has the same sparkle and flash as a diamond. And that’s not even including Herkimer diamonds.

My least favorite book is equally hard to choose, but out of a field of mediocre reads, one that stands out is Rabbit, Run. I’m not a big Updike fan.

My current read . . .

Oh, so many! I have two that I’m reading for group obligations:  Madonna in a Fur Coat for my Internet book club and The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide for my in-person critique group. I’ve also borrowed The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage from a critique group friend, a book that is relevant to my interests as well as my ongoing writing project. Finally, my Swedish book of the moment is Karin Boye’s Kris.

My summer plans . . .

I’ll be traveling to the US in August for a wedding.

My buddy . . .

My buddy Aaron is the one getting married! Here we are in Beijing during Lunar New Year 2010:

Myself (center left) and a friend (center) at a company dinner party in Beijing for Lunar New Year 2009
Myself (center left) and a friend (center) at a company dinner party in Beijing for Lunar New Year 2010

He’s conversant, if not fluent, in (Mandarin) Chinese, and when I touched down in Beijing on the evening before Lunar New Year, he put that Chinese to good use finding us a place to eat. All of the restaurants anywhere near our hostel had been closed all day, or closed early. When we got here, they initially turned us away, too, but he finally switched to Chinese and explained that it was my first night in Beijing, and that I had just flown in from Seoul without any dinner. Either his Chinese, my sad story, or both convinced them to let us in, and we shared a huge company meal, complete with alcohol and dancing.

And now he’s getting married!

My blog/channel/social media . . .

The other place on social media where you can find me is on Twitter (@KobaEnglish). I would rather eat rusty nails than start a video channel.

The best . . .

The best part of this trip will definitely be seeing so many of my friends in the US who can’t take the time (or spend the money) to come see me in Stockholm.

Friday 5: Shhhhh!

What’s something sneaky you’ve recently done?

I’m not really good at being sneaky. It’s hard to answer this one!

Who or what do you feel the need to tiptoe around?

Facebook and politics has become an interesting place since the election. And by “interesting place,” I mean, “barren wasteland bereft of hope or goodwill.”

What’s the dirty secret about the field in which you work?

When it comes to editing, the truth is that none of us know everything. There are loads of words that I have to look up every. single. time. I see them. Some of my more elegant solutions in a project have been crowdsourced from the copyediting hivemind. We all do it!

As for teaching, I’d say that a lot of times the teacher is just as nervous as the student. When it comes to language study with native speaker tutors, students assume that we’re sitting there judging you, or that it’s at least a low-stakes environment for us. False! Even with students I’ve had for years, I still get nervous anytime I’m debuting a new lesson or I have to tackle a tricky concept. You never know if the lesson plan or explanation you thought up in theory will work out in practicality.

What was the subject of your last whispered conversation?

I’m not much of a whisperer. When that happens, I’m usually just talking to myself. “Talking through a process,” I mean. Not “having a conversation.”

What’s recently snuck up on you?

It’s tax season, y’all! In two countries!

As always, questions taken from The Friday 5.

More News: Global LT

Fresh on the heels of my admittance in Stockholm University’s Academic Swedish course comes my hiring at Global-LT.  They provide businesses around the world with a number of language-related services, including language lessons, cultural sensitivity training, and translations. I am now one of their contracted English tutors in Stockholm! (Not translating, sadly—at least not yet.)

I’m excited for this opportunity to work with business professionals and meet new people!

Why I Still Study Foreign Languages

I’ve always been interested in foreign languages — my electives in high school were essentially all the music and foreign language classes I could fit in my schedule — so it’s not surprising that I would fall into teaching as a career.

I’ve made oblique references to studying Russian and Swedish elsewhere; I’ve also studied, in increasing order of fluency, Korean, German, and French. If you peek at my DuoLingo profile, you can see that I’ve also dipped my toes into Turkish. (It’s been a while with that one; I wouldn’t claim any kind of proficiency or knowledge.) While I’m just plain interested in languages, I think it’s important for language teachers to keep up their own language studies throughout their careers.

Image courtesy Hans Hillewaert.
Image courtesy Hans Hillewaert.

1. You can understand your students better.

If nothing else, when you have a better understanding of your students’ mother tongue, you can better understand where there might be L1 interference or confusion. My Korean students and friends, for example, often would use the verb “play” in a manner that, while not technically wrong, sounded odd, especially coming from someone older than 10. (“How was your weekend?” “It was good, I played with some friends.”) If I didn’t know any better, I would just be confused or annoyed by this persistent pattern in Korean English. But it’s an idiosyncrasy that’s a lot easier to understand because I know (a little bit) about Korean.

As it turns out, in Korean you can use the verb “to play” for everything from schoolyard games to company dinners (놀다) to just shooting the shit in the park, whereas in English we quickly outgrow it unless it’s in the context of a sport or a musical instrument. I hope that, if I taught my teenage Korean students nothing else, I got them to start using “hang out with” instead of “play with” when talking about their weekends.

2. You can remember what it’s like to be a student.

After a few years of pedagogical training and work, it can be really easy to fall prey to teacher hubris. Being a beginner again helps foster a sense of empathy with your students and their own struggles.

3. You can learn to be a better teacher.

This one is a little tricky if you’re not actually taking a class, but you can probably still be inspired by a good textbook or workbook. While there is plenty of EFL material written by plenty of highly qualified EFL experts, English isn’t the only language out there. The more you can branch out into other languages, the greater pool of inspiration you have to draw from. Maybe the worksheet you did for French is the perfect thing to adapt to your direct object lesson next week, and so on.

4. Your students can feel more comfortable with you.

Many argue for the immersive “target language only” philosophy; this is the approach I was taught when I did my CELTA. While I agree that the immersive (or faux-immersive) environment can be exactly the challenging situation that a lot of students need, and that it sometimes is the best practical situation (e.g. a class of international students who don’t all share the same mother tongue), I don’t think it’s always entirely appropriate. Some students are shy, or not quite confident in the target language–sometimes just knowing that they can ask a clarifying question or use a word in their mother tongue is the Dumbo’s feather that they need to take productive learning risks. The more languages you know at least a little bit about, the more students you can reach.

So I study languages for all of these reasons, but also just because it’s something I’m interested in. I’m not the most diligent student, I’ll admit, but I still make an effort. I’ll get into my own study habits and schedule in another post. But for now, I’ll leave things here.

Availability Announcement: Tutoring

As of August 29, I will be studying Academic Swedish at Stockholm University. This means that my tutoring calendar for the fall of 2016 is nearly full. Starting today, I will only be accepting, at my discretion, individual and very short-term (as in, 1 week or less) tutoring appointments. I will resume booking long-term and ongoing tutoring appointments sometime in December (date subject to change).

My editing calendar remains largely unaffected, so please feel free to contact me with editing inquiries.