During family vacations, my children like to play road trip games that make time pass more quickly. For families with bilingual and trilingual kids like ours, car games can be a special tradition that encourages bonding in the minority language.
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Fun bilingual family games for road trips, air travel, and more
Gone are the days when my kids would nap peacefully in the car!
Instead of asking “Are we there yet” or “How much longer do we have to wait”, these screen-free ideas can also entertain bilingual kids during air travel, restaurants, and doctor appointments!
Also, since these games encourage observation and conversation, they are great for family game night.
These educational games are also great icebreakers for school!
We’ve also played some of these games at the park, beach, zoo, and hikes!
What is the ideal age to play car games with bilingual kids?
Once my kids started to speak in sentences, we could play some of the easier car games in this list.
My 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son both giggle so much during these car games!
My husband and I have fun playing along, too!
I believe that these games can be a fun, memorable way to get bilingual kids of all ages to speak the minority language.
Together, you can practice and learn new vocabulary!
12 Fun Car Games for Bilingual Kids to Use the Minority Language
Here are some car games that we have played with our multilingual kids while driving up and down the California coast!
Since I’m learning how to speak Mandarin Chinese with my children, I’ll include Chinese translations of important words related to these road trip games.
Please note that Chinese is a diverse language, and translations may vary depending on region and dialect.
Of course, feel free to adapt these ideas to any language!
1. I spy with my little eye…
This is a car game that my kids play literally every week in both Chinese and English!
To play this game, you describe part of an object and see if the other person can find what they are thinking of.
In Mandarin Chinese, you can translate this in a few ways:
- 我用眼睛偷瞄 (Wǒ yòng yǎnjīng tōu miáo / I use my eye to peek)
- 我用我的小眼睛看到一样_色的东西 / 我用我的小眼睛看到一樣_色的東西 (Wǒ yòng wǒ de xiǎo yǎnjīng kàn dào yīyàng___sè de dōngxī / I used my little eye to see a ___-colored thing)
- 猜,猜,猜猜看! 我看到___的东西 / 猜,猜,猜猜看! 我看到_的東西 (Cāi, cāi, cāi cāi kàn! Wǒ kàn dào___de dōngxī / Guess, guess, guess, guess if you can! I see a ___ thing).
Around the house or during outings, they like to take their DIY binoculars and play “I Spy”.
2. Raise you hand if…
This is an easy game that both my toddler and first grader enjoy. They like seeing how many people raise their hands!
The “raise your hand car game” works by asking everyone to raise their hand if they fit a certain characteristic.
Everyone takes turns coming up with questions to ask, preferably in the minority language.
Some examples in Chinese and English include:
- 如果你开心就举手 / 如果你開心就舉手 (Rúguǒ nǐ kāixīn jiù jǔ shǒu / Raise your hand if you’re happy!)
- 如果您穿着短裤，请举手！/ 如果你穿著短褲，請舉手！ (Rúguǒ nǐ chuānzhuó duǎnkù, qǐng jǔ shǒu! / Please raise your hand if you’re wearing shorts!)
Silly ones that my kids crack up over:
- 如果出汗了，举起手！/ 如果出汗了，舉手! (Rúguǒ chū hànle, qǐng jǔ shǒu! / Raise your hand if you’re sweaty!)
- 如果你的屁股很臭，举你的手! / 如果你的屁股很臭，舉你的手! (Rúguǒ nǐ de pìgu hěn chòu, jǔ nǐ de shǒu! / Raise your hand if your butt is very smelly!)
And the favorite that makes my heart melt:
- 如果你爱妈妈和爸爸，请举手！/ 如果你愛媽媽和爸爸，請舉手！Rúguǒ ní ài māmā hé bàba, qǐng jǔ shǒu! (If you love mom and dad, please raise your hand!)
3. Categories car game for bilingual kids
How many items in a 种类 / 種類 (zhǒnglèi / category) can you name? That is the object of this car game for bilingual kids.
For example, you can choose 球 (qiú / balls) and every one has to think of different balls:
- 足球 (Zúqiú / soccer ball)
- 橄榄球 / 橄欖球 (Gǎnlǎnqiú / football)
- 排球 (Páiqiú / volleyball)
- 篮球 / 籃球 (Lánqiú / basketball)
- 网球 / 網球 (Wǎngqiú / tennis ball)
- 棒球 (Bàngqiú / baseball)
4. Road trip scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunts 寻宝游戏 / 尋寶遊戲 (xúnbǎo yóuxì) are always so fun for my children!
Here are 25 scavenger hunt items that your bilingual kids can listen, look, and smell for during car rides!
- Did you hear ….? 你听到了….吗 / 你聽到了….嗎 (Nǐ tīngdàole…. ma?)
- Siren 警笛 (Jǐngdí)
- Barking dog 狗叫声 / 狗叫聲 (Gǒu jiào shēng)
- Honking horn 喇叭声 / 喇叭聲 (Lǎbā shēng)
- Squeaky tires 轮胎摩擦声 / 輪胎摩擦聲 (Lúntāi mócā shēng)
- Did you see this? 你看到了…吗 / 你看到了…嗎？ (Nǐ kàn dàole… ma?)
- Stop sign 停止标志 / 停止標誌 (Tíngzhǐ biāozhì)
- Exit sign 出口指示牌 (Chūkǒu zhǐshì pái)
- Bridge 桥 / 橋 (Qiáo)
- Bicycle 自行车 / 自行車 (Zìxíngchē) also known as 脚踏车 / 腳踏車 (jiǎotàchē)
- Tree 树 / 樹 (Shù)
- Grass 草 (Cǎo)
- Flowers 花 (Huā)
- Fence 篱笆 (Líbā)
- Blue house 蓝色的房子 / 藍色的房子 (Lán sè de fángzi)
- Restaurant 餐厅 / 餐廳 Cāntīng)
- Motorcycle 摩托车 / 摩托車 (Mótuō chē)
- Police car 警车 / 警車 (Jǐngchē)
- Bus 公共汽车 / 公共汽車 (Gōnggòng qìchē)
- Airplane 飞机 / 飛機 (Fēijī)
- Orange car 橙色车 / 橙色車 (Chéngsè chē)
- Cow 牛 (Niú)
- Horse 马 / 馬 (Mǎ)
- Bird 鸟 / 鳥 (Niǎo)
- Did you smell this? 你闻到了吗？/ 你聞到了嗎? ( Nǐ wén dàole ma?)
- Skunk 臭鼬 (Chòu yòu)
- Animal poop 动物大便 / 動物大便 (Dòngwù dàbiàn)
- Fart 放屁 (Fàngpì)
5. 20 Questions
The 20 questions game is similar to the Guess Who? board game which encourages problem-solving, memory, and language skills.
To play 20 questions, first think of a person, place, or thing. Then share which of the 3 categories it belongs to.
These questions must be close-ended, “yes” or “no” questions.
Although the rule is that only 20 questions can be asked in order to figure out the answer, we don’t keep track for my young children.
My 3- and 6-year-old kids love to have us guess animals!
6. Guess the song car game
The mystery song game involves some friendly competition!
Play the song for a few seconds, pause, and see who can guess the correct song first!
If nobody knows the song, resume for a few more seconds and pause again. Until someone can name the song, keep repeating the process!
This is a fun way to see who can first identify familiar music!
7. Guess the story car game
Just like the mystery song game, “Guess the story” follows the same process.
8. Would you rather…?
The “Would you rather” game consists of questions that can be thought-provoking, controversial, or just plain silly.
For example: Would you rather swim in the ocean with sharks or in a lake with crocodiles? 妳宁愿在海里和鲨鱼游泳还是在湖里和鳄鱼游泳？ / 妳寧願在海裡和鯊魚游泳還是在湖裡和鱷魚游泳？(Nǎi nìngyuàn zài hǎilǐ hé shāyú yóuyǒng háishì zài hú lǐ hé èyú yóuyǒng?’)
9. Word dominoes 接龙游戏 / 接龍遊戲
Normally this Chinese game is played verbally with 成语 / 成語 (idioms), but we have also played an easier version with bigrams.
The object of the game is to come up with a phrase that begins with the end of the prior phrase.
In English, Korean, and other alphabet-based languages, you can adapt this game by coming up with words that begin with the last letter of the prior word!
10. Simon says / 老师说 / 老師說
This fun childhood game is all about following commands correctly!
One player takes on the role of “Simon” and gives instructions (eg, close your eyes, put your hand on your head) to the other players.
The actions should be performed only when prefaced with the phrase “Simon says”.
In Chinese, Simon literally translates to 西门 / 西門 (Xīmén) while 说 / 說 means “says”.
However, in Asia, the game leader is usually called 老师说 / 老師說 (Lǎoshī shuō / Teacher says).
You can adapt this car game for bilingual kids by having Simon or The Teacher say commands in the minority language.
Here’s a video of school children playing “老师说 / 老師說 (Lǎoshī shuō / Teacher says)” in Chinese!
11. Rock paper scissors
Rock paper scissors is a popular game that’s probably more exciting for younger kids than older ones. My kids always make their teenage cousins play it with them. It’s a super easy way to involve a wide age range!
Right now, the game is hilarious for my 6-year-old who knows she will win against her little brother who predictably choose 剪刀!
In Chinese, it’s usually called 剪刀石头布 (Jiǎndāo shítou bù / scissors, rock, cloth), the order slightly different than the English translation.
12. Who can speak in the minority language longest without mixing?
Ahhh, this is really the daily game of raising multilingual children!
In reality, many of us reflexively mix languages, especially when one language is dominant over the other.
To make it a fun challenge, see who can stick to the minority language the longest!
Have you tried any of these fun car games for bilingual kids?
Which of these road trip games have your tried with your family?
Did it encourage them to speak in the minority language?
I’d love to hear which car games were most fun for your bilingual kids!
Please leave a comment below with your experience!
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