5 Fun Games for Bilingual Families

I play Boggle. I mean, like, I play it… Every. Single. Day. I’m not even exaggerating. I bought this amazing app on my iPod, and I play every night to fall asleep. (Weird? Maybe.) I love word-focused games. I mean, really, I just love words in general.

But after I married a native Spanish speaker… well, word games put him at a severe disadvantage. He’s a good sport, but still, we started by-passing Taboo and Cranium to find some new, family favorites.

Phase 10 

An oldie, but a goody, this card game is always a good time. Players advance through ten stages, seeking different card combinations before the hand is over. Easy to travel… easy to learn!


Numbered tiles are ordered chronologically or in sets. The strategy opportunities engage adults in a super-focused way. Games can tend to be quiet, though… a LOT of thinking is going on!

Dutch Blitz 

This game is the exact opposite of quiet. In fact, when I play, it usually involves a lot of shouting, arm reaching, and jumping. It’s super fast paced as you try to discard your hand in chronological order before your opponents beat you to it. A card game that can be surprisingly physical.


In this team strategy game, you use cards you’re dealt to place tokens on corresponding spaces on the board. You and your partner work together to try to get five tokens in a row while also coordinating to block the team you’re playing. We introduce it to others, and it’s always a hit.

Bubble Talk 

We bought this game for my parents one Christmas. It does involve words, but they’re funny and you don’t have to come up with them! Each player’s cards have word bubbles on them. A photo is presented to all players, who then “play” their favorite caption. A group “judge” picks their favorite… most clever, most accurate, or funniest!

Next time you’re hosting a game night with multilingual guests, I hope these suggestions help create party fun that includes everyone. We are a game-playing family, and I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments for others to try!

Are We Alone In the Woods?

Oh. Is this picture not what you imagine the yard of a family in urban ministry to look like? Well, that’s the beauty of Atlanta. You can live in an urban neighborhood five minutes from downtown and still have a backyard resembling rural Georgia!

Gabriella loves the wonder of our wooded little alleyway. She piles leaves, feeds the dog rocks through the fence, sweeps with a stick. You know… the usual.

But sometimes she wanders too far… past where I want her to go.

As she was traipsing through the brush, destined for adventure, I started calling her. “Gabriella, come back.”

She turned. She stared. She did not move.

I tried appealing to her different ways, even signaling with enthusiasm as though I had something very exciting waiting for her back at the driveway. She remained frozen.

Friendly beckoning slowly transitioned to stern declarations. “Come here!” I shouted, while perfecting my most serious of looks. “One…..” She stares, expressionless. “Two….” Not a muscle even twitches.

Oh dear, I thought. Now I’ve started counting. What’s my plan here? The moment I say “three,” she will take off running deeper into the trees. I’m wearing sandals. I have no desire to sprint through foliage. But I can’t say three and not do anything. Do I just stop counting?

I did something else. I was positioned at the corner of our fence, and I stepped to the side. I could still see her through the slats, but she could no longer see me.

We have movement, people! That little girl ran as fast as her little legs could carry her, hurrying back to the driveway… back to me. Whew! Sandal running averted.

Kids are such good reminders of how we must appear to God on occasion. When I find myself in an unfamiliar place, I may wonder why God has left me. Standing in the yard with Ella, I realized God doesn’t leave like I won’t abandon my daughter. But perhaps… God stepping out of our view brings us running back more than countless reminders, invitations, or commands.

But I don’t like that concept. It makes me feel like God is manipulating me.

Then again, I don’t think of myself as manipulating my daughter. Maybe some would say that. For me, though, my strategy kept her from danger, produced no kicking and screaming or tears, and brought her back to me. I hope that replaces any perceived deceit in my actions and focuses on the love behind them.

When do you sometimes feel that God is nowhere around? How do you respond?

Free to Wait Tables and Dig Holes

This weekend I introduced my daughter to the phenomenal music of West Side Story. I loved the movie as a teenager, not knowing of course that I would one day come to live out my own cross-cultural relationship.

Sadly, I have never seen Billy pirouette at all. However, I did dance to the West Side Story music when my high school marching band performed it. I was in color guard. Yes…. flags, palazzo pants, and all…

My favorite song is America. Listening to it again, the jaded perspective of immigration espoused by the men in this call and response song gave me some language to tell the next part of Billy’s story.

Anita describes life in America as “Free to be anything you choose.” In resounding unison, the men respond, “Free to wait tables and shine shoes!”

After arriving to the States as an international music sensation (well… maybe I’m exaggerating a bit), Billy entered the reality of working without papers. Two months commuting six hours daily for minimum wage, and he took a new job with an underground drilling company. He began work as a laborer, digging trenches along the streets of Los Angeles.

This season was a turning point for Billy. He went from being a middle-class, bilingual Guatemalan musician to “just another Mexican” on the side of the road wearing a hard hat. It’s difficult for me to explain how shocking this experience was for Billy, so he’s helped me co-write this post.

I never thought I would end up working in construction. That was never my life plan. I had once dreamed of being an architect, but never a laborer.

It was a cultural shock even to work with many of the guys I was working with in the field because of social class differences. Growing up, my family was middle class, but I suddenly realized I didn’t have any privileges in the States. It meant nothing that I had a last name with a good reputation in Guatemala or even that I spoke English. Those things weren’t opening doors anymore.

And I sucked at manual labor. I didn’t have the physical strength to do the job, and I had to develop it. I didn’t know exactly how to do the work, uncovering underground utilities. I had to learn to use jack hammers, bobcats, and other machines where I had no experience and there was no training.

Ultimately, I had to humble myself and ask for help from guys that, had we met back at home, we would probably have never even spoken. Here in the States, they became my best friends. I learned a lot about humility.   

This experience caused me to question my own identity and to question God’s purpose for my life. I had always seen myself as a ministry teacher, and in Guatemala I had been working as a pastor in a very large church. I also had hopes that the ministry of the band would grow and be successful.

Now, here I was, working in construction. That was not part of my plan.

This post was challenging for me to write, partly because I am very aware that we are so familiar with the stereotype of Latinos working construction. It makes me wonder if I or other Americans can truly recognize how many men may “end up” in this field because it is open for undocumented workers, but it does not mean they are trained for it, interested in it, or even good at it. 

P.S. I've been writing a series of posts about how my husband and I met and began dating, If you want to start from the beginning, click here. It's also included some stories about my husband's immigration experience, which you can start here or you go to the next post when he moves into Coyote Inn.

P.S.S. My husband shares about faith, ministry, and music over at his blog, Firetongue Music.  You can also follow him on Twitter at @FiretongueMusic.

The Opposite of a Napkin

During dinner at a restaurant, my daughter was gobbling down a cup full of yogurt. Not your typical fast food fare, but since she seems to be a self-created vegetarian, it would have to do. 

Though she was desperate to free herself from the booth, I wrestled a napkin onto her hands and mouth and began to… smear yogurt all over her. It took me a while to notice given the fact that so much squirming was involved, but napkins were not absorbing yogurt, simply moving it back and forth. Yuck!

We were both covered in yogurt before it was all said and done.

And suddenly, in my mind, I was back living in Argentina. The Italian influence in Argentina manifests itself in a beautiful bounty of pizza and pasta. However, I’m not really sure where the idea for their napkins was born.

Yes, our experience in Argentina had us laughing a ridiculous amount trying to clean mouths, wipe up spills, or clean a baby’s hands with what can only be described as wax paper. It’s a comical endeavor to be sure.

It did amuse me that I never saw an Argentine frustrated with their available paper products. However, napkins were not an uncommon conversation topic among the Americans we knew.

What everyday differences have surprised, confused or frustrated you when you’ve traveled? We’ve got a couple more (you know, like ordering a Coke "to go"), so I’m sure you have some, too!

Learning To Be From Kentucky

This post was originally published on a MySpace blog I had for a while. Remember MySpace? Well, the blog (and MySpace) went away, but I thought I'd bring back this post. It tells about a different kind of cultural experience!

I like horses. They’re phenomenally beautiful creatures.  Majestic.  Powerful. 

So when I needed one more credit to graduate from college, I thought, “Yeah… horseback riding. I’m from Kentucky – I should know how to do that.” 

There’s an unfortunate problem with horseback riding classes, though. The teachers are familiar with horses.  Too familiar. 

The very first day a chippy blonde girl tried to get me to jam my hand into a horse’s mouth.  “See!  There’s no teeth back here,” she prattled on, prying open the slobbery lips.

Apparently, this task was necessary for me to basically gag the horse and open his mouth to accept a painful bit.  Hmmm… really?  Horses are big.  You remember… majestic and powerful. 

So I whined enough and failed enough that the happy horse woman did it for me.  She did give me a disdainful glance as if to say, “What are you even doing in this class if you can’t put your hand in the horse’s mouth on the first day?”  Look, I’m just trying to graduate.

While trying to clean the hooves, I had to ram my shoulder into his thigh, attempting to knock him off balance until he lifts a foot. No, city girl was not happy. In fact, I cried after the first three or four classes.  I even genuinely considered not graduating over this horseback riding nonsense. 

I mean, what happened to standing on a platform, hopping on the horse, and proceeding up the mountain trail? That’s what I needed – not this “one foot in the stirrup, hanging dangerously off one side, attempting to pull myself ‘up and over!’ with the upper body strength of a kitten.”     

It all fell apart when I was in the stall with my horse fastened to the wall. I was supposed to clean and saddle him… in hopes of actually riding. I was trying to brush him when the dance began.  He side-stepped back and forth… as much as his tether would allow… while I chased him with the curry comb. 

Before long, Mr. Horse is so over my grooming plan that he whinnies loudly, rears back, and… snaps the chain right off the wall! Well, that was enough for me. 

I scurried out of the stall, locked the door, and looked. Proverbial tumbleweed is rolling through the barn.  Where are the instructors?  The students?  Oh, yes… they’re already out riding in the ring.  Too familiar with horses, I’m telling you. 

So basically, I begged not to have to ride the horse.  I produced a single tear to roll pitifully down my dirty cheek.  And I was reassigned to the slowest, oldest, fattest horse in the place. 

It was marvelous. Classmates mocked me.  I didn’t care. While other horses took “detours” on our trail rides, my girl plodded along the planned path. And at the end of class, when everyone else marched into the field and released their horses, I stayed in the barn. A three-year old was coming to ride.  Cool.    

I like horses. What about you? Do you like to ride horses?

Working Without Papers

After his moment in the spotlight, Billy began working at a warehouse, preparing cardboard displays for department stores. He also packaged gloves in clear boxes, ready for retail shelves. The job wasn’t difficult, but the conditions were grueling. 

First of all, having recently arrived in the States, Billy was without a car and relying on LA’s public transportation system. He was required to take three trains and two buses one way to arrive at work. Since his job started at 6am, he left his house every day at 3:15 in the morning… or as I like to call it, the middle of the night! Being even five minutes late meant no work and no pay.

To help ease some of the commute, Billy used his first check to buy a bicycle. This allowed him the freedom to cut out one of the bus routes if the wait seemed long. Sadly, one month later, while he was talking with Guatemala on a pay phone, someone stole his bicycle. Welcome to America!

The job was also day-to-day work. Each afternoon, a list was posted letting workers know who was hired for the next day. If your name was not there, days or weeks may go by before you were called in again. The insecurity, pressure, and intense competition of the workplace made it highly stressful employment.

When Billy tells me about his first job in the States, it just sounds crazy. I can’t fathom commuting nearly six hours a day. (Oh yeah, he had to come home on another three trains and two buses…) Nor can I truly comprehend the stresses he experienced. As it turns out, this job would be the first of several gigs as an undocumented worker. And it would prove to be the least sketchy of them all.

P.S. I've been writing a series of posts about how my husband and I met and began dating, If you want to start from the beginning, click here or continue on to the next post, Free To Wait Tables and Dig Holes.

P.S.S. If you enjoyed last week's How My Husband Came to the States post AND hardcore Christian Spanish rock music is your cup of tea, you may excited to know that you can now download "No More Suffer" for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!
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