Kids and Play: Language Not Required

Kids need other kids.

When we took our kids away from their friends to travel, we were a little nervous about whether they’d have the social interaction they needed to be happy. We were hoping they would get along well enough with each other, and we also hoped we’d meet other kids along our way. Very gratefully, both became true. Although we did meet some fantastic English-speaking families who were world traveling like us, we also met many non-English-speaking children, some local Asian and some European children, whom our kids could communicate with through play without exchanging many words, if any. That didn’t stop them from giggling, running, building, wrestling, shrieking, and establishing a mutual understanding of the game plan: to have fun!


My kids have had to choose between playing with kids who don’t speak English, or not having anyone new to play with.  Once they were willing to take the leap, it was amazing how easily it unfolded.  There was no need for one child to teach the other what play looks like in their culture, because play is a universal language.


It doesn’t matter what country a child is from, what language she speaks, what foods she eats, whether she lives in a 3 bedroom house with a car out front or in a one room hut with a cow out front, if you throw her a ball and give her a smile, she’ll understand you perfectly.


This is a 2 minute video of the playful interaction between my kids and non-English-speaking kids in SE Asia, or at least the moments I was lucky enough to catch on film. You won’t hear much English, but notice the noises, the gestures, the expressions, the physicality and the quiet.

What did my kids gain from playing with kids who don’t speak English?

They learned to connect and communicate in nonverbal ways, to allow things to go unsaid, to go with the flow of play as opposed to managing play, to observe rather than to ask. They learned that kids are kids, and play is play, everywhere.  And like many educational aspects of travel, I’m sure there are benefits to spending time with non-English speakers in the non-western world that I’m not aware of.  One of the values of this experience is refraining from measuring and evaluating the educational product of the way my kids spend their time.


Sitting on a train in Vietnam, these two used that other universal language that children use today: technology.  Using Google translate, they found out each other’s favorite foods, games and movies.


Western cultures are word-obsessed. Adults talk too much. Personally, I talk waaaaaaay too much.  I must be heard. I must be understood. If I doubt for a moment that someone doesn’t “get it”, I come at it from several angles in an effort to be thorough and clear.  I repeat, thorough and clear!   It’s like I literally cannot stop myself.  Ya know?  It’s not just me, because I know plenty of women, and men (though fewer), in our culture who can give you an earful.  We feel that we have to exhaustively explain everything to our children and to each other, and we end up drowning our life experiences in verbiage, half of which is garbage. Language is so overrated.  Just watch the kids; as usual, they show us the way.  Blah, blah, blah.


He has no idea what she’s going on about, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying the moment.

Thanks for following Far Away Five!  Now quit your chatter and go find someone who doesn’t speak English; good luck with that.



4 thoughts on “Kids and Play: Language Not Required

  1. My little sister used to be exactly like that when on holiday. She wasn’t able to communicate with other children due to different languages. But that didn’t stop her at all. She still managed to make best friends with other kids in no time. It’s fascinating how they do it.

    Liked by 1 person

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