How to Play Inappropriate Party Games in a Second Language

When you’ve mastered humor in a second language, you’ve mastered that language. I don’t think cracking jokes is part of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) tests, but being able to make jokes, puns, and funny cultural references in a second language demonstrates a high level of understanding that’s hard to reach.

I speak French, but not well enough to make jokes in French. Or so I thought.

Cards Against Humanity vs. Limite Limite

Over the holidays, my partner and I visited his family in France. While we were there, we played the game Limite Limite a few times. Limite Limite is essentially the French version of a popular anglophone party game called Cards Against Humanity. The two games aren’t affiliated with each other, but they’re played the same way.

Cards Against Humanity is very simple. The description from the game’s website is:

“Each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with their funniest white card.”

What makes Cards Against Humanity so hilarious (or uncomfortable, depending on who you play with) is that the questions and responses are typically considered offensive, inappropriate, or politically incorrect. You can make combinations that are hysterical, disgusting, horrible, or just plain bizarre. It’s a popular group game because it usually makes people laugh or brings people closer together.

Playing party games in a second language

If you’ve played Cards Against Humanity, then you know that the cards are full of slang and cultural references. You may have even encountered words or phrases you weren’t familiar with. I know I have.

As you can imagine, playing a party game like that in a second, third, or fourth language can be challenging. Of course, it depends on your level of fluency in that language. But as I said, my French skills aren’t at a cracking-jokes level. When my partner’s family decided we would play Limite Limite, I was apprehensive.

How did it go?

Playing Cards Against Humanity in French went better than I thought. I understood much more than I expected to, and I laughed a lot. It was a blast playing with my partner and his family, and if you have the language skills to play a game like this in your non-mother tongue, I say go for it.

If you play a game like Cards Against Humanity in another language, here’s what you can expect.

You will not understand everything

No matter your level of fluency, there is likely to be a card you do not fully comprehend. Keep in mind there are words or phrases in Cards Against Humanity you may not get, so it’s bound to happen if you play in a second language too. Expect this going into it so you don’t feel frustrated.

You will have to translate or look up words

As you will not understand every card, you will have to look things up. Keep your phone handy and consider downloading a translation app like WordReference so you can search for things quickly. Some terms you may have to Google because they’re cultural references. Be patient with yourself and ask the people you’re playing with to be patient with you too.

You may have to ask another player to explain a card to you

If WordReference and Google fail you when you don’t understand a card, then you have to ask someone else what it means. And that’s okay! Before the game starts, find one person who will agree to help you out and sit next to them. My partner sat next to me so he could translate or explain things to me without disrupting the game too much.

You will play a few cards that do not make sense (not in a funny way)

One thing you should know about me and Cards Against Humanity is that I’m not very good at it. That is, people don’t often choose my cards. I tend to have a style of humor that is a bit more non-sensical than most people prefer. On the whole, I also find that Cards Against Humanity has more absurdist humor on the response cards, whereas Limite Limite had more sexually explicit cards. I guess that reflects American vs. French humor.

Since I find it humorous to choose cards that don’t make much sense in the English version of the game, I struggled at first with Limite Limite. I tried to play non-sensical cards that made the other person chuckle and instead they would furrow their brow in confusion. If you end up playing a card that doesn’t fit (and you thought it did), don’t sweat it. Let the other person know didn’t fully understand the card. Or pretend you played it as a “throwaway” card and it wasn’t supposed to make sense anyway.

People may not understand you when you read a card

When it’s your turn to read a question/prompt card, enunciate as best you can. Take your time as you read it. If there’s a word you don’t understand or know how to pronounce, ask your neighbor for help. And if it’s too much of a struggle, ask a native speaker to read the card for you. The same goes for when you’re reading the response cards people hand you.

You will laugh at things you don’t get

When you’re surrounded by a group of laughing people, it’s easy to want to laugh too, even if you don’t 100% know what was said (just be sure they aren’t laughing at you). It happened several times that I didn’t catch everything somebody said, but I knew the gist, and so I laughed. It’s okay to do this a few times; you don’t want to hold up the game. But if something is really funny or you really don’t understand, ask someone to translate. You don’t want to miss out on the fun, either!

There might be some English words you get the honor of explaining

I can’t speak to other languages or cultures but the French use a lot of English words. We use French words in English as well, but English vocabulary definitely has a bigger influence on French than French has on English (in France, at least). When we played Limite Limite, a few English words popped up.

When the French speakers didn’t know what that word was, they turned to me. My bilingual partner was there too so it took some of that translation pressure off me. Why is this such a big deal? Remember that this game is full of explicit words, so if you do play Limite Limite in French, prepare yourself.

You will have a hilarious time

When you play a game like Cards Against Humanity in another language, there will be some hiccups. You shouldn’t let that stop you from enjoying yourself, though. You may understand more than you think you do. If you’re unsure you have a high enough level to play, try previewing some of the cards beforehand to see how well you understand.

Playing Limite Limite with my partner and his family was hilarious. I’m so glad I focused on having a good laugh with my in-laws rather than having perfect French. That’s the point of the game, after all.

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