My husband just started taking Japanese classes in the evenings after work, so everyone in the house now is learning to speak in one way or another. After stringing cardboard beads onto long strands to make mobiles, I started cutting out letters to make alphabet beads in both English and Japanese. Japanese has two phonetic alphabets called hiragana and katakana in addition to kanji characters (derived from Chinese characters). One of my biggest challenges when learning to read Japanese hiragana was recognizing the slightly different ways of writing the hiragana. I thought this activity of getting all the slightly different looking letters together would be a good exercise in recognizing environmental print (albeit out of context) for both my husband and my 2 1/2 year old.
The only materials we used for these picture stand-ups were cardboard boxes from the grocery store, sturdy scissors, (We have chicken boning scissors from my father, who uses them on the farm for their original purpose.) paper tape (more beautiful than plastic tape) and pipe cleaners or wire.
You can make mobiles, spell out words, or make strings of letters with needle and thread. How about a rudimentary version of Scrabble or some other kind of game? I served this mekan (pronounced mee-kon) (Japanese for tangerine) for breakfast. Fruit + chopstick + carboard beads. Mmmmmm.