Can we learn a language while playing video games?


In recent years, online gambling has become a source of concern, with parents fearing that their children will develop an addiction to their leisure that would put them outside society. Some have been very inventive to reduce the place of games in schedules, including limitingperiods of Internet connection.

It must be remembered, however, that all the research on children and video games is far from painting dark pictures of the situation. On the contrary, more and more works suggest that apprehensions are unfounded and that gambling could be a valuable educational tool for developing children’s sociability .

Video games could offer similar benefits to the interactive whiteboardsand tablets that many schools use to stimulate student interest.

Overcoming inhibitions

Language learning seems to be a perfect opportunity to “gamify” the courses. Some schools already use Minecraft – the idea being that students develop a common learning zone on the platform, finding new words that will help them through the process.

James Paul Gee , a leading researcher on video games and learning, has argued that role-playing games like The Elder Scrolls or World of Warcraftopen up an ideal learning space for what he calls students ” at risk “. In principle, there is a need for challenge, support and flexibility in these games so that students do not feel insane, and, perhaps most importantly, they even have some mastery of the learning process.

Any of us could be one of those “at risk” students, according to Gee’s definition. These may be young people with special educational needs, such as students who simply feel more vulnerable in a language course. After all, discovering another language requires some to really get out of their comfort zone. For example, they may feel nervous and intimidated in the classroom. Researchers specializing in language learning see this phenomenon as a sort of “emotional filter” – the fear of making a mistake and losing face play on the propensity to participate in the course.

My research focuses specifically on language learning – a subject that students seem to experience more than just enjoying. They are based on the work of Philip Hubbard , a leading expert in the use of technology to improve language learning. He has already suggested that while technology may be useful in the classroom, there is no established strategy for using it – and that’s where my research comes in.

Their goal is to identify this strategy and answer the following questions: how would video games be useful, why would some students prefer to learn through play rather than attending a class, what aspects of the game? language learning could we improve as well?

Maintain motivation

Role-playing games, especially massively multiplayer role-playing games (MMOs) such as World of Warcraft , Final Fantasy XIV and Runescape tend to bypass potential timidities. Players must communicate in real time , with no room for maneuver to question what to say and how to say it as best as possible.

This immersion may seem terrifying for someone learning a language. But, in reality, a very useful game study conducted by Ian Glover – a lecturer on technology-enhanced learning at Sheffield Hallam University – has shown that students experience a very high level of extrinsic motivation when they play. In other words, they really want to go to a higher level, to earn bonuses and rewards, which they define as the criteria of excellence in the space of play.

Therefore, they will strive to improve their communication so that they can move faster – and that can go even further. Players are often encouraged to repeat levels to improve their performance.

Build relationships

This is what the researcher Zoltan Dörnyei describes as “flows driving the motivations”. This concept implies that, for some students, motivation is completely based on their personal vision of success.

This is an important point as, if the theory that students learn foreign languages ​​only to check the boxes required to obtain a degree, they will be satisfied with the minimum knowledge to acquire to validate their year. On the contrary, if success in language courses is linked to success in the game, then it can be a strong way to maintain their interest and develop their language skills.

Video games can also help learners develop more complex social skills. This approach is inspired by the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtinwho thought that a truly meaningful communication resulted from efforts to negotiate between cultural differences and developing solutions.

This often happens in a video game when players search for their roles, but most importantly, these negotiations result in a relationship – meaning a sense to share and a sense of belonging. A study conducted in Japan revealed that players are mainly turning to these online games to build social connections.

Will schools of the future teach languages ​​through play? This remains to be seen, but given all the evidence that play promotes social relationships and teamwork – while providing real opportunities for sharing ideas and learning – there may be good arguments to leave aside for a time these manuals and connect to this virtual world.

Author Bio: Christopher Timothy McGuirk is a Lecturer in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) at the University of Central Lancashire