Can you learn languages from video games?

Can you learn languages from video games?

Many people are still sceptical about the use of video games in teaching, but they have great educational potential and, especially in the field of language teaching, the interest in the possible application of video games in the teaching process is growing. This is the so-called Digital Game-Based Learning (DGBL), a teaching method that incorporates educational or learning content in video games with the aim of involving students.

In fact, the popularity of games in nowadays culture is constantly increasing as is the curiosity of young people towards forms of foreign language learning in less conventional ways.

Today's young people are considered digital natives, as they were born in a world saturated with technologies, which have changed the way of thinking and have brought about significant changes in young people, for whom technological tools and therefore also videogames are an integral part of their everyday life, if not even "prostheses" in their study and recreation activities.

Today it is possible to start a linguistic exchange through the audio chat game. The game itself is obviously a topic to talk about among the exchange partners. Even if you are not very good at speaking or you are only a beginner in the language, you can still understand the activities to be done in the game and thus start a conversation in a foreign language with the game partner. Also, you will not miss any topics to talk about because you will always have a discussion with your partner and there are plenty of foreign players to make friends and have fun with. Finally, there are no place limits because you can talk to your partner directly and without arranging any meeting in a certain place.

Let us not forget also that often learning a new language with classic tools such as books and face-to-face lessons with teachers is boring and uninspiring and a student quickly loses the desire. Some video games combine language learning with fun and offers many opportunities to socialize and expand your sphere of friends, especially international ones. So why not ask friends you meet on to take part in a challenge with a video game to improve the language and have fun?

Specifically, there are several arguments that demonstrate the effectiveness of using video games in educational contexts related to learning foreign languages, with which several scholars agree.

These include motivation and involvement. Video games are able to motivate students to stay involved for long periods of time through a high degree of interactivity and elements such as challenges, incentives (e.g. scores, stars, trophies), curiosity and imagination, which are considered as intrinsically motivating for the player. The player's involvement is facilitated by the fact that there are many ways to make the game flexible and personalized by the player and therefore adaptable to the player's needs by encouraging self-regulated learning during the game.

Furthermore, video games stimulate social interactions and foster learning by allowing players to be part of large communities, which require active collaboration, especially language collaboration, among the various members.

In order to deepen Digital Game-Based Language Learning, recent research has shown a growing interest in their application specifically in the field of language education.

There are two main ways in which video games can be used in learning a foreign language. First, the language is presented by the game itself during gameplay, with which students must interact to make progress in the game. This is achieved by reading and/or listening to the information given by the game; finally, the game itself does not present the language in question but promotes its use during gameplay.

It is commonly known that a foreign language is learned by using it, making mistakes and realizing where it is wrong, correcting those mistakes and then using the language correctly again. Based on this consideration, the video game is highly interactive and presents complex and often realistic virtual environments and contexts and is the perfect realization of multimedia as it combines visual, textual and auditory systems.

From the visual point of view, the salient feature of the videogame are its graphic elements, which are more and more faithful to reality and which cognitively facilitate the learner by integrating with the textual and auditory aspect.

The text has the essential function of helping the user to decipher the interface and configuration and interaction systems of the system that regulates the game and is also used to explain narrative or descriptive elements of the game.

Finally, audio (in particular, speech) in video games allows comparison with a living language. You can then learn idioms, idiomatic expressions, typical speech constructions and correct pronunciation.

In this perspective, one of the most famous games that promotes the learning of a foreign language is World of Warcraft. It is characterized not only by the use of text chats as the primary means of communication between users in the game but also by real-time voice communication for sharing information. Through chat and strategy discussions, players participate in first-person learning by also developing interpersonal relationships.

There are video games on the market that are specially designed for use in foreign language teaching. They are called edutainment games or serious games and differ from commercial off-the-shelf games, which are created exclusively for entertainment.

In general, simulation video games are the most widely regarded language learning games because they are more authentic, easier to use and provide access to discussions between the gamer community.

These games can bring several benefits, in fact, they not only promote the use of the foreign language selected by the player in specific contexts but also foster intercultural communication through dialogue with foreign game partners.

An example of a simulation video game that seems to be highly effective especially in terms of vocabulary learning is The Sims, developed by Electronic Arts in 2000. In this game, the player creates a virtual family that he or she will then guide in dealing with everyday life: he or she will build a house, help family members to find a job, be successful in their studies, and provide for their daily needs. The game therefore presents itself as a real life simulator and lends itself to learning vocabulary by virtue of the abundance of useful and everyday objects, actions and situations to which the student is exposed in the game environment, the particular words related to the house and furniture, as well as adjectives of personality and simple verbs of action.

In conclusion, serious games offer online virtual worlds that allow for many useful and educationally relevant actions, such as synchronous interaction and collaboration in various languages allowing the learning of the foreign language of interest in a pleasant and entertaining way.

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer
Language Exchange