Level up or lose a life? The benefits of video games in language learning

Last week I found myself playing Untitled Goose Game.

For those unfamiliar, you play as a goose on the loose, causing mischief and mayhem for the residents of an idyllic English village. As a former EFL teacher and lifelong learning nerd, it got me thinking about how the gaming experience might be applied to learning - wouldn’t it be a blast to incorporate video games into lessons, alongside more traditional methods of teaching? Or would it be a case of too much fun and not enough learning?

Research has shown that the act of immersing yourself in an action-packed, digital world can boost brain power and memory strength, increase connectivity between regions of your brain, improve mental dexterity and problem solving powers - so far so good. An interesting example of this is The Guinevere project (Games Used IN Engaging Virtual Environments for Real-time language Education) which aims to demonstrate the potential of digital game-based learning in 3D immersive environments in order to improve teaching, using a version of the educational phenomenon, Minecraft, that encourages team building and communication skills, all while using the French language. I can only imagine the engagement level of a classroom full of young learners playing Minecraft - the positive association of learning with play. 

Learning with video games requires players to use speaking, listening and reading skills in a natural way, all in a non-traditional learning environment which can help students who are anxious learners - according to a recent national survey, more than 78% of teachers noted that learning games, even video games, were effective in helping struggling students compensate for learning gaps in their traditional studies.

Thinking about the processes that are used to produce a video game, there are lessons to be learned from game designers that could benefit language learning. Think about what is achieved when a new game is launched - players are introduced and immersed in an entirely new, complex world where they have to learn complicated rules in order to survive and thrive. A concept some might say is not a thousand miles away from learning a language…

So will learning a language in the years to come see classrooms of students plugged into gaming consoles? With evidence suggesting that video games provide learners with opportunities to develop not only their language skills but also useful skills for learning in general, it’s exciting to see what the future holds!

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