20 Feb 2014

Games Could be Used to Teach Foreign Languages

Use Games to Boost Language Learning

The concept of making learning fun is not a new one. For years, teachers have passed out gold stars or smiley stickers to pupils for doing well in the class quiz or on a homework assignment.

From primary school sing-alongs teaching children their ABCs, to some of the trickier mnemonic devices aimed at maximising information retention, games have been employed to engage students in the process of learning.

And in recent years the interest among pedagogues in the idea of ‘gamification’ has really taken off, in large part due to the increasingly familiarity of children from more affluent countries who play video games and use mobile phone apps.

Game theory

The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education describes gamification as “the integration of game elements, mechanics, and frameworks into non-game scenarios”.

Dr Jonathon Reinhardt, assistant professor of English Language/Linguistics and co-director of the Games To Teach Project at the University of Arizona, says gamification is a new term for an old educational approach.

Repetitive activity can be transformed from ‘difficult’ or ‘boring’ to ‘challenging’ simply by offering rewards for getting jobs done. In the workplace, staff feel more motivated if they are able to display signs that signify their achievement. These signs can range from simple badges to an office leaderboard that ranks workers according to their weekly successes.

And social networking has been described by some as the ultimate in gamification, turning life into one big contest where ‘players’ are rewarded with ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’, and scores depend on how many ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ they have.

Science fun

Even medical science is getting in on the act. Recently, “citizen scientists” from 179 different countries signed up to help British researchers try and unlock the mysteries behind cancer.

Around 75,000 gamers have downloaded the world’s first smartphone game designed to unravel genetic data of cancer patients.

The Cancer Research UK game Play To Cure: Genes In Space is set 800 years in the future. Players are challenged to steer their spaceship to collect a valuable material called Element Alpha.

Gamers map out their route with the aim of collecting as much Element Alpha as possible. As they navigate their craft through space they are actually mapping out genetic data, which will later be analysed by scientists.

Language quiz

Now, the world of foreign language learning has dipped its toe into the realm of gaming.

Australian engineer Lars Yenken has launched The Great Language Game. Players are challenged to guess between more than 80 by listening to short pieces of speech.

Everyone is allowed three mistakes, and at the end of the game players are presented with information on the languages they missed.

The addictive game features some obscure and unusual tongues, and many players will for the first time get the opportunity to hear languages such as Amharic, Fijian and South Efate delivered by native speakers.

For any foreign language teachers out there needing some tips on how to integrate gamification into their lesson plans, Dr Reinhardt has a few simple suggestions:

  • Use a point system that relates to learning and classroom behaviours
  • Introduce a reward system – this could be badges for error-free first drafts or a week of speaking only in the target language
  • Reward cards for good work could be handed out that allow students to look up a word they should know, or gain immunity from failing a future quiz
  • Plan activities as competitions between student teams
  • Design a syllabus as an adventure game, with different levels of difficulty for the same content, activities designed as collaborative quests, and multiple learning pathways to get to the same destination


 
 

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