The emergence of digital games has elevated game-based language learning to a new level. Recently the role of digital games in language learning has aroused the attention of both language researchers and game designers who put effort into providing appropriate pedagogical support to maximize learning in gaming environments.
A study of the relationship between digital game-based learning and learners’ Willingness to Communicate (WTC) was conducted by Reinders and Wattana (2014). In this study, thirty English learners from Thailand enrolled in a University language course were required to complete six 90-minute lessons playing Ragnarok Oneline. In order to gauge participants’ WTC, a series of questionnaires were administered at the start and end of the course. The results show that there are many positive effects of digital games, for instance, language learners feel more confident and willing to communicate after playing Ragnarok Online.
When using digital-games as the language learning medium, learners are more willing to communicate with each other in English, meanwhile, in a game environment, learners are less anxious and feel better about their ability to use English than in a class environment. When these learners are asked about digital-games, they say digital-games really help their English fluency, because in a class environment, learners have limited access to opportunities for foreign language use, on the contrary, digital-games can achieve this goal. Moreover, digital-games make learners have more confidence in using English. Sometimes, learners are unwilling to share their ideas and feelings in class; they prefer to share personal information in digital-games.
Digital game-based learning creates a less anxious environment for learners to communicate with a real audience for functional purposes. However, in this relatively new field, there are also many constraints. The most significant problem is that some frequent game players only focus on the game itself, instead of applying the game to language learning. These players regard unknown words as “symbols” without understanding them so that their language competence hasn’t been improved. Furthermore, different players may have distinct attitudes toward digital games: some of them have no interest in digital games; while others may be addicted to games.
Admittedly, successful integration of commercial digital games into language learning and teaching activities is a demanding task. Educators need to prepare game players for language learning and frame game playing conditions into academic contexts. In other words, educators should consider how to balance entertainment and learning and how to design tasks and curricula that fit the game into educational contexts.
Digital game-based learning is a new field, but it has a great deal of potential. We believe that in the future it will attract more usage in foreign language communication and foreign language acquisition.
Have you ever learnt language through digital games? Do you think digital game-based learning is a useful approach? How could such digital games be used by language teachers and learners? You are welcome to contribute your ideas, comments, or suggestions in this weblog!