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!

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54 thoughts on “Digital Game-based Language Learning

  1. Hello, everyone! You are welcome to contribute your ideas, comments, or suggestions in this weblog! Thank you so much. 🙂

  2. I don’t have the experience of digital game-based language learning, but I do think it’s an interesting way to motivate continuous learning. A friend of mine in the university had interests in nothing but play online games. He rarely attended classes, but he always did well in English exams. He said that most of his knowledge of English was learnt from online games. Although this learning method is not common and effective for everyone, it deserves to be tried and studied.

    • I agree with Cassie.Everybody loves to have fun, by integrating the recreational functin of games into language learning, we can further exploit the benefits of on-line games. However, many learners just can not find games that evoke their interests.In this case,I think individual favorism should be attatched more importance when designing games.

    • Got questions for ya. Did he have an excellent English proficiency level before university or did he make progess after playing games? If he already was an expert user of English in high school, then the whole situation changes. Another thing is that vocabulary in games may not cover daily or academic English, how did he manage to learn them? Glad to hear your answers 😀

    • Junjie ‘ s question is quite interesting. I think for Cassie’s friend, here the online game is a tool to motivate his interest more than a major learning method. Besides, the digital games used in language learning are always modified to better meet language learner’s actual need.

    • Hi Junjie! Thanks for your questions. My friend’s English proficiency had been good before university and English was his best subject in high school. Actually, since he was in high school, or maybe even younger, games had been his biggest motivation of English learning. For the second question, I think, many kinds of digital games can be seen as an online community in which players interact with each other to accomplish a task. Thus, they use English for real purpose, which is functional and motivating. In terms of academic English, I think, maybe he went to library secretly. Hahahaha~

  3. Learning language in a game environment instead of a classroom environment has many obvious advantages, such as feeling more confident and less anxious. Besides, there are also some online chats involved in this process, which allow learners to practice the target language with others.

    • Hello, Dear Jenny, Yes, it’s true, there are many advantages for digital game-based language learning. The most important thing is that this teaching method is different from other traditional ways, which could motivate students in some certain aspects. However, how to control the usage of this method and how to make students just take advantages of it without being addicted in it is another question.

    • Although online chat room can increase the amount of foreign language communication, the content of the conversation may repeated again and again. Whenever you find a new partner, the same topics may occur and thus no more language development will happe. I am afraid it’s a tough problem for autonomous learners.

  4. I do not have such experience but I think it’s good for learner’ motivation. It can be the combination of learning and playing. However, I also think it has some constrains. For those learners who have low self-control, they may easily be addicted to the games and forget what the main purpose is. What’s more, this kind of digital game may need much time in it. I think this can be experienced under some kind of supervision and that will be great learning process.

    • I agree with you. This kind of learning is limited to a certain situation- online game. So vocabulary and structure concerning other contexts will not be much involved. As a result, leaners can only communicate in respect of playing a game in L2.

    • Yes, I really appreciate your point that this kind of digital game-based learning should under some special supervision especially for teenagers who have little self-control. Otherwise, it cannot work well with many potential weaknesses.

    • Yes, dear Emma, I couldn’t agree with you any more. It is very important for the teachers knowing that how to control this method, all of the students under supervision or put them into different groups, they could supervise each other, at the same time, students are “Learners” and also “Supervisor”. This may be feasible. Haha

  5. I did not try to teach through Internet game. I consider it as a good way for students to build up the confidence in English learning. Also, they can learn some specific words related to the game, Most importantly, if they cooperate with other players in the game, they can learn how to communicate effectively in L2. Teachers can make use of the method and apply it to the classroom teaching.

    • Hi Melody! I also think that learners are able to learn the specific words related to the game that they are interested in more effectively and efficiently. And they learn language for real communication, which also motivates them. Maybe you can have a try in the future. 🙂

    • Dear Melody, thank you for your comments. I do agree with you, that students could learn some specific terms and vocabulary through digital game-based learning method. If the teacher and some game designers, they together and design a game for language learning purpose, maybe students could learn better. Haha, a well-planned digital games is very important.

    • There is also the issue that other ‘gamers’ may not fully accept a novice gamer into their community before that person can demonstrate a minimum competence in the game (and using the right kind of language). It may take some time for the novice to develop the right kind of disposition to be accepted by the ‘experts’.

  6. I think I agree with what others previously said. Digital-game learning may best suit those who have little motivation to learn a second language. I wonder if it is appropriate for a school to apply this kind of teaching in class as parents will be the first group of people to go against. So, it will be better for students to acquire a language automatically.

    • I agree with you, I wonder if parents can try the Digital-game learning and
      give some feedbacks.So, it will be better for the improvement of students

    • Hi Fiona. I also think that parents will be the first barrier especially in secondary schools, because many young students have low self-control and they play games for fun instead of for language learning. Thus, teachers have to make clear and convincing plan of this kind game-based learning and negotiate with parents in advance.

    • My dear Fiona, I agree with you. And I think the parents would doubt about this method, because they want their children learn through books and other materials instead of games. I think maybe teachers could explain this program to parents and ask them also join in this activity together. I think maybe they would be happy.

  7. I agree with you, I wonder if parents can try the Digital-game learning and
    give some feedbacks.So, it will be better for the improvement of students

  8. I also think that Digital-game can be used to test learners and
    measure language improvements in a relaxed way.

  9. I would love to apply the game-based approach in language teaching for lower level leaners, because nobody would turn that down, even can stimulate students’ interest for language learning. However, the existing games for language learning are limited and I am not familar with how to evaluate them.
    So I would like to know more about how to access to these language games, also how to choose games for different teaching purposes.

    • Good question! I am also interested in how to choose these games. We cannot randomly choose one but I personally do not like to play games. What should we do?

    • Exactly, Gavin. I am also a person who dislike playing online games because I found it’s very hard for me to understand those complex instructions and can’t react immediately in teamwork. But it doesn’t mean that the easier a game is, more popular it will be, or more effective it worked in language learning. So I am really interested with how to assess the games professionally.

    • It is difficult and demanding for teachers to select and modify games which are suitable and applicable for language education. The one that I can think of is NBA 2K15 ( ) which is an interesting digital game about basketball. If learners are interested in basketball, they can almost learn all the vocabulary, sentences and specific utterances of basketball games. Players will immerse themselves in all English environment. There are some other games for different target groups, so teachers should carefully select and modify the games for different learners to meet the goals and objectives of the course.

    • Actually, lots of researchers have studied how different kinds of digital games help to motivate language learners to learn foreign languages. I guess it is extremely important for language teachers to open their minds and accept these new forms of language learning, and make the best use of them.

    • Lily!! Dear Lily, I agree with you, I also think the existing games have many limits, because their purpose is not for language learning, so I really want a well-designed games for language learning. But maybe we need some game designers, Haha, so it is so significant for teachers knowing which games are could used in language learning.

  10. The topic seems very interesting and worth trying. However, I have a very small question that is it too distracted for younger students to learn English. What is more, is it suitable for the students to apply the language that they learn from the digital games? BTW, very good conclusion work~

    • Good questions! Admittedly, game addiction is the biggest challenge for this approach, so the further management and instruction is needed. And it is not a good choice to apply the digital games directly to language learning. Some appropriate modifications are necessary.

    • Dear Mia, Thank you for your reply. the language that students learn from digital games is more like the world language. What they learn form the classroom is more like the standard language. I think may be the teacher could be the helper, after they use the digital game-based learning method, the teacher could ask them what they have learnt, and maybe sometimes correct the language or tell them what language could be used. Haha. Thank you.

    • Thank you Mia! I think digital games can be regarded as stimulus rather than a suitable approach for the students. And this kind of motivation will encourage them to learn language constantly.

  11. The texts in digital games are also great materials for learners to learning their L2. Compared with the passages in the textbook, lots of learners are more willing to reading the text in the game they are playing. Besides, digital games gave learners a new identity in the virtue world, and they can use their new identity to communicate with each other. The fulfillment of playing digital games can attribute to the motivation for language learners to communicate in English.

    • Wow, Dear Scarlett, thank you for mentioning identity problem. Many students don’t want to share their personal information such as their opinion and ideas with others. So in the digital game environment, they could use a new identity to share with others, which is such a motivation to them. Thank you again. Haha.

  12. Interesting topic. Online games might be a way to motivate students to learn a language. Students have to learn certain vocabulary in order to understand the instruction. Another point is that such games may push players to have synchronous communication with others. I think these two are the main reasons for students to learn the target language. But general speaking, I think its disadvantages outweigh advantages, because learners, especially young learners are quite easily addicted to it. Maybe in the future there is a teaching method which can perfectly integrate online games into language teaching.

    • Thank you for your answer. And the synchronous communication is really a good point. Learners have opportunities to practice the target language in a real-time communication. And again, game addiction is the biggest challenge of this approach. So certain instructions are required.

    • Hi Anika! I really agree with you about the two main reasons which can be regarded as stimulus for students’ continuous learning. Maybe in the future, there will be more interesting digital games designed for language learning rather than modifying the existed complex games. 🙂

  13. Also I am thinking why learners are more willing to speak English via online games than in class. Online games provide a more comfortable and relaxing environment, and players can have a virtual identity so that they are not afraid of making mistakes. Another point is that, maybe that is because online games communication is meaning-focused instead of focusing on form, so that learners care more about what they say rather than how they say. However in classroom learners care more about accuracy of the language, which makes them reluctant to speak. If our teaching can shift from form-focused to content-focused, maybe they are more willing to speak English.

    • Yes Anika. I agree with the two reasons you pointed out. Exactly, online games allow learners have new identities in a relax environment. So they are more willing to express themselves. Besides, this approach emphases on the functions and meanings of language, so learners’ mistakes are tolerated to some degree.

    • Thank you for your answer. And the synchronous communication is really a good point. Learners have opportunities to practice the target language in a real-time communication. And again, game addiction is the biggest challenge of this approach. So certain instructions are required.

    • Good point! I really like your explanation. Maybe different courses are designed for different purposes: some for forms and some for communication. I think your recommendation is quite valuable for speaking classes.

  14. We all need to learn how to make some digital games for our students. Maybe there is a site that has a template building style format that even some of us less tech savvy users will be able to access.
    Digital games have made their way into our student’s lives and they will only grow. It is us as teachers that need to lead them into a good direction to funnel that learning and edutainment.

    • Exactly, it is teacher’s responsibility to make some appropriate digital games and provide good direction.

  15. Yes, I have my own experience in learning language by games. Since every year there is some world-wide competition for games, there are always some hosts in that competition only use English to explain and describe the game. In that way, to understand the content I can only try my best to catch up with the authentic language use. But the players who use the second language to communicate with others usually adopt the language for mutual understanding so they may only use incomplete sentences or functional grammars which I think is not helpful for the students writing.

    • Hi Lizzy! I agree with you. Using language in the authentic situation can be really motivational. But this kind of digital game-based language learning is only suitable for certain group people for certain purposes such as vocabulary and daily communication. For academic purpose, this approach may not work well.

  16. Digital game based learning is a good approach to teach elementary level student. but not so useful for advanced learners. Lanugage diversity, whether in words, structures, and concepts, is limited due to the situations created by the game. However, advanced language learners are supposed to be exposed to a wide range of linguistic or grammatical features.

    • Hi Elaine! I agree with you that different digital games should be designed for different target groups. For beginners, they can play game to acquire vocabulary and sentences for daily use. While for higher level students, they need more difficult language input.

  17. Thanks for your blog Yueming and partners. It appears that many of us feel that gaming could be a fruitful language practice activity for students as it is motivational and allows them to feel less pressure using the foreign language. I don’t have the experience of playing such games, but there do appear to be constraints as well, such as being accepted by the gaming community that one wishes to join. A novice should be patient at first and be willing to experiment with different kinds of identities. Over time s/he will know more about the community and how to interact with its members. That can be motivating but a little daunting at first.

  18. I assume that the digital game is a helpful method since many young learners can be easily engaged in the platform. However, as mentioned above, use of digital gaming needs a strong control by the teachers or parents, and moreover, the game needs well designed for language learning or students will only focus on enjoying playing the game instead of learning. And since there are some games offer a platform of interaction between players, students have the chance to communicate with the native speakers in target language. And that is another way of language learning through digital games.

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