(Sims™ Screenshots excerpted from The Sims, Copyright 2000 Electronic Arts Inc.)

(Sims™ Screenshots excerpted from The Sims, Copyright 2000 Electronic Arts Inc.)

Purushotma’s (2005) paper argues how important the new term “edutainment” is to educators teaching adolescent students. It has been largely explored to achieve educational goals within entertainment content (e.g.: the applications of online games, music videos, typing tutors, etc.).

The author provides a case from her own experience of language learning. With the memorization of vocabulary irrelevant to everyday life and dullness of completing practice exercises in her high school, the author failed her German class. However, she was later encouraged in learning German again by using music sites but mainly, a video game called ” The Sims”, which helped her progress a lot in L2 learning. By playing video games in German rather than in English, the author was able to relate German words to her L1 in the gaming environment. Meanwhile, when the player makes some wrong comprehension about certain words and executes the orders incorrectly, the character would act weird in the game to make the player realize his/her mistakes.

Similar practices can be extended to music video. Studies show that previous attempts to engage music in classroom can be challenging because of students’ different tastes in music and because music lyrics can be difficult.  Therefore, Purushotma suggests a new method for teachers: through 3D spatialized sound technology, teachers can delay the time of the sound delivered to each ear while inserting instructional content, for example, the translation of the unfamiliar words in the lyrics.  Purushotma also introduces the Pimsieur series which focuses exclusively on the use of auditory material.  Through this kind of language learning system, students can load the materials on their cellphone and they don’t need to take a book with them.  In occasions when time or attention is less valued, such as walking to school or waiting for the bus, the Pimsleur series can be used effectively.

It’s fair to say that educators could make some modifications to the daily digital practices so that students can learn in the entertainment context without wasting their free time. Modifying media in the way that Purushotma suggests seems to us to have both affordances and constraints:

The affordances:

  1. Capture the interests of adolescent students;
  2. Provide repeated exposures to L2;
  3. Develop rich content for incidental learning, task-based learning and simulated immersion.

The constraints:

  1. Teachers have difficulty  in providing class-relevant materials to the learners from the popular media forms;
  2. Most of these media forms focus only on a sole aspect like listening or reading.

In conclusion, language instruction embracing popular media forms could be implemented in various contexts even without arousing people’s awareness of studying.


  1. Do you have experience of using the popular media forms and how do you feel about it?
  2. As a teacher, would you recommend popular media forms as a learning tool to your students? Why?
  3. What other affordances and constraints of popular media used in language education can you think of?

36 thoughts on “Popular Media Forms in Language Learning

  1. Although I have no such experiences, I think it’s awesome. If i were a teacher, I’d like to recommend my students to have a try. It is brilliant to combine language learning and entertainment. It’s a good improvement for learners’ motivation. Also they will forget that the purpose is to learn while they play and actually learn something unconsciously. So do you have any good apps of these that would be helpful for language learning to recommend?

    • Hello, Emma. Yes, this is a good way to arouse students’ motivition through entertainment. However, if the teachers intend to conduct successful outcomes of the lesson, he or she needs to well prepare the entertainment activity or the equipment used in/after the class. Personally, I suggest the apps applied such as games, could be closely relevant to our daily life so that students have the access to learn some basic vocabulary or phrases at the beginning stage while entertaining themselves. Specifically, the games involving cooking meal, haunting for jobs, managing rooms or building houses could be some good options.

    • I agree with you. The balance of entertainment and language learning should be taken into consideration during the implementation, which is demanding for curriculum designer. They need to design and adapt activities throughout the course.

  2. I downloaded an app named 懒人听书(lan ren ting shu). You can listen to English literature, film, series, books, poems, and so on and so forth. When I had lunch or walked alone sometimes, or when I was about to sleep, I picked different English materials to listen, like Friends, Titanic….If I did not get the meaning, I could check the subtitles provided by the app.
    I think language learning with new media is an amazing combination.

    • Thank you, Melody, for sharing your experience with us. I will try it too ^^. And I believe there are all kinds of apps that also allow us to have access to audio versions of novels, plays and TV programs etc.. We can make use of them both as language learners and language teachers.

    • I have also tried this APP to learn Cantonese and Spanish! It has the audios of lots of books of various languages, and the lessons are taught in English, which is really amazing. I can learn another language from a perspective of a speaker of English. For example, when I learn Cantonese in English, it feels rather different when I learn Cantonese in Mandarin.

    • Haha, you are a good student with perseverance! If I were you, I would offload the app quite soon. I think if a teacher is going to adopt this method, some kind of regulations like everyday check of new vocabulary learning is needed.

    • I also tried this kind of app before. Actually I still have a VOA online listening app in my cellphone. But frankly speaking, I seldom listen to it now. I think many learners, like me, are highly motivated to use this kind of app at the very beginning, but give up very soon. Therefore, the problem is how to maintain and sustain our motivation. This kind of learning is boring actually, because in the whole process learners just keep receiving information passively. If the learner is more instrumentally motivated, that is to say he/she uses this app just for the purpose of learning English, then I think he/she will give up very soon. But if he/she downloads this app because of personal interest in listening to the stories or other integrated motivation, maybe he/she can carry on.

      In this sense, I think I belong to that kind of person who is learning for learning’s sake. Maybe you enjoy the stories so that you can carry on.

  3. With the digital development and all kinds of online softwares, the process of L2 learning becomes easier and more amazing. It makes it possible that one can learn as he entertains himself. I believe effective use of digital technology will shorten our learning time and enhance our learning outcome. The only question is how to use it in an effective way.

    • Yes, you’re right! There are a lot of digital media forms for language learners, but some learners and teachers cannot make effective use of them and hence result in wasting of time. It is a question that we should pay more attention to.

    • Yes. I also think that these digital materials should be well adapted to meet the goal of certain lesson and course.

  4. It is an interesting way of learning. If only I could apply this method to the learning of French before. Since there is the constrain that teachers have difficulty in providing class-relevant materials to the learners from the popular media forms, this kind of learning can be drawn on as a complementary way of learning after class so that students can enjoy the fully relaxed environment of learning.

    • These media forms can be integrated into language classroom, and they can also be applied in after-class activities. But I agree with you that we cannot only rely on them but make use of them as a tool or stimulus.

    • I totally agree with you, Cassie. This should be used as a way to help students learn outside the classroom (learner autonomy). But maybe should not be employed in a traditional classrooms.

  5. Wow~ The method looks very practical in teaching. Here I have a question that how to train the students to form such a habit to learn independently?

    • I guess when students find these kinds of activities attractive, they will have the motivation to use it and stick to it. Especially when they can feel their own achievements of learning through all kinds of technologies, they will have more confidence in language learning, and fall in love with these new forms of language learning immediately.

    • I agree with scarlett. Also, I think so long as teachers implement the new media forms well and intrigue students’ interest, they will have the willing to learn.

  6. Em, I played The Sims with my friend but I did not learn a single new word from it, haha… I have two doubts hope you guys could cast some light on. 1. Vocabulary learnt from games (if not specialized for English learning) is not largely associated with daily or academic English. Maybe words like rifle could be easily learnt, but how often would we use these words? 2. I do appreciate the usefulness of music or games, but how could we promote students’ learner autonomy. Students are too lazy to refer to dictionaries these days. What could we do about this?

    • Your experience reminds me how often I would hear people say they would like learn some English through watching foreign movies and TV series but none of them ever succeeded. The language in movies and TV series is much more authentic than those in all the textbooks, but few of us could make full use of them. The problem should definitely be taken into serious consideration as we try to make learners autonomous to learn with such games. Perhaps new games with clear study goals, learning steps and assessment are waiting to be developed.

  7. As both student and teacher, I like using popular media as teaching tools because it always make me feel curious. I personally tried many ways, online forum, skype, video record, and so on. It acutually even broaden my interests. Before the teacher asked me to do a video record, I knew nothing about how to record and edit videos. Now I am a big fan of making videos.
    But I am also thinking maybe it’s better for teachers to foucus on one new popular media teaching way every time. Because students need time to learn how to use and adapt to it, also for teachers, it’s easier to track students’ performance.

    • Yeah, I agree with Lily, it takes time for students to get familiar with new games, and use it to promote language learning. If some students cannot discipline themselves, they maybe indulged in the games. If they deeply absorbed in games, this kind of learning method need to be improved and teachers should make some adjustment to make it an appropriate for students to learn language through playing games.

    • Yes, I agree. Among the different teaching channels (CMC, video, game…), we should choose the one that is most suitable for your classroom. Then, stick to it and modify the approach.

  8. I agree with Scarlett,
    popular media as teaching tools will deinitely motivate students to learn,furthermore, making students stick to it and have longterm progess of learning is also very crucial.

    • Yes. Long-term progress of learning is of great significance. Traditional ways of teaching sometimes just fail to attract students’ attention. It’s often the case that students will automatically turn to something more interesting because of the dullness of studying in fixed ways.

    • Yeah, there seems to quite a large variety of such media out there that would appeal to people of many ages (not only adolescents). As I have pointed out in other posts, I think that such technology is a useful supplement to one’s language practice, but ultimately few will get the amount of practice needed to really become fluent. The best way to L2 fluency is participating in some sort of community online (or face to face, of course) where the focus is not language practice but maintaining relations with people who share similar interests to the learner IMO.

  9. This seems like a wonderful method to activate students’ motivation, that it can raise students’ interests in learning a boring strange language, especially at the beginning. But there are also issues that need teacher’s to control such as studens’ addiction in games.

    • Yes, I do agree with you, sometimes, students need teachers to be the controller, and manage them to use entertainment tools to learn language.

  10. Interesting post. I think it is an ongoing constraint of teachers to find relevant content to teach students. As students are constantly changing, it is hard to find material that matches all the levels of one class. Also, it seems that teachers and schools are now being put into a position of having to learning about technology in a way that can benefit their students. Maybe teachers need to learn to make apps and programs themselves that they could use in their schools. I know of a few schools in Hong Kong that have made many iPad apps so that they can use them in the lesson and so that students can use them at home. I don’t know how or if it helped the students though.

    • There are also some apps and softwares developed by schools used in their teaching and communication with students and even the parents. I wonder if the apps you mentioned function as some thing like CANVAS as we have. Or those apps are particularly designed for a certain subjects. If English teaching could have its own app, teaching and learning would be much more convenient.

  11. I feel the choice of web apps is very important, and sometimes, for students, they prefer playing some entertainment tools when learning a new language, which could motivate their interests.

    • Yes, Yueming. But students still need the monitoring from the teacher. Because interest may motivate students to learn, but it won’t last long. I think as teachers, we still need to make clear instructions for students to make sure everything is on the track, to help student develop the habit of self-study.

    • The right choice is always much more important than good designing of the app sometimes. In my view, the motivation-stimulating app can be called a good one. Simple tasks can also make students autonomous learners.

  12. I have to say I am a big fan of Sims. this game taught me some cultural stuff of western society. It does have some affordances, for example, learners could relax from stressful daily learning. However, as a teacher I probably would not introduce this to my students, because my experience taught me normal people would addicted into this kind of games, I would spend a whole day playing it nonstop.

  13. I have the experience of learning English via those media mentioned above. In middle school, my teacher used to teach English songs because students could learn new vocabularies and the correct pronunciation from learning music. As a teacher, I’ll recommend language learning via media since I think that media is a good method to arouse students’ interest. Additionally, with the right guidance from teacher, student could use media properly. For the constraints, from my view students should be provided with well-designed media which lead students focus more on the content of media instead of the forms.

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