by Chloe, Mandy, Sunnie, Stephy

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In Purushotma’s (2005) article, she argues that “edutainment”, which seeks to realize educational goals within entertainment settings, plays a significant role in students’ language learning. She emphasizes how games, Web browsing, Typing tutors, and pop music can be utilized in language learning. Let’s see more details in these examples .

Purushotma were recommended to use the Sims, a game simulating normal daily life, for her German learning. The Sims is a typical example of being able to integrate entertainment with education. Players are required to manage a virtual family through different tasks. During the control of the game in German version, Purushotma found that some vocabularies in the tasks match the words of her German homework so that she easily linked the new German vocabulary in class to relevant contexts in the game. More effectively, in this video game, when players fail to comprehend the German commands and make the wrong executions, the virtual character will act in a strange way which makes players realize their mistakes. In addition, Purushotma describes how the game can be ‘modded’ (i.e. changed) so that language learners can be given vocabulary hints as they play it.

L2 learners can accumulate words and phrases via browsing the Internet. By reconfiguring the layout and design of the browser interface in the target language, learners are exposed to L2 words and expressions when waiting for the website loading, thus learning new words and expressions without deliberately memorizing them. In addition, presenting study contents in the periphery of a student’s browser interface encourages continued rehearsal, which keeps learned items accessible in the long term (Bjork & Bjork, 1992; Forester, 2002).

According to Williams and Thorne (2000), following the instruction of a typing tutor, students learn a target language by typing customized sentences synchronized with the current course material, bi-lingual games or pop-music lyrics.

Purushotma also strongly argues that music is an important “edutainment” for language learning and teaching. Despite the various music tastes in a class, many resources like MTV international, net radios, and audioscrobbler, which can present synchronized lyrics (both original and translated versions) retrieved from online databases, allow teachers and students to choose their preferred music to facilitate language learning.

PROS: Based on the examples shown in the paper, combining language learning with various entertainments is effective in raising learners’ interest and concentration. Besides, students have the real chance to get involved into these entertainments, thus making language learning more stimulating.

CONS: Game addiction, unpredicted outcome (i.e. many people are attempting to learn English by using English songs but the outcome of learning is not so obvious) and low efficiency in leaning, particularly for teenage learners without self-discipline, are likely to be potential problems, which are worth considering when adopting these methods.


  1. Would you prefer to introduce any Games combining L2 with language leaning goals to your students? How would you insert them into your class?
  2. As mentioned above, entertainment language learning also has some constrains (i.e. game addiction, unpredicted outcomes and low efficiency). Do you have any ideas to solve these potential problems and how?
  3. Do you have any experiences in learning or teaching L2 with any forms of entertainment-focused media? If so, would you share it with us?

Image credit by our group members

44 thoughts on “Play for Fun, Play to Learn

  1. I love The Sims!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I have been playing this game since primary school. And that’s way I got nearsighted. I did not play the English version right at the beginning, I started with the Chinese version instead. When I went to middle school, I was suggested by my parents to change into English version. I found it useful in helping me remember the vocabularies in our daily lives. For example, giving a ‘charming introduction’ towards a stranger. We could learn charming as an adjective and from the action of the sims we could know this word is a positive word to show kindness.
    And after I got nearsighted, my mom started to limit the time for playing computer. With parents control it is good for students to form a good habit of using computers I think.

    • From your experience with Sim, I think you enjoyed very much so that you can learn the vocabulary unconsciously. It is a good way to accumulate the vocabulary especially when we learn English at the lower level.
      However, there are also disadvantages, such as your nearsightedness, and that’s why many children are prohibited to play the games.

    • I wonder if reading has a similar disadvantage: is it also a possible cause of nearsightedness? If it is, should children be prohibited from reading?

    • Hi, Christoph! Haha, I think you really raised an interesting question! In most cases, if the nearsightedness is caused by too much reading, parents in China may not stop their children from reading but help them to adopt good eye care habits. It seems unfair but that’s what they deal with gaming and reading. And this stereotype held by most parents that reading is helpful and gaming is mostly harmful for people’s both physical and mental health maybe an indication why it is hard to apply video games to language learning.

  2. In my junior high school, I would like to write down the lyrics of my favorite songs and then I would try to read the lines and learn how to sing the song. I think it is kind of helpful in learning language. However, as mentioned above, efficiency is a big problem. Compared with traditional teaching, this kind of learning method can add more interest but is time-consuming and of low efficiency. Sometimes entertainment itself will distract students’ attention from learning to only playing. So, personally, I think it could be an assistant teaching method rather than a dominant one.

    • You are right, this kind of method may only be a tool for teachers to arouse students’ attention in learning English but it may not be a good idea to be used all the time as students may still lose interest in it.

    • A lot of us are concerned with learning efficiently. I wonder if we’re maybe missing the point? If learning is fun, does it matter that we spend a bit longer doing it?

  3. When referring to games, we agree that games are interesting. It is attractive for learners to learn something through game plays. At least, language learning in digital games is not as boring as the way when we just recite and force us to memorize those “strange” foreign words. Bu what I am worried is that how long the digital games can draw learners attention to? After all, those games are designed for language learning rather than just for fun.

    • I have the same worry as you. Actually, I myself find it difficult to keep interest in a game designing for language learning. Teachers might be better to think about how to make motivation integrated through a game.

  4. It is new to me that we can learn language even when we watch music videos. The original lyrics can also be a kind of resource to learn. I have also was a gamer player of SIMA since I was primary school student, and I can remember some words which appeared in the screen. I did not realize that i was learning words. I totally agree with that putting students in entertainment setting can activate their learning autonomy, because they gain pleasure from the “edutainment” activities.

    • Maybe the SIMS serves as a kind of unconscious way of learning language for you. And I think one shortcoming of learning from lyrics is that a lot of lyrics are very simple sentences and some of them are incomplete sentences which will in reverse be harmful for students’ learning.

  5. I might suggest games involved in learning if my students don’t like traditional learning. Games would be a good supportive way to language learning. And for those students, they are excited when they get some language knowledge from a game and these knowledge tend to be built in their long-term memory.
    As for the constraints, I guess teachers can have students monitoring on their own activieis, like writing a diary which records what they learn.
    Some of my students learn English by reciting the English song they like. It does help in their spoken language, but in the meantime, it harms the formal use of the lanaguge in writing. As we know, sentences in lyrics may not be necessarily correct in grammar. Thus, we as a language teachers should inform students such limitations before they adopt certain kinds of entertainment in their language learning.

    • I agree with you. Provided that teachers explain the shortcomings of edutainment and monitor the progress effectively, students will enjoy and can still benefit from this kind of learning.

    • Listening to English song could be a negative point, since even native speakers can’t recognize those words and phrases, however, it can also be a challenge to stimulate L2 learners to practice harder and focus on them more.

    • I agree with your point that teachers should have a guidance for students to inform them of the limitations of some edutainment. But I think singing English songs does not do very much on learners’ speaking maybe more on their pronunciation only.

    • So it is better to be applied in the classroom where the teacher plays as a supervisor. Parents can set time for their kids if the homework is done at home. All in all, studying in a set period is good. Relaxing and learning at the same time, why not?

  6. I would like to introduce this kind of language learning to my students. It’s relaxed, interesting and motivated. To overcome the constraints of entertainment language learning, like the game addiction, teachers should increase supervision upon their students and also, for younger learners who have poor self-control ability, some types of entertainment language learning is not appropriate for them, like digital games. As for the third question, some people watch American TV series to learn spoken English. I also like watching American TV series and although it might not prove to be much helpful to my spoken English, I do improve a lot in my listening.

    • I also like watching American TV series, Tiffany! It helps improve my English to some extend, but most time I would consider more about the plot and watch the version with subtitles, which might reduce the learning effect.

  7. I have taken a course about web-based writing, the instructor introduced to us about Second Life which enabled learners to use an avatar to learn English. Although I thought it was a nice experience to incorporate this tool in a writing class, I did not recall the purpose of using that particular tool in that class and why was it related to the lesson and our learning objectives. Perhaps we were just too focused on playing with our avatar. This may be the teachers’ role to remind students about the function of the tools and get them back to the language focus.

    • Indeed, teachers’ guidance is important. I think even when teachers take the role of a facilitator in education, it doesn’t mean that we introduce students to new platforms and leave them free to explore. By giving them guidance before and during the game, and helping them reflect on their learning afterwards, we could facilitate the learning process more effectively as we draw the students’ attention to specific language items.

    • Interesting points – I think Second Life would makes a great tool for, for example, doing virtual field trips. But preparatory and follow-up language- and skills-based activities are essential.

  8. What I experienced during my child-life about learning L2 with games is that I started to play games through a game tool when I was in primary school, which was called “xiao ba wang”. In this game machine, there were many games that I can choose to play and some of the games were in English-version, where I can listen to the English instructions with Chinese titles. In this way, I may have exercised my English listening skill and remember some words. I think it can not only for entertainment, but also for L2 learning.

    • I had similar experience with yours, and I was excited to play the game in the English version, and even tried to imitate the their pronunciation and intonation . But it did not last for a long time, actually it was at the beginning, and as long as I knew how to play the game, I then ignored that and lost interest in it.

  9. Personally, games would not be an activity that I’d immediately go for when it comes to class activities, simply because I am not a gamer myself and it would take me a long time to familiarise myself with a game. However, if I do implement one into my syllabus, I would probably choose a game that requires a lot of communication. Ideally, it should demand frequent communication for the player to succeed in the game, allowing him/her to practise different lexical items. Are there lots of games out there that makes this practise easily available? Probably not. Still, we can use these games to supplement our teaching and create follow up materials to extend the learning outside of the game, into the classroom. The extended work could help students focus on the learning aspect of the activities, and help supplement some lack in vocabulary or grammar that they encounter in the games.

    • Very good point. I don’t like games either. So it’s gonna be hard to involve me in learning English with games. I may not go for games for my students, it’s almost possible to balance the game with learning in class and out of class.

  10. I barely learn language from the digital game myself but I still get the point. I understand how incidental knowledge can actually influence our language learning process. And this will be a huge motivation for learners keep learning. But I’m afraid that the actual knowledge that learner get seems more less than the time that they spend on the actual game. So, if the intensity of the knowledge points can be designed intentionally to be more frequent, it would be a more interesting learning tool.

    • I share the same point with you that the actual knowledge learning in game is less than the time that learners spend on the game. However, I think learning is a process, and the learning of one language is through daily accumulation. Hence, there is one game is suitable for the learners, and if the learners can learn when they play, it is much more possible that they can maintain their interest in learning the language.

  11. It cannot be denied that this kind of entertainment language learning does improve learners’ motivation toward language learning. But some constraints of this way of learning language cannot be ignored. It’s easier for students to be distracted from the actual language knowledge but pay more attention to the entertaining parts due to lack of self discipline. And also using this entertaining way of learning cannot always guarantee effective learning results. For example, learning to sing an English song can only benefit learners most in terms of their pronunciation of English while they can also expose themselves to the culture of the language. However, when it comes to other knowledge of language items, it does not help very much.

    • Thanks for the comment. If learning to sing an English song benefits learners in terms of pronunciation and culture learning, does that mean you would see it as a valuable exercise? Or not?

  12. Having looked through your article, it reminds me of my experience of practicing listening. When i was in secondary school, my listening was poor. thus, i decided to listen to every word of a song and write them into paper. At first, it was very difficult, and i needed to listen to it for several times. in this way, my listening skill improved.
    meanwhile, listening to music could help me in a relaxed environment instead of a highly intensive testing context. therefore, listening would be easier in this way.

    • I do not think that listening to music can be counted as a digital games. But what you mentioned inspires me that some crosswords puzzle games can be transferred to cross-lyrics puzzle games so that students would use it to practice listening as what you did! Sounds funny~

  13. I recalled that I have had the experience of playing digital games like scrambles or some interactive games during my English lesson when I was young. It definitely helped me in understanding English in a certain extent.
    The SIMS has also enriched my knowledge in conversational English as some of the words used by SIMS characters won’t be taught in class. Therefore, it is undeniable that playing digital games do has its advantages in helping L2 learners to acquire a better understanding in English.
    However, we could not ignore the constrains of digital games when it came as a teaching tool for both teachers and students. To students, games are to be entertaining rather than to be educational, their attention might be diverted from learning to entertainment. And there are also limited game commands that can be used in real world as most of the commands are jargon terms that only game players can understand. Hence, I doubt the effectiveness of games in helping students to greatly improve their language skills.

  14. I am not sure about simsimi to be counted as a digital game. It is more like a automatically responding robot who can answer your question and ask one in reply. But I have been playing it for a time and I did learn some slangs and words from it!! If I was the teacher, I probably would use it as a tool for regulation and I would not expect the maximum effect for I am worrying about the proportion of it to the learning.

  15. If I need to introduce a game to assist the L2 learners, especially young learners, I would like to choose flash games. It is much more easier to operate and manage. These games are not too complicated for the learners.

  16. Music seems to be a good way of learning language, and indeed, I enlarge my vocabularies by listening English songs and learn some Cantonese by listening Cantonese songs. We could also practise speaking by singing songs, and learn some other languages if we are willing to look up the lyrics in dictionary.

  17. Actually I’ve learned English by utilizing entertainment ways like songs and movies. And I believe most of you may share the same experience with me. They are really helpful, even in the classroom context. I don’t need to consciously pay special attention to them, but I could acquire something useful as long as I stick to listening to songs or watching English movies for a consistent period of time. But as I’ve mentioned in the other two posts, I am less confident in the role game play in learning a language.

    • I have similar experience with you. When I watch movies, I often notice some English expressions like words and phrases. Sometimes, when I notice some classic sentences, I try to remember it. Also, movies can be good listening materials when I remove both English and Chinese captions.

  18. Actually, I didn’t have the experience of playing digital games in language, and I just tried it out of class for personal curiousness. Personally, I would like to insert games into class just as a tool for the motivation of students. Because it is hard to decide whether it is playing for fun or playing to learn and to balance the account of having fun and learning. If the learners just accomplish much fun with little learning objective, I think it is not appropriate to introduce it in class in terms of the outcomes.

    • I have the similar concern as you. Nowadays young kids are so intelligent and expert at new technologies especially computers. They can quickly figure out the rules to play the video game even when they don’t read or understand the instructions. So it is a bit hard for teachers to judge whether students are learning something or not.

  19. I like to play the Sims. When I play the game, the first thing I do is to create a person. I set the person’s gender, appearance and their likes and dislikes. Then I construct a house and do the decorations for the house. Then the person’ s life starts. Created Sims persons have different life traces, and on some forums I can see many Sims persons’ stories written by Sims players. Once I even see one story with a big family of 6 generations. Although the stories I see are in Chinese, but I think there may also be English forums for Sim players to share their own stories. In that way, players can enhance their English language learning,especially reading and writing.
    Listening to English songs increases my interest in learning English. Maybe it can have some positive effects on the pronunciation.

  20. playing games is a very good way to learn language and it is really stimulating. But one thing i would be concerned about is how to conduct this with the permission of parents and how to avoid learners, particularly teenage learners’ addiction to games.

  21. I like the concept of “edutainment”, which suggests that learning can occur in an entertaining way. Nowadys both boys and girls love playing video games since they are “net generation”. There is no denying that video games designed with particular language learning goals can highly motivate students to learn because they cater to students’ interest. However, I would suggest that video games be used as a complement teaching tool in the classroom, which helps students to review or reinforce what has been taught. When to play the video game in the class is also a question. I personally prefer that the game comes at the end of the class because if students play the game in the very beginning, they get excited and can’t concentrate easily in the later part of the lesson.

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