Posted by Ada, Annie, Rain and Yvonne


Image credit: pixabay.

Network-based digital games play a potential role in language learning. Studies have shown that digital games offer several benefits such as reducing language learning anxiety, improving learners’ self-confidence, advancing language proficiency and fostering social interactions. But can digital games contribute to higher levels of learners’ Willingness to Communicate (WTC)? What are the effects of participating in an online game on learners’ willingness to communicate in English?

Case Study

Reinders and Wattana (2014) chose 30 Thai undergraduates of English to do six 90-minute lessons playing Ragnarok Online, a role-playing game installed on a private server and designed to encourage collaboration and communication. For better observation of participants’ WTC, they designed two sets of questionnaires: the first one was administered before the first game session and aimed to determine learners’ WTC generally. The second set of questionnaires was administered after all computer game sessions were done. Based on these questionnaires, a comparison focusing on learners’ WTC (in the classroom and in the game environment) was made.

Results and conclusions drawn from the study

  1. Before playing the game, participants were unwilling to interact in class in the target language. And they were also unwilling to talk about assignments with others, ask for clarification or listen to others. Participants showed their anxiety and worried about making mistakes or sharing their opinions and feelings, which shows that they had a low level of self-perceived communicative competence. In summary, their WTC was low.
  2. While playing the game, participants were active and confident in interaction because they felt less anxiety or nervousness about making mistakes. Their state of self-perceived communicative competence was relatively high: they demonstrated confidence in their English ability and felt that their L2 fluency had been developed. Thus, while playing the game, their WTC was high.
  3. Participants had greater WTC in the game environment than in the classroom environment.

Implications from the study

  1. Environment is very important. A conducive environment is beneficial to students’ learning of the target language. Teachers could help to create more comfortable and safe environments in classroom teaching.
  2. Using technologies like digital gaming is beneficial to increasing second language WTC of learners, especially those who are not native, confident and fluent in speaking the target language.
  3. The gaming environment makes learners more confident.

What do we think?

In the study, students were more willing to use the target language in game situations rather than in classroom settings.

This reminds us of some situations where some male students are totally silent in English classes but are able to have lively discussions about on-line games, using a lot of specialized English vocabulary after class. We think this may relate to their high anxiety and low self-perceived communicative competence. As is known to all, in secondary school girls tend to have higher scores than boys in language tests generally, which may lead to the low WTC of boys in class. However, when it comes to their confident field—games—they will perhaps become more confident and willing to communicate in the target language.

Learning a foreign language is anxiety-provoking. Studies show that students who suffer from anxiety are likely to remain silent and are unwilling to participate in English classes. However, the anonymity that games afford encourages students to express themselves freely. Digital games not only offer a platform for students to use the target language without anxiety but also help them to build confidence in using the L2. Moreover, speaking L2 with peers is less anxious than talking to teachers. Therefore, we suggest teachers employ group discussions, asking students to share their experiences and feelings while playing the games with their group mates or have a reflection on these experiences afterwards.

However, there are some challenges when teachers embed digital games in the English classroom. Firstly, although the willingness to communicate and the acquisition of L2 are tightly related — time spent on productive use of language is clearly an important factor in second language acquisition, willingness does not mean the complete acquisition of L2. So how teachers use digital games to foster L2 learning is a big issue. Secondly, there could be a group of students who show no interest in games. Digital games, as we can see, tend to be boys’ favorite entertainments, which, however, are likely to be less attractive for some girls. Therefore, efforts should be put into understanding how we can ensure that all learners from different backgrounds and levels are empowered to take advantage of digital games.


  1. Have you ever experienced digital games in your English class? Were they helpful or not?
  2. Digital games are interesting and attractive, but integrating digital games into the language curriculum can be a big challenge. Do you have any suggestions?

If you want more information about digital games in language learning :


48 thoughts on “The effects of digital gameplay on willingness to communicate

  1. Actually, I have not experienced digital games in my language learning class yet, but I do think digital games can ehance learners’ willingness and enthusiasm to second language learning and acquisition. A lot of English teachers in Mainland of China use single and tedious ways to teach English, which leads a fact that some students show liite interest in language learning, so I think digital game in langauge classes is a good try in Mainland of China to stimulate learners’ motivation of learning English. Learners may feel curious about this novel way, but the disadvantages,like Internet addiction, should also be taken into consideration.

    • Hello, Chloe, I don’t have such experience either. Tedious teaching approach would totally destroy learners’ motivation for English learning in Mainland China.Internet addiction is a big problem in current adolecsences’ life, which even destroy more students’ life.

    • My language learning experience of junior and senior high schools was very tedious indeed!!! Teachers just explained the grammatical points and we did a lot and a lot of exercises. This will greatly decrease students’ interests in English.

    • Chloe, you have pointed out a shared phenomenon of English teaching, the same case applies to Hong Kong too. Back in my days in secondary school, teachers were often very cautious about our public exams and they tended to use more traditional teaching methods such as drilling of grammar practices which indeed made us feel tired of English.

  2. I did not have the experience to have digital games in class, and I think most of us did not have it because of our education system. But I think it is useful. In this way of learning, student will have the motivation in class.
    However, I don’t think it is that useful. It depends on the student’s self-control. My nephew is a Grade 5 student. One day I saw him playing an English car racing game on cell phone expertly, in choosing a car, upgrading the car, and starting the game, etc. So I asked him whether he knew all the meaning of the words in game. He answered that he did not need to understand, all games have the same routine way to play. He did not use his brain to memorize the words or sentence in English. And if there are dialogues to tell the background of the game, he will just skip it.
    So I think, at these young age, games still need to be considered not introducing into classroom because that will give students like my nephew a reason to play games all the time.

    • I’ve got the same feeling with you. When we play games, most of our attention is only on the game itself. Even the language in games is L1, we still seldom pay attention to it. Therefore, how to select a game that is both attractive and effective for language learning is essential.

    • I think you are right. In Chinese educational system, maybe it is not allowed to introduce digital games into the classroom, because most Chinese education are test-based and teaching with digital games may not fit its teaching goals.

    • Apart from the games and schools also have the pressure to reform the education system because of the public exams. And taking the cost into account, it is almost impossible,at least at present, for ordinary schools to employ digital games in language learning in Mainland China. So, I am quiet agree with you.

    • Rain – what kind of costs are you talking about? Are you referring to the cost of hardware? Or some other costs?

    • Kulia – perhaps one way to deal with this situation is to select games, like adventure games and puzzle games, that require the gamer to attend to the environment (including texts) carefully. I think the teacher also needs to design materials and structured activities carefully, so that learners are engaged before and after gameplay with opportunities for learning. In other words, digital game-based learning needs to go beyond the game and include a range of activities that we would typically see in English classes anyway – story writing, report writing and so on.

    • Hi, Kulia! I also doubt about the effectiveness of this kind of digital gameplay in language learning. So far there is little documented mention to prove that learning language by playing digital game can be practical. I think a more completed system to regulate this form of language learning is needed.

  3. Hi, combining video games with English teaching is not always a good way for learners. Not everyone in class are interested in computer games. Some may feel the games are so tidous, and some may argure that they could learn nothing from games except for some vocabularies. This is a big chanllenge for teachers and educators. It’s hard and almost impossible to cater everyone’s taste, then I would suggest various approaches be applied in class, providing more choices. Teachers must try to get more feedbacks from their students from time to time.

    • I have the same feeling with you. Different students may have different tastes for digital games, so choosing a suitable game would be difficult for teachers. Just as you said some students may show no interest in digital games so there is no motivation. So how to integrate digital games in traditional teaching and control the proportion of it is of great importance.

    • Yes, I agree wih you that games might not interest everyone in the class. But, I still believe language teachers can adopt it in some of their class to promote learning motivation or just get away from the traditional language teaching modes.

    • I see your point Sunnie! Students may also lose focus and cannot recall the intended learning outcomes too.

    • I agree with you! Actually, I am not that into the games when comes to language learning. However, I think proper use of games in English language learning sometimes do help.

    • i agree with you too. I have some students in class really hate using computer. Using various approach in class may be a better choice to cater different students need and perhaps in a small class setting as well.

  4. I do have the experience in playing games in a foreign language version such as Japanese and English. According to game, I did learn some daily words or instructional words. One of the most expressive one is a doctor game in English version. I have learned a lot of professional vocabularies on different diseases. In terms of combining digital games and class, interest is the most important, because not all students like games and their tastes may vary. These must be taken into consideration.

    • I agree with you. I think the games that the boys like and the girls like could be very different. I suggest that teacher could give more options to students in choosing games.

  5. By playing digital games, language learners’ communicative competence can be improved. I think this may due to the fact that they find common topics to talk. It is also difficult for to me to chat with others when we run out of topics.

    For the second question, I think teachers’ monitoring should also be involved, although this way of learning give students much autonomy. Otherwise this technology-based approach may run counter to its expected goal.

  6. I think it is impossible for teacher to teach language only through digital games in the classroom. It is probably a low effective language class, because playing games is time consuming, and the learning items are limited in certain areas which are not frequently used in daily life. If teachers want to employ games in teaching for increasing students’ interest and motivation in learning English, they can assign playing digital games as the homework. Teachers could give two kinds of game for students to choose, and ask students to share their feeling after they play the game in the online class forum set up by the teacher,

    • I agree that digital games should not be the sole activity in language teaching, but I think it might be quite useful in building the students’ fluency and confidence in the language use.
      And I wonder what you think about the language used in digital gaming would be like, because, quite the contrary to what you suggested, I think digital gaming can create natural conversations that involve lexical items that we also see in daily life

  7. I agree that digital games bring benefits to language learning. Students interested in it would have a higher WTC. I might guess it is because they have a meaningful communicative aims rather that a artificial dialogue in conventional language class.
    It could be an add-on activity to a language class not neccessarily a must for every class. Thus, it is possible to stimulate students’ motivation and would not distract students from the main focus of language learning. Or, after the games, teachers can ask students to write a summary report or discussion between each other.

    • I agree with your idea that the reason why students have higher WTC when playing digital games is due to the authenticity of communication, which makes their language learning more meaningful and interesting.

  8. First of all, digital games like above mentioned digital role-playing game can be a very effective start of a course. In this virtual role play games, students are more willing to communicate than in the actual classes and as they get more and more familiar with each other, they might be more and more willing to communicate in real life cases. And digital games can make classroom atmosphere active and lively and students will feel less depressed in language classes. As for ways of integrating it into the language teaching process, it could serve as an auxiliary activity to the routine learning activities and teachers should pay close attention to students’ behaviors during the activity in case that they might get distracted.

  9. Undoubtedly, digital games can motivate students to learn as it provides a new approach to language learning. However, the effectiveness of such tool may still concern most teachers. During the preparation period, teachers may need to spare extra time learning how to play the digital games and handle possible technical issues. When teaching in class, teachers need to ensure that all students know how to play the games and monitor the progress. Another problem may arise is that students may not be on task and may lose concentration easily if the games require complicated instructions such as setting up of accounts.Finally, can students identify the learning objectives easily? Or they may just focused on playing instead of relating to language learning?

  10. I have not had any experience of playing digital games in English classes, but I did play Neopets outside of school. My friends were on it as well. And in order to be successful in keeping your virtual pet, you would have to know different ways of making ‘money’, which required reading up tactics and strategies (practising reading!). That definitely helped me become more comfortable in an English online space.
    I agree with many that gaming could be time consuming for a language class. And inductive learning often ‘feels slower’ than deductive learning. But we should also recognise the benefits that digital gaming could bring. Perhaps it would be a good idea to use it to supplement the classroom learning, and use it in conjunction with other digital and non-digital language learning activities.

    • Neopets!!! i still remember I need to earn a lot in order to make my pet look beautiful and be fairy like. The task or quest helps me to understand instructions better which I believe is in important skill for reading. And as you have mentioned, it does help me to get more comfortable in an English environment when I’m young. Although I did not recall any particular words that i learnt from Neopets at this moment, the experience I had was unforgettable.

  11. I think although we can obviously see the advantages of taking digital games into the language classroom, there is a long way to go and long time to evaluate whether it is suitable to the test-based education in China. Nowadays, teachers and parents all forbid students to play digital games because they all focus on the disadvantages of the games. So I think maybe in years later, digital games will be allowed and well affect students’ learning.

    • Indeed, parents stuff in Mainland China is really a big challenge to embed digital games into language learning class.

    • I really agree with your opinion. It is a fact that we need more time to critically think about inserting digital games into class as it has both cons and pros. And how can games can be efficient used for language learning still needs to explore.

  12. 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 agree with your point. It’s urgent for us to find an effective way in which the positive feedback of using digital game for L2 learning can be achieved maximum. We may choose some puzzle game rather than fighting games for the latter one may cause the students be addicted to it and forget about their initiative goal of playing it.

  13. I have to admit that play digital gameplay can to some extent really increases learners’ willingness to use their target language. But the shortcomings of this way of learning language cannot be neglected. Actually I really doubt about the effectiveness of applying this kind of digital gameplay in language teaching. It’s not only time-consuming in a classroom practice and sometimes it’s hard for teachers to control the whole class provided they are all distracted by the gameplay and put no focus on the language knowledge. So far there is little documented mention to prove that learning language by playing digital game can be practical. Therefore, I think a more completed system to regulate this form of language learning is needed.

    • Hi, Zoe! I am responsible for writing a post related to game playing and language learning, so I read something related to this topic. Actually, there is increasing research focusing on this now. But maybe I am a little bit conservative, I agree with your ideas and I am unwilling to use games to assist my future teaching unless I am confident enough to control the whole situation. And based on my personal experience, games are more a distraction than a help for learning a language.

  14. I think that the game that teacher chooses means a lot if it has been put into the L2 learning class. I think cross-word puzzle is a great way to brainstorm, not only for memorizing the words but also for the comprehension of the instructions.
    This website may be useful. 🙂

    • I agree with you, Chloe, and I think cross-word puzzle game has already been frequent introduced in classroom, just like what we did last semester. Similarly, some special designed digital games could also be a good complemental tool for language learning.

  15. My suggestion is that teachers should provide instructions for students before they introduced the games to them. Also, teachers should check before hand that whether the game is suitable for their students or not, for there are many games include bloody and violent scenes.

  16. I have never experienced digital games in my previous English class except last night, and I think most of our classmates enjoyed playing “poptropica”. Such kind of teaching method could be introduced to language learning classroom, especially for young learners. Let them play a game first and write a reflective paragraph about the game, but younger learners might spend much more time figure out how to play this appointed game first.

  17. In order to increase the possibility of success in integrating games in language teaching, I think teachers and parents need to work cooperatively to facilitate the learning process, especially for those of young learners who may be earlier to be distracted. And maybe there is no particular syllabus related to teaching by gaming, so more work needs doing on this aspect.

    • Yes, the collabaration between the teacher and parents is super important. It is helpful for parents to have a mindset that video games can have a purpose of learning and they might greatly increase learning motivation. For young learners, it would be more effective that their parents sit beside them, providing guidance when they are using video games to learn at home.

  18. For language learners, not all types of games are suitable for their learning. We should choose a games with teaching significance. That is the goal of the game is not only for the teaching of language learning, but also enables students to learn more effectively. In this case, the teacher may arrange a task of the game, with students forming as groups to participate in it. For example, students are asked to get the as many as game gold within a specified time in the game for competition. And in order to do this, students need to do as much language exercises as possible in the game.

    • I agree with you that the type of game should be well chosen for language learning. When I play some mobile phone games, I just play without the need to read the instruction and recognize any language. So in teaching, this kind of game should not be considered.

  19. It is a good thing that digital video games can release students’ anxiety of communicating in English and bulid up their condfidence. As for the experience of playing digital games in English classes, I have never experienced that. In fact, when I was an undergraduate, in my English classes, digital tools were rarely used in class.Take the computer as an example. When the computers were occasionally used, they were to display PPT, listening materials and movies. And teachers didn ‘t encourage us to use mobile phones in the class unless we used it to consult the mobile dictionary. As for digital games on them, they are often regarded as distractions.So the application of them in the class can be difficult, especially for young children who have less self-discipline. Maybe there can be such elective courses for undergraduates to choose.

  20. When I worked as an intern in an English institution in Zhuhai, it integrated digital video games into teaching and during the class, students could play video games on the big small borad in the classroom. It is a new innovation and many parants questioned its effectiveness. The learning outcomes turned out to be very positive and majority of students were highly motivated by games. However, since most games were designed in the form of competition and young kids had a strong desire to win the game, most students cared so much about the result. Some boys became more aggressive when they played the game. How to manage the discipline when playing video games is a noteworthy issue in teaching.

    • It is sad that nowadays many parents still doubt the effectiveness of learning through digital games. They always think that doing exercises and practices is the only channel to help their children learn. But with the implementation of digital learning in recent years, I am sure that the parents will gradually accept the digital learning approach. ^^

  21. Learning language through digital game certainly is a fresh idea for parents, teachers and students. To me, digital game is not only an entertainment, but also a motivating tool to enhance students’ interest towards language learning. The visuals, pop-ups and colourful characters shown on the screen can effectively grap students’ attention and help them focus throughout the process.

    Digital games can be used as a revising tool which helps students recap the target vocabulary or language structures that they’ve learnt. There are a wide range of digital games with different themes. Teachers can choose appropriate games which suits the themes (e.g. food and drinks, travelling) mentioned in the language curriculum.

  22. When I was an undergraduate student, my teacher of Economics introduced an online game to us, which was about how to invest in the stock market. Before playing the game, the knowledge about stocks seemed very boring and abstract to me, but after that, I found that I had better understanding of it. I think this is one of the advantage of having digital games in the class–making abstract knowledge easier to understand. However, it is also very challenging to integrate digital games in classes. It might be difficult for teachers to control the whole class if all the students play games individually. So it is suggested that teacher divide students into groups, and ask them to share their experience after the activities.

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