A screenshot from the Final Fantasy series – One of the most popular digital games in the world


In recent years, there has been increasing interest in investigating the relationship between digital game play and Second Language (L2) learning. Based on Benson’s (2011) framework, Chik (2014) sought to better explain how gamers practice autonomy within community having regard to their self-organization and management of L2 learning in five different dimensions: location, formality, locus of control, formality and trajectory.

In the study, Chik selected 10 gamers out of 153 Year One Chinese-speaking undergraduates to participate in this one-year project. She collected data from gaming sessions, stimulated recall, focus group discussion, individual interviews and online discussion forums. The first language (L1) of participants was either Cantonese or Mandarin and they learned English as an L2.

Eight Interesting Findings

  1. The choice of gaming location offered various affordances for interaction. For example, when players were offline and alone, their L2 interaction was limited. In contrast, if gamers were in public spaces, they were likely to come across both local and international students.
  2. Some players pointed out that pleasure in gaming was their primary motivation for L2 learning.
  3. Though players pursued gaming pleasure rather than L2 learning, some players turned incidental learning (i.e. where they ‘picked up’ the language while playing) into intentional learning (i.e. where they deliberately used games as a language learning resource).
  4. Gamers were able to learn the L2 from textual or social interaction within the game — for example, they followed oral instructions given by other players.
  5. Community pedagogical resources were created by gamers. Examples included providing language advice online and translating paratexts that were only available in English. Gamers also acted as language advisers, teachers and translators for each other. They guided newbies through the game.
  6. Digital games can alter users’ interest in learning the L2. Digital games can encourage self-directed L2 learning among gamers. They may learn and improve their L2 via chatting with other gamers online or even taking language classes in their spare time.
  7. The more sophisticated and experienced gamers tended to have more interest and incentive to learn and organize their L2 gaming practise.
  8. The language items that the gamers acquired through the games are highly specialized. These vocabulary items cannot be frequently used in daily life.

Group Views

It is now widely accepted that digital gaming promotes learning. A recent news item reports that specially designed games could be utilized to learn chemistry. As for language acquisition, while playing games, gamers could benefit from the in-game texts – i.e. specific words, phrases and sentence structures that appear in the game. Some gamers also seek or offer help in terms of language in communities like websites and forums. However, we believe that in most cases, people play digital games in order to relax, to look for pleasure and to release pressure. So, members of our group believe that although intentionality is needed to make learning effective, the “degree” of intentionality becomes the key to guarantee the success of game-enhanced learning.

One example provided in the paper described why Sam and Michael usually jotted down unknown words and consulted dictionaries after gaming. Based on the need for further advancement, they intentionally acquired relevant L2 vocabulary in games. We think this might enable them to be better game players, and in turn, the desire for maintaining excellence in games could motivate them to learn more L2 while and after gaming. But the disadvantage may be that most language items acquired are game-related and could not be used in a wider context.

On the contrary, some gamers regard games merely as a source of learning materials and do drills related to them. This can be seen from the example of Edmond, a mainland Chinese student in Hong Kong who wanted to learn basketball jargon and commentary (p. 90). He discussed definitions with his partner, which was good for clarification. But later on he paused the game, jotted down phrases, and repeated phrases after the game commentators. We think he might learn useful items in this way, but he paid too much attention to note-taking and repetition, which broke the natural process of game playing and might even ruin the interest of gaming. To make sure whether Edmond’s way of learning is acceptable, members of our group asked gamers (all of them are university students with Mandarin or Cantonese as L1 and English as a L2) among our friends about their opinions on Edmond’s practice. 8 out of 12 said they would not like to learn English in Edmond’s way because it seemed hard for them to pay attention to things other than the game itself while playing. And most of them pointed out that the primary thing they wanted from games was entertainment. Although improving English while gaming was good, it was a secondary goal and could even be abandoned if it interfered with gaining interest. They also added that sports news and live shows could be better learning materials than games and they did not want to be distracted too much while gaming. As a result, we do not think the advantage of game-enhanced L2 learning would remain if learners need to be so attentive and intentional as they do in other traditional ways.

Almost every popular game has its own community, like League of LegendsWorld of Warcraft and Final Fantasy. The gaming communities provide a free and equal platform for gamers to share the latest news and communicate with each other. L2 gamers could develop a better understanding about the authentic game context and learn more vocabulary by discussing with others. They could also improve their translation skills by comparing the most appropriate expressions for game-related vocabulary. Gaming communities break time and space constraints so that gamers are able to make many friends around the globe. Gamers who have similar interest in certain games are eager to have conversations with others in chat-rooms. Gaming communities support gamers moving from amateurs to masters not only in gaming levels, but also in levels of language learning and making friends.

There is no doubt that video games did arouse learners’ interest in studying L2. Some gamers may even take the initiative to take L2 classes for improving their language proficiency in a self-directed way. However, whether digital games should be introduced in classroom is still debatable. Furthermore, from parents’ view, it is hard to measure whether their children could learn L2 through playing games or they are just addicted to the entertainment. It is indeed possible that gamers are enjoying the games and acquiring L2 at the same time. However, in an ossified-minded and exam oriented environment like Hong Kong, great effort from schools is needed to promote the effectiveness of digital games in L2 teaching.  Aside from the protests from parents, there is also one more concern. Some of the digital games nowadays contain obscene, violent and immoral content. Therefore, teachers must assess and censor the materials before introducing the games to the class.

We do believe that great positive influence can be brought in boosting L2 learning motivation among young learners. Admittedly, considerable concern and doubts are present yet these worries can be eased with the concerted efforts of schools and teachers. For example, teachers can organise some seminars to parents and give out statistics to prove the effectiveness of digital games on L2 acquisition. Teachers can also suggest some suitable and censored visual games to students. To ease the concern about over-indulgence in digital games, teachers should therefore infuse the concept of balance of work into students. Students should understand school work should be placed at higher priority than digital games.


  1. What game-enhanced learning experiences have you had?
  2. What do you think of Edmond’s way of learning a L2 through digital games? Would you apply his method to your own study? Why or why not?
  3. Many students and their parents in Hong Kong are very exam-oriented and hence they always prefer traditional drilling exercise in class. Do you think it is still feasible to implement video games as one teaching tool in the classroom-context? What can schools and teachers do to widely promote such a teaching approach and ease parents’ concerns?

Image Credit:  serenadedabyss

By Winnie, Joey, Susan and Emma

46 thoughts on “Digital Gaming and Language Learning

  1. The Sims, as I mentioned under other groups comment, it helped me to memorize some useful daily words and phrases. But now, I don’t think I would use digital games to learn my L2, because I don’t need to use them to motivate me in learning. I have grown up, although I still love to buy new versions of The Sims. Now I only play them for fun. The languages in games are not helping me to improve anymore, they are quite easy. But I may try on my kids in the future.
    To promote this kind of teaching approach, teachers should ask parents to control the time of playing and check what students have learned from the games. For example, parents can ask what new words or phrases does students learn today. Students always lack of self-control, they will need their parents to put an eye on them.

    • Hi, Kulia, I’m quite surprised that you have played this game before since I never heard about it before taking this course. Sims provides a virtual daily life models for game users, which is a really good choice for young or rather, language beginners. If possible, parents should be asked to pay more attentions during daily life to control the game-timing.

  2. Digital game play is a good way to motivate students but it also distracts students’ attention while learning.

    I have never played any digital games before but I still think we can apply games in our language learning. A good way is to use it as homework which can both make assignments attractive and ease parents’ concern. Nevertheless, to communicate with parents about the purpose of this kind of assignment first is necessary.

    • I also think it is good to introduce digital games in the classroom. But like you have said, teachers should let parents know what are the advantages of the digital games for students’ language learning, because parents care about whether students can promote their language levels.

  3. Hello, as for the first group idea: certain “degree” of intentionality for language learning is the key point for language learning. The degree is really hard to clarify owing to different factors related to language acquisition; i.e.: age. There is an 8-year-lod boy who really loves to watch those videos, teaching people how to operate Computer games; of course, it’s an English version yet with Chinese subtitles. The interesting thing I found is that he could pick up those sentences which appeared in a high frequency, repeating from time to time. Then I tested him with those sentences, he could respond with Chinese very quickly. He also told me that he didn’t pay attention to memorize the English, just learned it. Therefore, the earlier they are exposed to the English environment, the better they could acquire the language.

    • Sunnie, the age factor is really an issue. I guess digital games can only be used to teach teenage learners or adult learners. Moreover, we may also consider whether the language proficiency of learners is another factor for the implementation of digital games

    • Carrie, I really agree with you that we should take learners’ language proficiency into consideration on whether or not using gaming as a way of learning a language. For those guys who are unmotivated and are not good at English, they would try to avoid any exposure to the language, if even it is with their favorite games.

  4. To be honest, I have to say I may not have so much interest in game-playing. And I believe there might be a lot of students who share the same situation as me. Because of my lack of interest, I seldom care information about games. But if teacher can introduce some interesting and meaningful games in class, I would love to have a try. But the implementation of this method may need combined effort of teachers and parents. As mentioned, some parents may doubt it is just time-wasting. So asking parent’s assistance is a good way to deal with the difficulty. On the one hand, it can let parents know how the learning is processing. Also, parents can help to supervise the students and improve the learning efficiency.

    • I agree with you that good communication between the teacher and parents is necessary before the teacher brings games in the language classroom. Firstly, some students, who are low self-control, need parents’ monitoring in case they are addicted to games. Secondly, when combining games in the language classroom, the teacher needs to gain support and understanding from parents who usually hold a negative attitude towards games.

  5. I think the amount of L2 learning depends on the nature of the game. There are many games which are designed for ESL or ESL. I would introduce them to my students.

    Click the below link and try some of them.

    On one hand, these games are structured which suit learners’ age and proficiency level. Learning of L2 while gaming is maximized.
    On the other hand, the games above are not interactive among players on the Internet and authentic communication is not possible. Therefore, they may not satisfy the social needs of the learners.

    The games mentioned above are totally different. They are mainly designed for entertainment and L2 learning may be a byproduct. The learning is not structured yet involves authentic L2 communication.

    The advantage is that it can cultivate a positive attitude towards L2 learning among learners, along with their passion for gaming. The disadvantage is that the actual time devoted to L2 learning during gaming is rather limited .

    Another shortcoming is related to my experience.
    Young learners may learn all kinds of ‘World Englishes’ and game-related specialized terms from the games and use them in their speaking and writing, which is not appropriate for the context. For example, my P.3 students would speak some English foul languages that they learn from gaming to their classmates, or even to me when they get angry. However, they do not actually know what they mean. Some students also try to talk to me with the terms they learn from Mindcraft (a very popular game) which really makes the communication difficult.

    Young learners just need more guidance from online learning.

    • Fiona, you have pointed our a dilemma of digital games. If the games are very interesting, it may be difficult for teachers to link it back to the learning objectives. Those games which we teachers considered to be good ones may not interest students.

  6. I totally agree that the degree of intentionality is the key to success in learning language via digital games. Most languages learned in digital game are incidentally learned rather than intentionally learned. If the focus of playing game is on learning, this may greatly mitigate students’ motivation and enthusiasm. Learning L2 through playing digital games can only be regarded as a class activity, but as for exam-oriented study, digital games are unlikely to be of great use. In addition, digital games can possibly arise many problems in learning, for example, students may be addicted to games rather than learning from it. So, to guide and evaluate the whole process with the joint effort of both teachers and parents seems quite significant.

  7. Personally, I do not like the method that Edmond employed when learning English through playing digital games. What he did results in distraction in both learning and playing, like taking notes and repeating terms in the middle of the game. Instead, I think incidental learning with less effort when playing games will be more effective. Additional, gaming communities provide gamers a good place to make friends and ‘review’ the words they learned in the game when sharing their game experience with others. In this way, learning language in digital gaming will be interactive, stimulated and long-lasting.

    • I agree with you on the case of Edmond. The learning practice is not that effective and harms the nature of playing games. If a learn wants to learn L2 in a game, I prefer implicit learning.

    • Hello, Eunice. I don’t like the method by Edmond either. I prefer to separate studying and having fun instead of combining them together or doing them at the same. I find it less effective and efficient, cuz I will be easily distracted and my mind cannot do two things simultaneously.

  8. I agree with the no.2 learning.Compared with traditional ways of learning which use textbook only, digital gaming can really facilitate their motivation as they can experience a sense of relaxation during game playing. The No.3 finding can account for the popularity of digital game, because gamers can learn language unconsciously.

  9. Well, I think online games provides a space where we can get in touch with native speakers. However, as seen from my experience, words or phrases learnt from game might not be used in daily life context. For example, one of my students told me he learnt the word ‘carry’ from an online game, but the definition in that game is not the same as what we usually use (e.g. carry sth. means bring sth.). But, it provides the chance for students to meet a word in different context.
    As for myself, I would not do what Edmond did if I were a gamer. That practice makes the game boring and thus might place some reluctance on playing games.
    Although the education system is still test-oriented, a language teacher can be encouraged to adopt this practice in vocabulary teaching since it avoids the rote memorization.

    • I agree with your point that words or phrases learnt from game might not be used in daily life and also some meanings might be different form our ordinary use. Words and phrases student learnt from games are mainly game-related terms or jargons. But, gaming is indeed a way for maintaining students’s interest in language learning.

    • Through the cooperation with foreign friends can be a good way to learn L2 if you are lucky to find the one who matches your target language at first lol. I suggest that if the student do not know the meaning of the words from his teammates in the game, he should improve his awareness of memorizing the words automatically or memorize it in the games. (Participating in the game to see whether his understanding is right or not)

  10. I myself am not a gamer and I have no experience in learning language from digital games. But, I have a younger brother who is now a senior three student and he likes playing digital games like League of Legends very much. The interesting things is many online videos or resources about the tactics of how to better play the game are in English. As a result of this, he sometimes watches the videos while looking up the dictionary or asking me for help and I often make fun of him that if he put equal efforts into his academic study as he did in games he would be much better than he is now. Therefore, games might not that helpful in daily language learning, it at least can maintain learners’ interest towards a language. What’s more, digital games are not only online games like League of Legends that is easily addicted to, there are also games like “Endless Ocean”, a simulation game that has been introduced in our first class. I think this kind of game is a good way for learners to learn a language.
    I do not agree with Edmond’s way of learning language. In that kind of situation, I could neither enjoy the game nor learn any language. And I still think that digital gaming is a helpful way to learn language if it is carefully designed and supervised. It would be relaxed in the test-oriented environment.

  11. Looking at Edmond’s case, I don’t think I would play games like he did to learn a language. If I were to do note-taking and drills, I would probably do it with some authentic news materials as suggested by his classmates. But if Edmond finds more pleasure in his gaming and language learning combination through this strategy, then that is good for him also. It shows the affordance of gaming that it allows the player/ learner to take control.

    As for the difficulty in implementing gaming in an exam-oriented environment, that is inevitable. It is a national system that schools around will have to work with. But schools use it more for lower grades, where there is less pressure from public exams. Perhaps if we increase their interest in learning the L2 from a young age, they are more likely to be successful in their language learning a few years down the road. Parents, as the blog mentioned, should be educated on this as well, perhaps more so in private schools (where digital gaming in curriculum is more likely to happen), because the parents also play the role of a ‘paying customer’ of the school.

  12. I have the experience of using games to learn L2 in the foreign teachers’ class during my underraduate, but not digital games. I think it is very helpful for our study. One game I still rememver is to play alibi. The whole class are divided into several small groups and one goup acts as the suspicious group and the others as the policeman. Then we make up the story ourselves and play it out to the whole class. We can learn a lot of new words and improve our spoken English in this game. I think the application of digital games into L2 learning can also add much fun and motivation to learners. For example, teachers can use some software to lead students to remember the rules and play the game by themselves. Students then write a report after class. This kind of teaching can help students be more engaged in the L2 environment.

  13. I think using video games in teaching is feasible but that should not be the only method used in class. In an exam-oriented school, there is still a need to do drills in class. Therefore, I suggest teachers use video games occasionally, for example, the lesson after tests. Normally, students may be difficult to concentrate in class after tests. Video games can help draw their attention. Teachers can then address the new language focus to the students. Yet, teachers should be advised not to deliver too much learning points. Otherwise, students may forget easily.

  14. Motivations and interests of the students are the main advantages of the digital games to the language learning. Most students are interested in play digital games and using of these can better promote students’ learning interests. However, students in the low level like primary school students, they don’t have any control of themselves when playing the games. So teachers should control time and suitable types of games as well.

  15. 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.

    • Yes, Lexie. I agree with you.More students would like language learning if they could learn just by playing games. For now, the main role of digital game is still for fun. Perhaps in the future, more games for language learning will be specially designed .

  16. I don’t have the experience of game-enhanced to learn a language. But I think it a creative way to motivate students’ learning interests. Meanwhile, the challenges accompany. For instance, parents may not understand the affordance of such learning approach. Thus, teachers should have a talk and explain to parents before putting this approach into practice in order to ease their concerning.

  17. Sure I think digital game can inspire students’ interest in learning language, compared with the traditional teaching approaches. But actually I merely learnt language this way and hardly used digital games to teach my student. One of my concern is that how to engage those students who do not have interest in digital games, especially some girls, to this kind od incidental language learning?

    • Well, digital games aren’t for everyone, though plenty of girls love gaming. I’d agree that some games are better suited to some kinds of students than others, but we could say the same thing about books. Yet we don’t seem to concerned when it comes to that. Why the worry associated with games?

  18. As you mentioned above that the vocabulary in the game is not commonly used in daily life, it draws the concern that whether we are way focus too much on encouraging learning with happiness whild reducing our primary focus on learning itself. In my point of view, the application of digital gaming in language learning still has a long way to go. First, there should be an effective way to monitor the behavior of the students while they are playing such games. Second, the embeded knowledge in such games should be meaningful to students and life-related. Third, there should be a balance between gaming and learning as this is primary designed for language learning. I have a positive attitude towards the implication of digital gaming in language learning, but I am afraid that we haven’t had an effective way to do so.

    • I agree with you that there can be long time before digital games are used in class. Games should be well-designed for the language learning and teachers should assign tasks for students to finsh during their process of learning. Or they may easily be distracted by other interesting things in the game.

  19. Actually, I don’t quite like the method developed by Edmond to apply digital gaming in my language learning. I’m a person bad at dealing with multitasking stuffs. I find it less effective and efficient to learn language this way. Rather I prefer to separate studying and having fun instead of combining them together or doing them at the same. The reason is that I will be easily distracted and my mind cannot do two things simultaneously. Just as the saying goes “One can not run after two horses at the same time”.

  20. I like playing computer games. but i seldom notice that could improve my learning. I admit that games could provide a pleasure environment. However, when playing these games, i paid more attention to the game itself, (I am totally involved in plots, fighting or dressing… ) and no time for using language or recognizing the language of its instruction (even I notice it, it is alway Chinese ). SO, how could it be effective in language learning for some students who are younger than me?

    • I agree with you to some extent, because most of the digital games are designed for having fun rather than emphasis the value on learning aspects. And for a number of players, the sense of accomplishment that embodied in the game usually comes from the game itself.

    • Yes, you are right. When we play a video game, we focus on the game itself rather than the language presented. Nowadays young kids are so intelligent that they can quickly learn how to play a game by trying it out several times. They do not even need to read the instruction. Therefore, it is necessary for teachers to set up certain language goals for students to accomplish during playing the game.

  21. I don’t have much experience in playing digital games but I believe it can help L2 learners to learn the language more easily likewise some conversational terms, slangs and so.
    Personally, I don’t agree with Edmond’s learning method, although he is a very motivated students in acquiring L2 language. For some young learners, I believe gaming would be a good way in helping students to learn L2 language more effectively and easily which I observed some changes for my students at my workplace. They can actually learn some useful phrases like “well done”, “excellence'” which boost their confidence in learning the language

  22. Digital games do have some positive effects on L2 learning. Most of the people around me do not use instructions before they start playing the game. Rather, they would directly pass through the first round and summarize the experience by themselves. One thing to mention here is that there are lot more to learn through the process. Teachers would better make the unfamiliar words or difficult items as a pre-task and then let the students find their way through on their own and try to memorize the words as much as possible. After that, giving them a post-test will be better.

    • I agree with you 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.

  23. When I was in primary school, I was interested in two flash games, which to some extent sparked my motivation in English learning. One is the Steppenwolf: The X-Creatures Project, the other is The Miller Estate. Both these two games created by Sarbakan and Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. Hence, the instructions of these games are English. However, there are many bloody, violent and horrible scenes of these two games. It may not be suitable to all the students. The vocabularies in these games are a little bit hard for young learners.

    • Wow, Leslie! You have played so many games and you really have a good memory! Those bloody and violent digital games would definitely not suitable to be introduced to the language learning classroom, and those vocabularies may even not frequently used in daily life. But playing games and writing a reflective paragraph, just like what we did last nignt, seems to be a good way of using games in language learning classroom.

  24. Personally, digital game playing may not be a good way to learn L2, but a proper way to help you keep the interest of the language. If a language learner always learns language from the printed materials in a distinct mode, as well as in a more expert-centered way, he or she must be tired of language learning sooner or later. But if he is facilitated by screen and digital games, he will feel motivated. As we have many concerns about digital game for learning, such as learning efficiency, game addiction, I suggest it as a way to keep the interest of language learning.

  25. I once played a game called To the Moon. When I played it, I didn’t find the Chinese version, so I just played the English version. The plot is this game’ s spotlight and it is presented through the constant conversations among characters in the game. Because of the interest in the plot, I read the majority of the conversations and it is lucky that I understand most of them. It is a really a moving story, especially the ending of it. During the process of playing, in order to finish the game task, I sometimes also consult the mobile dictionary. This helps me to learn some English words.
    For me, I don’ t like Edmond’s way of leaning L2. It seems that the game functions as a dictionary for him and the fun of playing has been lost. I prefer that at the end of the game, there can be word tests to remember words.

  26. Regarding Edmond’s case, I think the learning way is effective form his point of view. Since he wanted to learn basketball jargons and commentary language, video games provided him with sufficient resources and he used learning strategies like taking notes and repetition. Though people argue that it destorys the pleasure of video games, it helps Edmond’s vocabulary building, which he found it meaningful. Applying videos games in teaching is a controversial issue since it is new. The usefulness of game-learning really depends on individuals since people have different perceptions of using video games to learn a language.

    • I agree, everyone can seek the best learning strategy for themselves. If Edmon finds out that taking notes helps him effectively, why not use that? It is a good demonstration of integrating digital games and language learning.

  27. I have been playing digital games since secondary school. A large number of my vocabulary are learnt from digital games. My favourite game at that time is called “Sharks”. I started to absorb a large amount of vocabulary of sea creatures at that time. What’s more, I can also chat with other players. It gives me a platform to interact with others in English. Learning through digital games provides me a funny and exciting way to learn English. Learning is no longer a boring task to me since then.

    There’s a good news to all of you^^ There is even an association called Hong Kong Digital -Game Based Association. It shows that learning through digital games is already a popular trend in Hong Kong. Students are now encouraged to learn through playing and creating in schools. Yeah!!!!!

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