Edited by Carmen, Ivy, Sarah and Sophia Song
Digital games have become increasingly popular among the young generation these days. Integrating L2 gaming into foreign language learning has aroused public interest and provoked discussion among educationalists and gamers. Although L2 digital games are primarily for personal pleasure, gameplay enhancement has been viewed as the major driving force for gamers to learn a foreign language during gaming. Chik (2014) explores how gamers exercise autonomy in the community through games for both pleasure and language learning. She discusses the affordances and limitations of digital gaming in terms of five dimensions: location, formality, pedagogy, locus of control and trajectory.
The location of L2 gaming activities can be both physical and virtual, creating an immersive naturalistic learning environment for gamers, as presented in Figure 1. For instance, players can interact with other gamers or produce paratexts in both online and offline communities (e.g. the student hall and relevant blogs).
Figure1. The source of the image is from https://reddit.app.link/d3ve32lPFU
Learning L2 through digital games requires gamers to shift from incidental learning into intentional learning. If they consciously apply their learning strategies into L2 learning in a gaming context, the learning process can be considered intentional, which supplements formal learning.
Digital gaming can provide not only textual and social interaction but also prompt gamers to play an instructional and advisory role. For example, experienced gamers usually inform beginners of both gaming strategies and specialized in-game vocabulary within online or offline communities. Although digital gaming offers unstructured texts, gamers should be aware of the pedagogical potential of in-game texts and be encouraged to play the L2 editions.
Locus of Control
Locus of control refers to whether language learning is self-directed or other-directed. Self-directed gamers tend to make their gaming and learning decisions according to their personal goals and interests, while other-directed players are inclined to accepting the suggestions provided by gaming communities. This implies that gamers are capable of controlling the balance between their initiative choices and communal advice. For example, we can learn from Figure 2 that gamers could determine to play the official version through learning English by themselves, which is also a good investment to them.
Figure2. The source of the image is from https://goo.gl/images/w5xhRD
Trajectory means managing gaming and learning in the long term, which can be caused by making progression in a game series, choosing a preferred gaming language, and playing various games of different genres or different games of the same genre. L2 learning through digital gaming is not limited to interaction with other gamers. It can also motivate gamers to learn L2 autonomously for a variety of purposes, including maintaining a friendship with foreign gamers, achieving victory in games as well as enhancing foreign language skills.
Based on Chik (2014) and our discussion, L2 gaming provides both affordances and limitations for L2 learners. When playing L2 games, gamers immerse themselves in L2 environments, which offers them rich learning materials and opportunities to practice (e.g. interaction through in-game texts with other gamers). However, whether gamers can learn L2 from gaming depends on the degree in which they learn the language in gameplay intentionally.
The affordances of language learning through game-play are as follows:
- L2 learners expose themselves to abundant game-related learning materials, including L2 in-game texts, oral interactions with other players and paratexts about the game on relevant forums and blogs. Hence it helps gamers to improve their vocabulary, reading comprehension, and speaking proficiency.
- If the gamer has a good command of the foreign language in the game, he or she can further improve their language skills by posting the translated in-game texts on forums to help other players.
- If the gamer is highly interested in some characters in the game, he or she can write fanfiction and spread it as a fandom. They may also receive corrective feedbacks and inspiring comments from the communities.
- Playing L2 games may motivate students to work harder at school because they find that second language learning at school helps advance their game-play.
- Gamers have access to the foreign language through their game console anytime anywhere, which is rather convenient for learning.
- Acquiring a foreign language in digital gaming can bring gamers much more pleasure and positive energy compared to institutionalized textbooks.
Although playing games in L2 is conducive to language learning, we believe that it cannot replace the conventional language courses due to the following limitations:
- It would be difficult for novice L2 learners to use L2 gaming independently, not to mention to learn from it.
- Texts in L2 gaming are unstructured learning materials and some jargon in the texts may not be suitable for everyday use. The contents of the L2 games are relatively restricted and highly specialized, based on gamers’ own preferences.
- It is worth noting that the freedom to choose games may lead to inappropriate entries (e.g. violent games) as the L2 learning through gaming takes place “in the digital wilds” (Reinhardt & Sykes, 2012, p.33).
- Gamers are likely to get addicted to the digital world, thereby spending too much time on gaming. Too much gameplay may have a negative influence on their health, such as poor eyesight.
- It is hard for learners to balance gaming enjoyment and language learning, especially for young gamers who lack self-control. If gamers do not own the intention and autonomy, they may forget about learning and focus solely on the fun of playing a digital game.
To sum up, digital gaming has its potential to promote language learning, but the key lies in that gamers need to practice their autonomy and turn incidental learning into intentional learning.
Since the game is over, here are some questions we want to discuss with you. You are very welcome to respond to any, and we’ll be happy to give you a reply.
- Have you ever learned a foreign language through L2 gaming? How effective was that? If 1 is ineffective, and 10 is perfect for language learning, how would you rate this approach? Why?
- Have you ever integrated digital gaming into your class? If not, will you apply them to your teaching in the future? And how?
- Do you have any thoughts about how gamers exercise autonomy to keep a good balance between playing and learning?