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Embracing the constant changing world around us helps us stop thinking of learning as an isolated process of information absorption

and start thinking of learning as a process of play and imagination (Thomas & Brown, 2011).



Guiding question: Is gaming, a form of play and imagination, helpful for second language learners?                         



Research Projects


Considerable work has been done on gaming and second language learning. Here we highlight researches done on general foreign languages learning (i.e., games that support multilingual learning), Chinese language learning, and English language learning, The researches presented here were conducted in K-12, higher education, and adult training environments in China, Europe, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Korea, etc. The types of games cover serious games, Alternate Reality Games, vision-based motion game, massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), computer simulation game, etc. Research results indicate that, in general, learning through gaming brings significant benefits to second language learners, such as increased vocabulary acquisition, higher motivation, enhanced collaboration, stronger communication ability, etc. Those researches also point out the importance of learner training about the game systems, and the combination of supplementary learning materials when implementing game-based learning.


A. Foreign Languages Learning and Games


1.Johnson, W. L. (2010). Serious use of a serious game for language learning. International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 20, 175-195. Serious use of a serious game for language learning.pdf


Background Information: 

  • The Tactical Language and Culture Training System (TLCTS) is a serious game designed to help learners quickly acquire basic communication skills in foreign languages and cultures, including Arabic, Chinese, Cherokee, Dari, and French.

Research Methodology:

  • Three evaluations of Tactical Iraqi were conducted to get the resources of further improvements both to the software architecture and to the curriculum.

Research Findings:

  • All three evaluation groups showed significant increases in knowledge of Iraqi Arabic language and culture, as measured by an independently constructed post-test focusing on the vocabulary and skills taught in Tactical Iraqi.  
  • The evaluation group that received more training with Tactical Iraqi had the largest increase in knowledge. Although game-based learning offers the promise of motivating learners to gain knowledge on their own, in these studies at least the greatest learning gains were achieved by learners who used Tactical Iraqi under supervised conditions.
  • The learning environment that TLCTS provides is effective.
  • The subjects participating in the evaluation studies reported increased motivation to participate in future training opportunities. 
  • The evidence of overall learning effect is incomplete.  

Related Researches:




2.Connolly, T. M., Stansfield, M., & Hainey, T. (2011). An alternate reality game for language learning: ARGuing for multilingual motivation. Computers & Education, 57, 1389-1415. An alternate reality game for language learning: ARGuing for multilingual motivation.pdf


Background Information: 

  • Alternate Reality Games (ARGs)  is a form of narrative often involving multiple media and gaming elements to tell a story that might be affected by participants’ actions.

Research Methodology:

  • Discusses the design, development and evaluation of an ARG aimed at increasing the motivations of secondary school level students across Europe in the learning of modern foreign languages. 
  • Involves 6 project partners, 328 secondary school students and 95 language teachers from 17 European countries. 
  • Uses an experimental design of pre-test / ARG intervention / post-test

Research Findings:

  • Student attitudes towards the ARG were very positive with evidence suggesting that the ARG managed to deliver the motivational experience expected by the students.
  • The majority of students who completed the post-test either agreed or strongly agreed that they would be willing to play the game over a prolonged period of time as part of a foreign language course. 
  • Students believed that they obtained skills relating to cooperation, collaboration and teamwork




B. Chinese Language Learning and Games


1. Hao, Y., Hong, J.-C., Jong, J.-T., Hwang, M.-Y., Su, C.-Y., & Yang, J.-S. (2010). Non-native Chinese language learners’ attitudes towards online vision-based motion games. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41 (6), 1043-1053. Non-native Chinese language learners’ attitudes towards online vision-based motion games.pdf


Background Information:  

  • Chinese characters are composed of strokes, and it is challenging for learners to write each stroke in a proper order.      
  • Introduction to the online vision-based motion game designed for learning the stroke order of Chinese characters: e.g. For each character, the screen displays the strokes one after another, and the learner, positioned in view of the webcam, responds to the correct stroke by tracing its pattern in the air with his or her hand. The webcam detects the direction of the user’s gestures and the program scores the answer. 

Research Methodology: 

  • Nine participants at Chinese language centres in Taipei, who had been studying Chinese for less than 3 months and were not familiar with most of the 24 characters used in the study
  • Recorded participants' process of practicing the order of strokes
  • Borrowing form Nielsen's concept of usability testing, the researcher interviewed participants' feeling about the program, including its interface and interactivity
  • Two surveys, one measured participants' attitude towards the program, while the other measured the frequency of the use of various language-learning strategies, including memory strategies, cognitive strategies, compensation strategies, metacognitive strategies, affective strategies and social strategies.    

Research Findings:

  • Most of the participants had above-neutral attitude levels towards the online program.
  • Memory strategies and affective strategies were used least by the nine participants
  • Most participants commented that the game-based learning experience was easy and that it might be best suited for a basic-level curriculum for
    beginners or children. However, in fact this program was originally designed for adult learners



C. English Language Learning and Games


1. Green, P. J., Sha, M., & Liu, L. (2011). The U.S.-China E-Language Project: A Study of a Gaming Approach to English Language Learning for Middle School Students. RTI InternationalThe U.S.-China E-Language Project.pdf


Background Information: 

  • A game, The Forgotten World , was implemented as a supplementary activity in middle school classrooms in western China to teach the English language and American culture to eighth-grade students.

Research Methodology:

  • The evaluation was conducted in five treatment schools and five comparison schools during the 2009–10 school year and included approximately 3,500 students. 
  • Reading and listening tests were administered at the beginning and end of the year to eighth-grade students in schools participating in the study. 
  • Teacher and student questionnaires; teacher logs describing this gaming approach in each class session.

Research Findings:

  • Students in treatment schools with relatively low levels of initial proficiency, who scored in the bottom half of all students on the fall tests, evidenced larger gains in reading and listening than similar students in comparison schools. There were no differences in performance between treatment and comparison groups among students with higher levels of initial proficiency (those scoring in the upper half of all students on the fall test). 
  • Students in the treatment group reported higher levels of motivation to learn English than students in the comparison schools. 
  • 95 percent of the teachers in the treatment schools who participated in the project reported that their use of The Forgotten World changed the way they think about teaching. The approach to language teaching and learning that forms the basis for The Forgotten World is learner-centered and interactive and presents students with problem-based tasks and immediate feedback.




2. deHaan, J., Reed, W. M., & Katsuko, K. (2010). The effect of interactivity with a music video game on second language vocabulary recall. Language Learning & Technology, 14 (2), 74-94. The effect of interactivity with a music video game on second language vocabulary recall.pdf


Background Information:

  • The game "Parappa the Rapper 2" was used because of its authentic English language, its simultaneously presented oral and textual language, and its prototypical rhythm game elements.

Research Methodology: 

  • This experimental study investigated to what degree, if at all, video game interactivity would help or hinder the noticing and recall of second language vocabulary.
  • Eighty randomly-selected Japanese university undergraduates were paired based on similar English language and game proficiencies. One subject played an English-language music video game for 20 minutes while the paired subject watched the game simultaneously on another monitor. 
  • Following gameplay, a vocabulary recall test, a cognitive load measure, an experience questionnaire, and a two-week delayed vocabulary recall test were administered.

Research Findings: 

  • The players recalled significantly less vocabulary than the watchers. This seems to be a result of the extraneous cognitive load induced by the interactivity of the game; 
  • The players perceived the game and its language to be significantly more difficult than the watchers did. Players also reported difficulty simultaneously attending to gameplay and vocabulary. 
  • Both players and watchers forgot significant amounts of vocabulary over the course of the study.




3.Suh, S., Kim, S. W., & Kim, N. J. (2010). Effectiveness of MMORPG-based instruction in elementary English education in Korea. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26 (5), 370-378. Effectiveness of MMORPG-based instruction in elementary English education in Korea.pdf


Research Methodology:

  • Investigated the effectiveness of Nori School, a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) in elementary English education
  • The participants of this study were 302 elementary students (5th and 6th graders) from five schools located in South Korea
  •  A survey and five tests (i.e. English learning achievement test, motivation test, self-directed skill test, computer use ability test, and game skill test) were conducted to compare students’ achievement between the treatment group (MMORPG program) and the compare group (face-to-face instruction).
  • To test the equivalence of the groups, a pre-test of English learning achievement was performed. 

Research Findings: 

  • Students in treatment group showed higher scores in areas of listening, reading, and writing than those in comparison group, but minor difference in speaking
  • Prior knowledge, motivation for learning, and network speed were factors affecting achievement in English learning 

Related Researches: 

          Key findings: The analysis (Literature Review) draws attention to the role played by learner training and indicates that for intermediate and advanced level

                              English language  learners, MMORPGs offer a motivating context that elicits engagement in beneficial forms of target language interaction.

                              Research further suggests that learner participation in network-based gaming provides valuable opportunities for vocabulary acquisition and

                              the development of communicative competence



4.Ranalli, J. (2008). Learning English with The Sims: exploiting authentic computer simulation games for L2 learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 21 (5), 441-455. Learning English with The Sims exploiting authentic computer simulation games for L2 learning.pdf


Background Information:

  • With their realistic animation, complex scenarios and impressive interactivity, computer simulation games (e.g. The Sims) might be able to provide context-rich, cognitively engaging virtual environments for language learning

Research Methodology:

  • This classroom-based investigation looked into whether the best selling game The SIMs could be rendered pedagogically beneficial to university-level ESL learners by means of supplementary materials designed to meet criteria for CALL task appropriateness 
  • Involved a convenience sample of nine intermediate-level ESL learners enrolled at a major Midwestern research university 
  • Exposed participants to all three experimental conditions:

          Station 1: vocabulary information and quizzes, culture notes, and instructions for each day’s play

          Station 2: an online dictionary and the same culture notes and instructions as in Station 1, but no vocabulary-related materials

          Station 3: only the gaming instructions

  • Pre/post tests, weekly quizzes, pre/post surveys were administered

Research Findings:

  • Found statistically significant improvements in vocabulary knowledge, as well as a generally positive reaction to the modifications among users
  • In terms of vocabulary acquisition, Station 1 yielded the highest mean score at 8.56, compared to 5.78 for Station 2 and 6.89 for Station 3. The results suggest that combining these supplementary materials with structured play of The Sims does indeed contribute to vocabulary acquisition
  • Indicate a generally favorable attitude toward the supplementary materials as important in playing the game 
  • The participants generally enjoyed playing The Sims despite the difficulties they encountered 

Related Researches:

          Key findingsintelligently combines The Sims game data from the English edition with data from editions of other languages (in this case, German) to form a

                             bilingual gaming environment, which exposes learners to abundant L2 vocabulary, yet still provides enough L1 support not to detract from the


          Key findings:  a statistically significant increase in vocabulary acquisition for the first condition (participants who received mandatory supplemental materials).

                               Student feedback suggests the supplemental materials were beneficial for successful task completion. Thus, how authentic computer simulation

                               tasks are structured and supported appears to have a considerable bearing on the appropriateness of the task. 





Future Research Questions



  • Listening, reading, writing, speaking are all important abilities that language learners must master and develop. In what ways and to what extent can gaming help second language learners master and develop those abilities? What are the learning outcomes that gaming brings to second language learners?
  • What is the role that school leadership plays during the implementation of game-based learning? How important the role is?
  • What are the instructional strategies that can make best use of gaming?
  • Are there any age differences (children, adolescent, adult, etc.) towards the overall learning benefits that gaming brings?





Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.

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