Video Games and Language Learning

When I was a child, most video games were in English, which was a foreign language for me, growing up in Germany. I remember one game in particular, a text adventure taking place in the world of Greek mythology. I had a German-English dictionary in one hand, and a book about Greek mythology in the other. I had fun, and played – and learned – for hours, both English vocabulary and the tales of Odysseus.

Getting our students to learn with such interest and deep motivation – a state of mind often referred to as “flow” (a term concept introduced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) – is a worthwhile but difficult goal. Video games are one way to create flow, and I wanted to briefly introduce a few good examples of appropriate games and some resources as well as links for further investigation in this guest blog post.

For several years one of the most versatile games I’ve used is a PS3 game called Buzz. Up to 8 players each take a wireless controller and then compete in a quiz game show, which can be switched to a number of languages. You and/or your students can write their own quizzes online, which can then be played on the PlayStation. For example, last fall semester my German 301 students submitted their own questions about what we had covered during the semester and then played the semester’s content as a game. The students who had learned the most won the game.

Because this is a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) video game, it is actually fun to play – something that is usually not the case for most educational games. Finding and selecting these COTS games is not an easy process (click here for an article about this), but I would argue it is worth our time to find engaging, meaningful, and yes, fun ways to use another language creatively. Small, browser-based games can also be great in your language classes because of their manageable scope, shallow learning curve, and their accessibility. Fitting into a single lesson, games such as the 20 questions game, Quest for the Rest, or Grow Cube can create conversation or writing opportunities and prompts.

New technologies, such as mobile devices, augmented reality, and geotagging allow for new hybrid, situated games. The game and storytelling engine ARIS, for example, can engage learner in new and profound ways in both a digital space and a physical place at the same time. Projects, such as the Mentira project, show that we may be heading in a new direction and that games have come a long way since the days when I played that text adventure in the 80s!

A blog post is obviously too short to cover the whole spectrum of video games and language learning, but I’ll stop here. If you are interested in the topic, please head over to my blog at for some more reviews and comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

Photo: Students playing Buzz in a foreign language (German)

About the Guest Blogger
Felix Kronenberg is an as Assistant Professor for Modern Languages and Literatures and Director of the Language Learning Center at Rhodes College. He was awarded the 2009 Marie Sheppard Award by the International Association for Language Learning and Technology (IALLT), and has been a fellow for the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education. He is the immediate past-president of the SouthWest Association for Language Learning and Technology (SWALLT) and is the editor of the IALLT Publication “Language Center Design”. His research interests include computer games and language learning, digital storytelling, and language center design. He maintains a blog called Language Technology Boot Camp.


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