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Learning Languages with Gaming and The Implications for Game Creators

Learning Languages with Gaming and The Implications for Game Creators

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To play or not to play? That’s the big question that has been pondered for at least a couple of decades with great intensity, in the context of language learning with video games.

Although considered a highly problematic activity by some, due to its highly addictive nature, gaming isn’t just for entertainment purposes – it can also act as a highly effective language learning tool.

Whether you agree that playing video games is time well-spent or not (which we hope you are), gaming makes for an extremely prevalent pastime activity. Global statistics show that there are up to 3.09 billion active gamers worldwide, and that number is only continuing to grow with every passing year.

Gamers can’t be stopped, and that’s a fact. So why not use that as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance? So, how can a language learner really develop any language skills from spending hours of their time knocking down opponents in a League of Legends game? Let’s find out.

And if you’re a game creator, you’ll want to stick around till the end, where you’ll learn how to harness video games’ potential for learning in your favour!

Learning languages through video games – Let’s talk eLearning and gamification

As the eLearning industry is continuing to expand, with a value projection of 1 trillion by 2028, traditional teaching methods are becoming a thing of the past.

That doesn’t come as a surprise given our youngest generations’ attention spans have taken a serious hit in the recent years. This has led teachers and educators to turn elsewhere for answers on how to best encourage their students to learn. And since video games, mobiles phones and the internet hold a special place in young people’s hearts, they’ve come to be considered a seriously fruitful avenue for learning.

Although eLearning comes in different shapes and forms, gamification, also known as game-based learning, is easily amongst the most popular and for good reason.

What is gamification and how does it compare to traditional teaching methods?

Gamification is a mode of active learning that incorporates game-like elements and mechanics in the classroom, as well as other contexts, for the purpose of reaching specific learning outcomes. This form of learning provides a fun and engaging environment that keeps students stimulated and motivated throughout the learning experience.
Playing games is argued to be a far more effective way to learn compared to standard, passive learning methods (e.g., memorizing rules). That’s because it makes students more likely to participate in lessons and encourages them to use, and ultimately hone, their language, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. More specifically, this hands-on experience can help students with retaining information they encounter during play.

Playing video games as a form of gamification

Using video games for learning a foreign language can prove extremely useful, as shown by many studies in the linguistics field. Most of those studies, however, have examined the potential of video games for learning English specifically, given it’s the language dominating both the offline and online world of gaming.
We’ve all heard anecdotal evidence for the ‘learning English via video games’ phenomenon. You might have experienced it yourself, if you’ve ever been an avid gamer at a point in time when your English skills required some upgrading.
However, there are a bunch of video games that exist in other languages. The most notable of those languages are FIGS, as well Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, German, French, Simplified Chinese, and Japanese, amongst others. Therefore, it’s fair to assume that video games can provide the necessary context not just for acquiring English language skills, but for learning these as well as other languages.
Although acquiring language skills through video games is definitely possible, the picture is far more complex than what first meets the eye. Many factors such as the learner’s motivation, the gamer’s intention (i.e., to learn or just play), their current language level and the types of video games they choose all come into play (pun intended). For example, an advanced language learner will not benefit as much from gaming in their target language as a beginner, because the language input they’ll be exposed to won’t be far above their current language level. Therefore, they won’t stand to learn to as great an extent.
It’s crucial to note that playing video games alone is not enough for acquiring a language, but is more so recommended as a supplementary activity for learning languages faster.
These nuances aside, let’s consider the multitude of ways that one can learn a language through video games.

How can you learn a language with video games?

Learning a new language involves acquiring many skills simultaneously, including vocabulary, speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. And playing video games, be it on a mobile phone, console or PC, can improve most of these skills, if not all.

1. Learning words through association

A gamer immersing themselves in a game’s fictional world, in a language other their own, is likely to encounter a myriad of unfamiliar words and phrases; for example, via game dialogues during NPC interactions and item descriptions. Unless the player has a dictionary handy, they’ll have to figure the meaning of those words entirely on their own, in order to progress with their mission. The only thing that’s on their side is context, which can show up in the form of pictures, cutscenes, or audio.
Acquiring vocabulary is more easily done with the help of contextual aids. In our case, as the player interacts with the various game mechanics, they start to create mental associations between the words and contextual cues that help them grasp their meaning.
For instance, let’s assume that our player doesn’t know the meaning for the word ‘resources’. If an NPC asks that the player’s character checks for resources ‘under a pile of rocks’, the gamer will then proceed with trying to locate the pile of rocks that seemed to be of significance (i.e., the contextual cue). Once they find the ‘resources’ at the requested location, they’ll manage to complete their mission and the new, unfamiliar word might find its way into their memory.

2. Improving reading and listening skills through subtitles

Dialogue-heavy games typically offer a subtitling option. And playing video games with subtitles on can be a great helping tool when trying to learn a language.
Attempting to keep up with the subtitles can encourage players to read faster, thus allowing them to pump up their reading skill level. This kind of exposure can even help the learner become more familiar with the language’s sentence structure. Consider the Walking Dead, an extremely popular installation of the Telltale game series, and its German subtitling alternative:

Reading dialogue alone is powerful. However, get your ears involved into the mix, and you’re in for an intense learning experience. That’s because combining listening to dialogue with reading can help learners improve their phonetic comprehension skills.
A non-native speaker can easily get lost when listening to native speakers converse. The sounds move quickly, making the language learner struggle with breaking the speech sound units apart. Therefore, subtitles in the target language are a convenient option for language-learning gamers, as they make it easier to keep up with the pace and help them become familiar with the sounds of the language.
Don’t forget there’s a pausing button too, that players can take advantage of to study the language more closely when trying to consciously improve their skills.

3. Improving pronunciation through shadowing

Listening to native dialogue presents another incredible opportunity for gamers trying to learn a foreign language: improving their pronunciation by utilizing a popular language learning technique known as shadowing.
Shadowing involves repeating back what the learner hears from a video or audio of someone speaking in the target language. By copying the sounds a native speaker makes over prolonged periods of time, the gamer will slowly start to pick up native intonation and pronunciation patterns.
For example, if you’re trying to learn Polish, the Witcher game series is a great option for levelling up your Polish pronunciation abilities, and has even received hordes of praise from native Polish speakers. Have a listen yourself:

However, older language learners shouldn’t have extremely high expectations while using this technique, because native-sounding pronunciation is one of the hardest language elements any foreign language learner can acquire.

4. Improving speaking skills by interacting with other players

The world of online gaming is vast and wide and the popularity of online video games, such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Fortnite, is off the charts. This is good news for language-learning gamers, due to the endless opportunities for interaction that these games offer.
For instance, Minecraft supports a mind-boggling 119 different languages and offers an insanely helpful game tool that players can use to find native speakers to communicate with them.
Conversing in a language is, by nature, a social activity, and learning to speak a language well is better done with the assistance of a partner. In order to successfully complete their online gaming missions, players are forced to interact and convey instructions with each other. Whenever there’s a gap in understanding, those same instructions can be communicated differently, or the fluent speaker can provide corrective feedback to the less fluent player.
Players are highly likely to also engage in online forum and social media discussions that are relevant to the game and talk with other players in the language they’re trying to learn.
All habits above can pave the way towards improving one’s own language speaking skills.

5. Learning through continuous exposure

We’ve discussed the advantages of paying attention to contextual cues for building word-meaning associations, as well as the benefits of exposure to the language’s speech and sentence structure.
However, a key factor that determines how successfully the learner can burn vocabulary and sentence structure to memory is frequency of exposure. The more times you’ll encounter a given word in context, for example, the greater your chances of internalizing its meaning, as with each encounter the strength of association will increase.
The number of times the learner needs to be exposed to a given word, sound or sentence structure in order to figure out its function isn’t set in stone, but one thing is certain: the more, the better.

What the potential for learning languages with video games means for game creators

In today’s time and age, many children around the world are growing multilingual, and there are many adults who’re intrigued by the potential of adding to their language repertoire. Given that video games are enjoyed by people of all age groups, having additional language options for players to choose from can help enhance their gaming experience whilst upgrading their language skills too.
However, the problem is that many video games limit their language options to one or two languages. This can be resolved by having game creators expand the number of language options they offer. That way, both language-learning gamers and the creators themselves can benefit exponentially.
Doing so, game developers can grow their global fanbase and build deeper relationships with their players, which could lead to higher customer lifetime retention and more revenue. The best way to go about this is by localizing your games, which involves adapting your video game to your new audience’s linguistic and cultural expectations.

Expanding your language options with localization

If you’d like to jump straight on to the localization process, our step-by-step game localization guide can help. Also, make sure to check out a video game localization example done right in the case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
It’s important to note that you’ve got to rely on the power of native speakers in order to enhance your players’ gaming experience and build a financially successful product in your target locale.
Generally speaking, natively localized video games offer far greater opportunities for learning a language fast, as well as more efficiently. Having native speakers translate and localize your game can ensure that the language being used aligns with the way native speakers talk in real time, ultimately helping learners with acquiring language skills quicker. For example, all lingo and slang will be used in the appropriate context which can assist players with creating accurate associations between words and their respective meanings.
Doing so can also reduce the likelihood of your game getting lost in translation, because let’s be honest: as a game creator, you wouldn’t wish to ever become the centre of internet ridicule on twitter.
To assist learners in improving and upgrading their language skillset, aim to localize the following game elements:
The in-game text, such as item descriptions, for helping learners with building a broader and richer vocabulary and understanding structural patterns in the language they’re trying to learn.
The video game voicer-over as that won’t just enhance players’ acoustic experience, but also aid with enhancing the learners’ phonetic comprehension abilities, as well as their pronunciation if they use the shadowing technique.
The subtitles which can assist learners in all of the above with the additional help of voice-over.
The game’s graphic design since pictures and other visual elements can act as contextual cues for learners to figure out the meaning of different words and phrases.

Looking to localize your game? Look no further

Having a broader range of in-game language options can be immensely helpful both for language-learning gamers and game creators alike.
Gamers learning foreign languages can take advantage of various game features to improve their skills on language dimensions including vocabulary, speaking, listening and reading. At the same time, game creators can build a loyal fanbase of gamers and language learners, which can ultimately impact their bottom line.
Localizing your games makes for an incredible avenue for revenue growth, but you need to place your game on the right hands to get the job done properly. That’s where a professional game localization agency like Pangea Global can help. Our game localization services cover translation, localization and copywriting for any platform, including PC, console and mobile phone, and for any game materials from scripts to user manuals, strategy guides, and more.
Let our expert team of native-speaking linguistics and gamers from over 75+ locales take your game to the next level by contacting us today! We’ll get started right away.
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