Video games for language learning

Paul Daniels, Kochi University of Technology


Countless Generation Y youths spend a significant part of their lives in front of a video game screen; however, little is known about the effects of gaming on knowledge acquisition, and even less about its effects on language acquisition. Traditional games were used to motivate language learners long before the lure of digital media, but today digital video games may be a more likely choice for language learning support. Along with their popularity, video games are also drawing strong criticism. Both television and computers have gone though the same vilifying course that digital gaming is now facing. However, gaming continues to gain steam in the educational sector, and research on educational gaming is intensifying. Several years ago MIT initiated an educational gaming site < > to support research on educational games. Microsoft is also funding the Games for Learning Institute <>.

More and more educators as well as parents are eager to promote learning through the use of video games. In Japan, where game hardware saturates almost every household, educational video games, such as Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree and Big Brain Academy for Nintendo DS, have become tremendously popular. A junior high school in Kyoto has also recently completed a pilot study on the use of Nintendo DS games for language learning. The results were quite positive and information on the study can be found at: <>

Video games vary considerably in the degree to which they can be adopted for formal learning. After all, gaming is not meant to be structured or controlled but, with some knowledge of the available game hardware and of the types of games that learners find engaging, teachers may be more inclined to give video games a chance. Digital games can be used to develop a particular language skill or to review content related to a specific curriculum. Simple educational games that employ skills-based, kill and drill exercises can aid in language memory, while more advanced educational games can be used to connect language to images or engage learners in language intensive problem-solving tasks or exploration of new cultures. With guidance from educators, learners may be able to leverage the potential of computer games in language learning environments. The success of video games in education will require not only useful game software but also next generation teaching skills.

Below is a list of game genres, hardware, and software related to video games and language learning.

Types of games frequently used for language learning

  • Adventure and quest games
  • Simulation games
  • Race against time games
  • Memory and problem solving games

Game hardware/platforms

  • Nintendo Wii
  • Sony PlayStation
  • Microsoft Xbox
  • Personal computer (Windows or Apple)
  • Web

Portable game devices

  • Sony PSP
  • Nintendo DS
  • Apple iPod

Game titles frequently used for EFL learning

Eiken O (DS)(“King of Eiken”) introduces 300 Eiken-style questions that focus on listening skills. Users select answers using an answer sheet similar to the one used in the actual Eiken test. The listening has a repeat function that allows users to listen to selected sections for review. The software also includes an interview simulation where users can record their voice during the practice interview for playback. Explanations and hints for taking the Eiken test are also offered.

Game de eitore (DS)is a “Game of English training” for children who are first starting to learn English. It involves mostly listening exercises and alphabet writing. The game introduces 500 vocabulary items and includes listening word games. Users are also able to record their own voice which can be used in an animation.

Eigo zuke (DS)is geared towards adult learners who are not comfortable with using English. It is mainly a dictation type game where users listen to English and write what they listened to on the touch panel. The game includes over 1,400 English words and 1,800 sentences.

Talkman (PSP) is intended to be a travel aid that can be used as both a translation tool and a language tutor. The software includes a voice recognition engine which, when used with an external microphone, can interpret a narrow set of spoken words and phrases.

English Lessons with Snoopy (DS)includes four types of lessons that focus on vocabulary review, spelling, and sentence writing. The main lessonmakes use of DS’s touch screen function. Players can explore scenes and select objects within each scene to view their English spelling and listen to their pronunciation. The pronunciation recordings are of a native speaker and the game also includes a 1,000 word dictionary and English training mini-games.

My Word Coach (Wii, DS)attempts to engage gamers with vocabulary building exercises such as inserting missing letters from words, typing in answers to definitions, and creating words with letter blocks. The software includes 17,000 English words and, by using the wireless capability of either Wii or DS, up to 5 players can compete with each other.

Shin doko demo eikaiwa (iPod)is an iPod version of the company’s computer software version. The application consists of listening activities, flash cards and multiple choice questions. The flash card exercises allow users to study 1,200 vocabulary items and the dictation practice is to help learners improve listening and writing skills.

Ei tango wa oboeru monojyanai (Windows PC) contains 3,000 of the most frequently used TOEIC test vocabulary items. Using only the mouse to operate the software, users are able to listen to both English vocabulary items and the associated Japanese translations.

Arcademic Skill Builders (Web)is a website that includes a tempting set of arcade-type games for education. The language games include Word Frog, Capital Penguin, Coconut Vowels, Word Invasion, and Verb Viper. While the site is intended for native speakers, EFL learners may also find the games engaging. The games can be accessed for free at: <>. Adobe Flash Player is required.