Gamer Communication

Up your language game: playing your way to proficiency

Video games let you immerse yourself in another world. But your skill with a controller isn’t the only thing they can help you improve. We explain how gaming can take your language abilities to the next level.

Exciting characters, epic battles, impressive high scores: video games are a lot of fun. Or a waste of time, depending on who you ask. But what you might not know is that they’re also an impressively helpful language learning tool.

Fewer inhibitions = higher motivation

Studies by linguists have shown that video games offer particularly shy teenagers a space to express themselves. In expansive multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft, players communicate in real time via TeamSpeak, which requires them to use language quickly without overthinking it. An enemy ambush demands a counterattack – now. Between heated debates, angry outbursts and cheers of joy, players rapidly learn the most important words and phrases.

Communication is vital for progressing through the game – a much better motivation than a boring language exam. And language is used in much more dynamic ways in an online chat than it is in a textbook, keeping learners motivated for longer. What’s more, players always have the option of reloading the game and trying again. This steady repetition of certain expressions means that sooner or later, they’re bound to make it into your long-term memory.

Authentic language immersion

Even single-player games offer opportunities for learning. Just switch the language of The Sims, for example, and you’re well on your way to picking up dozens of everyday words and expressions. Even translated versions of games often contain foreign words or original dialogue. Or you could pick a game that was developed in your target language. Japanese learners, for example, are unlikely ever to run out of material thanks to gaming superpower Square Enix and its blockbuster Final Fantasy series.

By using language in context, with relevant images and audio, video games make it much easier to remember new words. Still, it doesn’t hurt to learn the basics before you boot up your console, or the whole experience can get frustrating. At least, I had difficulty navigating a Minecraft map with my non-existent Russian skills. Ах, крипер! (Argh, creeper!)

Become a linguistic jedi

It’s also a good idea to pick a game you already know something about. Fans of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings will have it easier when playing the corresponding games in a foreign language, for example, as they’ll be familiar with the plot and setting. Of course, learning the Spanish for “lightsaber” or “orc” may not get you that far on a holiday to Madrid, but at least it’ll improve your feel for the language and its pronunciation. Even simple smartphone games like Temple Run have something to offer – you never know when a phrase might come in handy in another context.

One thing’s certain: most of the time, you’ll be so absorbed by the gameplay that you won’t even realize you’re learning a language at the same time. Sure, it takes more than just video games to achieve fluency – but that’s not the point. The main thing is to have fun while learning. For everything else, we’ve got your back.

Cover image via Giphy

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