Learning English can be a stressful endeavor. All languages have exceptions to the rules, but in English it often feels like there are more exceptions than actual rules. (Seriously. Don’t even get me started on the weirdness of ‘i before e, except after c’, or making sense of the numerous pronunciations of “ough”.)
But, what if learning English did not have to be stressful? What if learning English did not consist of tedious drills and rote memorization of phrases? Part of making this happen is finding good content in English which captures and holds your attention. We have talked about music and shows , but we have thus far ignored my
guilty pleasure favorite method.
I am not talking about video games specifically built for learning a language. Not Duolingo. Not Fluent U. Or any other gamified approach, which in all honestly, is just trundling through a dense list of vocabulary and grammar. I am talking some of the best video games that there are. Games built for gamers. Games that take you to new worlds, or let you explore this one. Games where you can be anything - a hero, a villain, an explorer, a rogue.
Gaming to learn English? What world are you living in?
I live in this world, thank you very much.
The use of video games for the purpose of language acquisition is actually starting to be heavily researched and has been examined for over the past 15 years . We have already seen that video games can improve literacy in one’s native language; now, scientists are starting to wonder if this could have similar applications in learning a second language.
Their findings so far? Yes.
Let’s talk about what playing a video game could do for your
side-quest language learning and how you could benefit from using them on your journey through English.
Stop Studying English and Start Using It
Use English in a safe setting
The goal of a game is to beat the game itself. The goal of the game is not to assess your English, nor judge you for your grammar. English becomes the tool with which you beat the game. The game has set accomplishments and goals built into it. This setup allows for you to use English while accomplishing the game's goals
The pressure of perfection is lifted, as you start to dive into a world and conquer its challenges. You start understanding what is being said to you and figuring out the best way to respond.
I hear what you did there
In whatever game you play, there will be different characters from a multitude of backgrounds. These characters will each have their own set of unique quirks when it comes to speaking English—kinda sounds like real life, right? Getting used to different pitches, accents, phrases, and even intonation is directly transferable to conversing with others.
Bonus: You can often have characters repeat an interaction until you are able to process what is being said, and the character is happy to do so. Unlike in real life, where your friend sighs at you the fifth time you say “Pardon? Can you repeat yourself?”
I know what you said, but what did you mean…?
Paralanguage, Sarcasm & Humor
After interacting with enough characters, your brain starts to pick up higher order of language usage, like sarcasm and humor. You move beyond simply gaining vocabulary and start gaining comprehension, knowing not only the words that were said, but also understanding the intention of the speaker.
You will also start to get the knack of English’s paralanguage, which includes all those little verbal things that we do, but are not actually words. This adds a rich context to what is being said, and can turn something caustic into nothing more than a gentle tease. English, like many languages, has unique set of these sounds. These sounds can also enrich your day-to-day conversations, and give you a broader way of communicating.
Warning: Some of these sounds, though little, can cause confusion when used incorrectly. The German version of ‘hmm’ indicating a yes, can be mistaken for the English version of ‘what?’. Source: My life, growing up with a German mother, and living in the States.
Just soak it all in
Remember that one time your teacher asked the class for the word “server”, and you said “servant”? Well, I do. #awkward. My favorite video game was probably the cause…but at least I rocked out the health section and knew how to fix broken bones!
While some words may not be the best for everyday situations (What the heck’s a Hufflepuff?!), you will be absorbing common words and phrases from everyday life, and soon be using them without realizing where they came from.
You will learn words by seeing them and hearing them within the game, and they will stick with you, more than those words you learned from a list. The game provides context and environments for you to interact with. You will be able to find yourself navigating situations like ordering drinks or buying clothes (well…armor, but if I am going to be honest, I tend to go for the super-rare to find cool looking stuff that makes sure I don’t lose too much health when I get hit…dragon scales, anyone?)
How to get started
If you have an internet connection (which I assume you do, since you are reading this) and a computer, go set up a Steam account . Steam has a large selection of games that suit all kinds of interests. The gaming industry is massive, and whether saving princesses, exploring space, or every-day living is your thing, there is a video game for you. Steam will also tell you about the game’s language availability, and those settings can help guide your selection.
Pro tip: You will probably find more than one game that captures your interest. Buy the first now, wait for the others until the Summer Steam Sale. I work in IT, and this is a much-anticipated event. Our bonuses hit, and are immediately spent…
NOW that you have gained knowledge as to why you should be gaming to help you learn English, it is time to level up. Go conquer worlds, conquer your fears, AND master English at the same time.