By Published On: November 14th, 2022Categories: Article

Can You Learn a Language Playing Games?

Nowadays, video games are more popular than ever. This also means that many children and teenagers are spending a lot of time playing games. For a long time, parents have seen video games as a waste of time and many teachers did not consider games to be a viable way to learn, however, this train of thought is now changing. Using games as a tool to learn languages can be incredibly powerful and hopefully, this hope will help you understand why that is.

Yes, video games can be an incredibly powerful tool for language learning, especially for younger children and teenagers who more often than not lack the motivation to learn a language in a traditional classroom setting. However, the efficacy of using games for learning depends on several factors such as language level, themes and most importantly the types of games you play.

Why Video Games

For a long time, gamers have had a bit of a reputation as black sheep, society has taken the view that gaming is a complete waste of time. A lot of parents find that their children already spend too much time in front of screens, gaming not included and understandably so. These last 10 years we have seen a lot of developments, life is not like it used to be and a lot of parents did not play video games during their own upbringing. But technology can be a great tool if used correctly, like anything it can be taken to extremes, but if used in moderation it can have amazing effects. 

I have found through my own teaching experience that many children and teenagers today have short attention spans when it comes to traditional learning. The last thing they want to do is go through a language course book and read grammar tables, but they can effortlessly spend hours playing video games, so why not harness this interest and apply it to language learning?

What Types of Games Are Best for Language Learning

Like many things, not all video games are created equal with regard to language learning. First of all, you have to think about which skill you want to improve: reading, listening, writing, speaking or a combination. Games with a heavy focus on action e.g. First Person Shooters (FPS) and no dialogue such as Counter-Strike usually tend to be a poor choice, however, I can envisage certain scenarios where you are playing a multiplayer FPS and you have to interact with live players using a microphone as a potentially good opportunity to learn.

In my opinion, the best games for language learning are RPGs (Role Playing Games), Visual novels and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games). They tend to have a lot of text, which is great for reading comprehension, dialogue options for conversations with characters, which can be great to learn conversation skills and lastly audio which can help with listening comprehension.

  • Pokémon series
  • Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
  • The Witcher series
  • Fallout series
  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance
  • Disco Elysium
  • Coffee talk

Another genre of games is life simulation games, these types of games are great for learning everyday vocabulary and expressions. It is common for games in this genre to not have audio, so they will not help your listening. Many of these games are also made with a younger audience in mind so they are much more accessible for beginner learners than an RPG which can have quite advanced language. Here are some life simulation games I recommend.

  • Animal Crossing
  • Stardew Valley
  • The Sims

However, it is not always a clear-cut answer with all these genres, some games might be dialogue-heavy, however, use quite an archaic language in order to sound more ‘authentic’, fantasy games especially love to do this, but it does not necessarily mean the game is bad for language learning, it is just something you should take into account.

Another point worth noting is that games have themes and therefore the vocabulary will match those themes. Let’s say you want to improve your vocabulary related to furniture, jobs, clothes and houses then a medieval RPG would probably not be the best choice, whereas a game like The Sims which has a focus on daily life would be a much better choice.

What are the benefits of learning with games?

For me, the most important thing when learning a language is to lose myself in the process. There are no shortcuts, learning a language does take time and you need to be exposed to the target language. The secret is to make that time fly by. For many people sitting down with a grammar textbook for 5 minutes can feel like an hour, whereas when they are doing something they are passionate about 1 hour can feel like 5 minutes and that is the secret. Learning does not have to be boring and you do not need to feel guilty about having fun whilst learning, we need to clear this misconception that in order to study something you have to be bored.

This is why games are a great choice for kids, children can lose themselves in games for hours, to the annoyance of many parents. Instead of them playing games for countless hours in their native language, get them to instead play in their target language. At least then, it is productive.

Important Points To Consider

Now, whilst games are an incredible tool for language learning there are some caveats that I would like to mention. Games are great, but I do not think they should be your only source of learning, they should be combined with other forms of learning such as reading, conversation practice and listening. Secondly, video game addiction does exist and some people might use this as an excuse to spend more time playing video games, therefore like everything gaming must be done in moderation. And lastly, make sure the game you choose facilitates learning.. If you choose a pure FPS game with minimal dialogue then you are wasting your time.

So, next time you are thinking about studying your target language, why not give a video game a try?