Gamification in Language Learning

Ania Kozioł · 2023-08-03

Gamification in Language Learning

Language learning is a rather unique journey, imbued with overflowing measures of exploration, mystery, and feat. While it is true that it involves common learning strategies to some degree, it also requires additional elements such as varying input and output forms, cultural comprehension, and a solid grasp of metalinguistic patterns.

This openness and fluidity in language learning protocols make them an ideal testing ground for avant-garde educational methodologies. After all, modern foreign language learning classes move away from the formulaic and schematic teaching of language rules toward a communication-first approach with the technicalities hidden in the backdrop.

Amidst this evolution, gamification is showing its worth in the arena of language teaching. This intriguing hybrid of game mechanics and educational content is dancing in the spotlight, captivating students to learn by doing and nurturing the essential skills within a fun and dynamic environment.

Let’s dive into the vibrant world of language learning through gamification and see how this interactive method is reshaping the learning environment and redefining individual success.

The Unique Traits of Language Learning

Language learning to a large degree, relies on innate interactive systems and intricate rule-based understanding. It takes us beyond the sphere of plain academics, tapping into our cultural senses, imaginative powers, and social awareness.

This transcendent character of language learning stems from the way languages are acquired – which is unique even among other humanistics. It typically involves brain functions oriented towards blending known semantics, learning new syntaxes, articulation and enunciation, and so on.

Depending on the framework we approach language learning, whether it’s a classic method or an alternative one, we recognize that the process is multifaceted, with phases of acquisition and mastery that go beyond cognition into language intuition and cultural appreciation. 

Traditional Approach

The traditional approach to language learning process, which is currently phasing out, relies mostly on typical workbook exercises and grammar drills. This model treats each language skill individually: vocabulary, speaking (and pronunciation), writing, listening, and grammar. While this model is not innately wrong, and it is proven to work fine (especially with adults), it is not as effective as other methods.

The reason for this is that the conventional language learning methods detach language as a school subject from language as a means of real-world communication. It gives the learners a lot of knowledge about the language, including metalinguistic descriptions and explanations, but it does not provide enough opportunities to use the language in real-life situations.

This, in turn, misses the main objective of learning languages and promotes students that are good at passing tests and completing assignments over those with practical language skills.

Modern Approach

In the modern approach, the communication skills of a language learner are put at the center of the curriculum. Learning is implicit – while the objectives of the learning process remain more or less the same, the intention of a class is hidden within a communicative situation. The students’ aim shifts its focus from learning about the language to using the language actively.

This opens the class to project-based tasks, where language becomes merely one of the tools needed to solve it. Of course, the tasks need to meet specific requirements in order to be effective, especially with lower proficiency learners. Let’s take a look at this example of an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) or ESL (English as a Second Language) class.

Subject: A journey through the life of a famous person.
Student level: A2/B1.
Objective: to introduce (or reintroduce) the Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous tenses.
Learning outcomes: students should be able to communicate using Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous in appropriate contexts and know common phrases related to those tenses.

A typical conventional class would most likely consist of an introduction (i.e., reading activity followed by a simple gap-fill exercise), followed by the presentation stage with a demonstration of a few examples, practicing some examples together (again, gap-fill, followed by making custom sentences) and finally speaking activity at the end.

In a modern, project-based approach, all this could be encapsulated in one task: to prepare a presentation on the life of a famous (living) person. During this interactive learning exercise, each stage of a foreign language class comes naturally, with the presentation stage minimized to the bare minimum.

Alternative Approaches

There are multiple alternative approaches to the standard methods of language learning. Each is unique in its own way, and in the proper context, they can be very effective.

In the context of gamification, these alternative methods are both a land of great opportunity but also endless pitfalls. Connecting those frameworks with gamification usually ends up building an entirely new game-like system rather than overlaying gamification over the existing methods.

The Total Physical Response model can benefit from gamification, for instance, by reinforcing the responses with extrinsic rewards. Suggestopedia, where the rules are much more metaphysical, can take an escape room-like scenario where solving each puzzle requires using suggestions and tackling unconscious barriers that the students have against learning a particular language or concept.

There are also much more strict models. The Silent Way, for example, would be much more limited regarding how typical gamification elements might be introduced in it. However, given the vast use cases of our app, it is up to the instructor to decide on how and where they’d incorporate gamification in their curriculum – without disrupting the intrinsic philosophy of the framework they’re operating within, of course.

Interaction of Gamification and Language Teaching

Gamified language learning has revolutionized the way we perceive the acquisition process. This innovative synergy of gaming and education transcends beyond the accustomed classroom setup, making language learning an omnipresent activity. It intensifies your learning experience, engaging your senses in real-life contexts that use the target language.

In fact, the term “gamification” is nothing new in the classroom environment, and it goes all the way back to the 17th century when educators started to incorporate simple games into the curriculum. Its familiar principles of play, such as interactivity, challenge, and competition, have seamlessly lent themselves to the sector of language learning – and with modern technology allowing teachers to create an immersive learning environment, the influence of game-based learning on the process of learning a new language is continually growing.

How Games Break Language Barriers

Take the example of popular video games that engage players in collaborative problem-solving and treasure hunts in multiple languages. By incorporating the target language into game scenarios, these platforms transform the way students perceive language learning. Players are exposed to specific language contexts, new words, and structures in a fun and low-pressure environment, turning every gaming session into a comprehensive language lesson.

While this may seem as if such gamified elements were relevant only to teaching and learning simpler language concepts, other skills, such as listening and speaking, can be honed through game-based learning.

Imagine a voice-detecting game where responses in English are required to navigate levels or complete missions. It adds a visually stimulating element to language intake, encouraging immediate application and bringing the listener closer to fluency in the English language, or any other foreign language, at their own comfortable pace.

Integrating Game Elements with Language Teaching Platforms

Language learning platforms, like Duolingo, have been leading the way in crafting an ideal blend of game-based learning and traditional curricula. Such platforms boost student engagement by incorporating elements of game design, such as progress bars, points, badges, and leaderboards, thereby gamifying each language lesson.

This delivers a more effective learning experience, a dynamic process that stimulates participation and innovation. Learners get to track their progress via an interactive dashboard, receive immediate feedback on performance, get rewarded with badges for achieving certain milestones – all fostering a sense of achievement. Cumulatively, these engaging experiences encourage learners to invest effort and time in learning activities.

Benefits of Gamified Language Learning Activities

The primary objective behind integrating gamification with language learning is to make the learning process more engaging and enjoyable, thus improving the overall efficiency of language acquisition. If deployed strategically, gamifying education can significantly enhance the frequency and depth of student interaction with language materials. But that’s not all.

Increasing Motivation

It’s no secret that motivation plays a vital role in any language classroom. Applying gamification to language learning can incite intrinsic motivation by tapping into learners’ love for games. It creates an enjoyable learning atmosphere that prompts students not only to learn but also to apply their knowledge of the English language within the game elements.

The sense of competition can enhance the motivation to learn another language at an even faster pace. Users eagerly strive to level up and achieve higher rankings on the leaderboard, and while having such a leaderboard within one group may be disruptive, setting a common goal of getting past a certain threshold on the global top is likely to create a sense of shared identity among the learners.

Improved Engagement

The attention span of today’s learners isn’t what it used to be. Distractions are everywhere, and holding the students’ attention to doing monotonous tasks is close to impossible. Utilizing game-based learning in the language classroom is a good way to overcome this.

Even if the stimuli in a given game may not be as extensive as those in proper video games or social media, they still maintain their appeal. The gamified learning experience makes learners look forward to education, as they not only learn but also play and compete with classmates.

Empowering Self-Paced Learning

Everyone learns at their own pace, based on personal interests and abilities. Hence, one-size-fits-all teaching methods often neglect individual learning style preferences, potentially curbing potential development.

Going back to the example of Duolingo, its use of badges, points, and other gamified elements allows learners to navigate through the material at their own speed and gauge their learning outcomes. 

This freedom eliminates unnecessary pressure, thus enabling an inclusive learning environment. Moreover, this kind of freedom lets language students focus their energy where needed. If there is a part they have not fully mastered, they can spend more time learning and reviewing that part while others focus on their own. Furthermore, if there are parts they are already good at, learners can skip these parts, giving them even more autonomy.

Enhanced Learning Outcomes

Gamified language learning activities enhance motivation and engagement, providing better learning outcomes. It’s a clever and effective way to incorporate concepts and skills from other courses into it and develop an all-rounded curriculum.

As a result, learners are not only able to excel in the English language but also in other skills like problem-solving, communication and teamwork. The value-adding benefits of game-based learning extend beyond linguistic abilities, encouraging overall academic and personal growth.

Challenges in Implementing Gamification in Language Learning

While gamification has shown significant potential in improving language learning outcomes, it’s not without its challenges. Whether it’s a lack of familiarization with this teaching style among educators or the difficulty to accurately track progress, adopting gamified learning tools isn’t as smooth of a transition as we’d like to believe.

Overcoming Resistance to Gamifying

Learners accustomed to the traditional learning style may initially resist game-based language learning. This is true especially in cases where English language teaching follows strict grammar rules and vocabularies in rigid, exam-oriented curricula.

The transition from this traditional setup to a modern, game-themed language classroom is profound and requires patience and adaptability from learners.

There may be instances where the type of game used does not appeal to every learner. A board game, a quest game, or a strategy game may incite excitement in some learners but can be daunting for others.

Short-Lived Positive Effect

Flashcards, quizzes, scavenger hunts, and role-playing are all examples of gamification that add an element of fun to language learning activities. Yet, the effectiveness of these interactive activities often dwindles over time if the novelty wears off, causing the motivation to learn another language to drop.

This is why progressive tracking and repetition are important. Learners should be able to track their progress consistently and repeat. It not only motivates learners to aim higher but also allows instructors to ensure that they are moving in the right direction.

Final Thoughts on Gamification in Foreign Language Learning

Gamified language learning is not just about implementing fun and games into otherwise dull classes. It is about providing new and creative ways for language learners to build interest in language learning, encouraging them to be proactive and autonomous learners.

Its effectiveness relies mainly on the way it is implemented. The teacher must be well aware of the inner-workings of the game elements, how they are contributing to language learning, and the best way to incorporate them into the existing educational structure.

It doesn’t need to be over-complicated either. In the current classroom setting, adding just a few interactive bits like quizzes, map tasks, or something bigger, like a chatbot, can go a long way in improving the learning experience. So, why don’t we give gamification a try?

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