By: Terry Fredrickson
Ask your students what they do in their spare time and, chances are, many of them will tell you they play video games. This is fun for sure, but with a few adjustments, it could also be a great language-learning activity. We will focus on English here, but the same ideas apply to learning other languages as well.
Switch to English
For many students, playing video games means playing solo with little need for communication. However, since some of the most popular games are multiplayer games – Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty, Minecraft, etc., joining a team with English speakers immediately puts them in a real-world English-language environment. This is a relatively comfortable environment since they already know the game they are playing and what is expected of them.
Others may already be playing in team games, but with players who speak their native language. For them, the transition might to English even be quicker because they know what information they must communicate.
In most video games that communication is somewhat limited. Gamers generally focus on the present in-game situation, the immediate past and the immediate future. In slower-moving games, however, there is time for small talk – ordinary conversation – so players need to be prepared to talk about themselves as well.
Thousands of videos available
Many learners will probably lack the confidence to join in English-language video games – at least initially. Nevertheless, they still have access to thousands of game-related videos posted by some of the best gamers in the world. Some, like Pewdiepie, Ninja, Shroud, and Dr. Disrespect, are genuine celebrities with followers numbering in the millions. Many of the best tutorials are also in English, so there is a lot to learn even without joining a game.
The benefits of playing/watching games in English are many. First, learners are exposed to the fast, and natural speech native speakers use with each other. Furthermore, since gaming has a global reach, they will hear a wide variety of national accents as well as regional dialects.
They will also hear and use many basic language functions: asking and answering questions, calling out locations, sharing items, relating what just happened and what is going to happen next, speculating, warning, encouraging, praising and criticizing (sometimes in very harsh terms).
For the past year, my son and I have been posting content to help learners take advantage of video games to learn English. Our project, consisting of both a website and a YouTube channel entitled Real English for Gamers.
Learners can see dozens of in-game videos from popular multiplayer games to help them decide which one(s) they might want to try. They can also find top gamers to follow.
As for language preparation, there are extensive listening activities, and students find out what type of language they will need to communicate in a wide variety of games.
There is also content for more serious language learners, including more than a dozen unit grammar courses, as well as units on important skills they should acquire like the ability to understand words from context and then put them to use.
Start with our main intro video and then take a close look at our website and YouTube channel.
At a minimum, you might want to find out which students are gamers and then let them know that REFG is available. Stress that if they are skilled at a particular game, they do not need a lot of English to get started.
You might want to help students get organized, pairing students of high proficiency with those of lower proficiency. This works well in an international school setting where many students are native speakers.
It also eliminates the possibility that students will end up with foul-mouthed, toxic teammates, an unfortunate possibility in the worldwide gaming community. I would tell students to expect to hear the F- and SH-word a lot, but there is no need to use such language themselves. Foul language will not make them sound impressive.
You might also suggest that learners record their games. That way, they can review (with you perhaps) situations where they were not quite sure what to say. We would love to see such videos and might very well feature them on our sites.
Taking the challenge
Encourage students to take the challenge of switching their game-talk to English. Can they complete a full game using only English? As their English skills improve, the “challenge” element will diminish, and the use of English will become routine.