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Learning English with Video Games

I am sure you have heard the standard advice to watch movies in English in order to immerse yourself in the culture, get acclimated to hearing English, etc. However, you might not have considered using video games as a way of practicing a language. Now, at this juncture, it is important to say that playing video games is not a perfect substitute for other forms of language practice. Do not, for example, abandon a language partner or stop reading grammar books. Video games are simply another way to immerse yourself in the English language.

Reasons to Consider Playing Video Games

  • Video games are fun. In fact, they are so entertaining that the video game industry is now bigger than Hollywood. If you are able to immerse yourself in the digital world of a video game, learning the language will not only become easier. It will also become more enjoyable, and that is half the battle right there.

  • If you watch movies, you are not interacting with the characters on the screen. If you play video games, on the other hand, you are forced to interact and respond to the verbal information that is being presented to you. Better yet, a video game gives you instant feedback: you will not be able to progress through missions or levels without being able to navigate the language.

  • Playing video games also helps you develop a variety of different skills not necessarily associated with learning English. For example, video games have been shown to increase your decision making speed and refine your motor skills. Are you interested in becoming a surgeon? A study at Iowa State University found that surgeons who played video games were over 25% faster in their surgeries and made 30% less mistakes.

“Real” Video Games Suggestions

When I say “real” video games, I mean video games that someone would go to the store and buy. In other words, these video games are not designed for the explicit purpose of learning languages. They are not just animated grammar exercises; they are fully realized digital universes. This list is by no means comprehensive. Rather, it just contains a few suggestions to get you started. As a side note, these games have varying levels of mature content. Please be sure to check the ESRB rating of any video game before you play it at The Entertainment Software Rating Board, known as the ESRB, is one of the organizations that examine video games for adult content. As a second side note, if I put a (PC) next to the name of any video games, I mean that the video games are software for computer systems, meaning that you will not have to purchase any additional hardware.

  • World of Warcraft (PC) - World of Warcraft and other Massive Multiplayer Online Video Games (MMO for short) belong to a very specific genre of video game. They are games that you play at the same time with a large number of other people in the same universe. For example, if you are walking through a city in World of Warcraft, you might see a hundred other people walking around with you- real people in the real world- all communicating with each other. As you can imagine, the possibilities for English practice are endless. As a side note, I call out World of Warcraft specifically because it is currently the most popular MMO on the market. There are many others with the same English practice opportunities, including (but not limited to) Guild Wars 2, WildStar, The Secret World, and The Elder Scrolls Online.

  • Heavy Rain- Some video games are almost like interactive narratives: complex, thought out stories that often heavily rely on language and speech. Heavy rain is one of the prime examples of this. It plays almost like a movie where your actions have real-world consequences.

  • Harvest Moon- I have not personally played the Harvest Moon series, but I have been told that it is incredible both in terms of entertainment value as well as language learning potential. This and games similar give you a farm to take care of and force to you converse with many different (English-Speaking) characters to succeed.

  • Grim Fandango (PC) - Grim Fandango is an older video game, part of the genre of video games called adventure games. It is also one of my personal favorites. Better yet, proceeding through the video game demands that the reader pay attention to what all of the characters are saying; verbal and written language is almost half of the entire game experience.

ESL Video Games Suggestions

Here are a few ESL video game links to try. These are video games that have been specifically designed to help you learn English. In other words, they are not designed to be thought-out universes. Most of them are simple games like hangman. Almost all of them are free.

Photo Credit: R Pollard
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