Learning Languages by Playing
Play has always been used as a means of learning a second language. Serious games take learning a foreign language into the digital world and produce learning effects quite by the way.
Education and instruction has always sought the ideal conditions for effortless, casual learning. The image of „Nuremberg Funnel“ carries this to the extreme. Though not mechanically in this way, yet still effectively and entertainingly, digital games provide a framework for conveying information and education – so-called “serious games”. After all, play and learning have always been closely linked in human development.
Moreover, good computer games satisfy a large part of the requirements for learning environments: digital games are interactive, give direct feedback and allow for result checking at any time. Because they allow for trial and error, they enable experience-based learning, which is also problem and action-oriented. Because computer games are fun and entertaining, they furthermore establish learning motivation where this is absent in conventional learning.
The adventure of learning a foreign languageGiven the capacity of play to create a learning environment, the use of digital game-based learning for the acquisition of foreign languages seems to suggest itself. For as easily as children learn their mother tongue, it is correspondingly difficult to learn a second language at an advanced age. Because communication skills can be learned only through the creative use of language, for example role playing has a long tradition in the teaching of foreign languages. But board, card and dice games have also always been used for the acquisition of language structures and vocabulary, because games always contain interactive elements and they provide occasions for talking. Serious games go a step further: they let the learner immerse himself in game worlds in which language is only a means to a game end, so that learning effects occur almost incidentally.
The German-French project Eveil-3D strives to create such immersive environments. Because the best way to learn a foreign language is still to surround yourself with the language in the country where it is spoken, the team of researchers consisting of language teachers, linguists and engineers are working on a game set in virtual reality. In an artificial environment, players can interact as if they were actually abroad. Using only the foreign language, they explore the history of the Strasbourg cathedral and liberate a stonemason immured in the cathedral walls.
The serious game Lernabenteuer Deutsch – Das Geheimnis der Himmelsscheibe (i.e., Learning Adventure German – The Mystery of the Sky Disc), on the other hand, with which the Goethe-Institut teaches the German language and regional culture, seems like a classical adventure game complete with puzzles, combination puzzles and interactive dialogue. Players embark on an exciting journey across Germany to find out if the 4,000 year-old Nebra sky disc was stolen. Lernabenteuer Deutsch – Ein rätselhafter Auftrag für fortgeschrittene Deutschlerner (i.e., Learning Adventure German – A Mysterious Mission), for advanced learners of German, works along similar lines. A mysterious letter from her uncle brings the protagonist to Germany, where she becomes entangled in a thrilling criminal case. The learner can succeed in both learning adventures only if he can master the various communication situations.