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Browser Games for Language Learning

Small, browser-based games can be great in your language classes because of their manageable scope, shallow learning curve, and their accessibility. Fitting into a single lesson, they can create conversation opportunities and prompts.

For instance, the 20 questions game, derived from a traditionally non-digital game, provides an always present conversation partner and lets users seek an answer individually or collectively. Players imagine a word and the computer tries to figure it out – it’s a human vs. machine contest that can create a collective in-group identity.20q_screenshot

Another small game genre is that of narrative puzzle games. Even though they are often not language-based, they provide a narrative that allows users to retell the story they experienced, to discuss their strategy and progress, or to write up a walkthrough. For example, in the game Grow Cube, players have to activate ten items in the correct order to create a series of events that generate a small world out of the initially barren cube. In Quest for the Rest, users click on objects on a screen in order to help a group of protagonists travel through their world. Ryan (2004) reports that a player’s performance is the source of satisfaction when playing games, rather than the plot.  She continues, however, that when players recount their experiences they do so by telling them as stories (p. 349). Thus, games may simply be the narrative source rather than the narrative itself. They create a shared experience among a group of learners and provide grounds for storytelling. Its users have a clearly identified goal, and with careful guidance and scaffolding they must use the target language to complete the tasks together. Such games fit into a single course session or short period of time and create manifold possibilities for meaningful interaction and storytelling.

Of course, there are plenty of smaller games designed specifically for language learning, for example these, these, or this one (all German examples). These games are, however, often not inherently fun but rather disguised language exercises. They are usually individual exercises, so if a student wants to do them outside of the classroom, I’d say: why not! But the examples mentioned earlier involve other people, and when we are teaching languages we want our students to communicate with each other. They can be one of many elements to engage our students and change the pace of a lesson sequence.

Work Cited
Ryan, M.-L. (2004). Will new media produce new narratives? In M.-L. Ryan (ed.), Narrative across media: The languages of storytelling (pp. 337–359). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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