Learning Can Be Fun: How to Learn a Language Playing Video Games
Have you ever wondered what the most effective way to learn a new language is? There are several, and Pimsleur’s language programs are at the top of the list. But it turns out that video games can also be an effective tool for quickly learning a language.
Several scientific research studies have found that video games can help users learn a second language. Indeed, a large synthesis of research has shown that, in general, video games can be a very effective language-learning tool.
And I’ve seen how effective they can be in my own life. I’m an English teacher in Brazil. I’ve noticed that my students who have the best English are gamers. They grew up playing video games at a time when there were not very many options to play in Portuguese. So, instead, they played in English. Now they’re fluent or close to it.
That could be you, too. Studies have also shown that we spend an average of 5 to 6.5 hours a week playing video games. They’re one of the most popular leisure activities in the world, especially among adults, with more than two billion users worldwide.
If this is such a popular tool, why not use the time spent gaming to improve or learn a new language?
I’m going to show you how. Choose your fighter, and let’s get started!
Level 1: Why Playing Video Games is an Effective Way to Learn a Language
Here are just a few ways video games can be an extremely helpful language-learning tool:
Neuroscience studies show that learning happens more quickly when it is done in context. That’s partly why it’s so difficult to remember random words you learn in a textbook; they don’t mean much to you.
Pimsleur is built around conversations precisely for this reason—so you can learn in context.
It’s the same in video games. As you progress through the virtual world, you discover the names of real things: characters, places, weapons for a battle, coins, treasures, objects, animals, and more. You also learn grammar rules as the dialogues unfold with other characters in the game.
Learning these things in context helps you internalize them.
Repetition of words and concepts is essential for remembering them in the long term. The more we repeat something, the greater the chance it will become memorable.
Dr. Pimsleur’s research has shown that new connections are activated whenever this dynamic system is triggered. So, when it comes to video games, repetition becomes an important part of the process.
As you level up, no matter how simple or complex the game is, you will still hear the same words repeatedly while playing, which makes you associate things and words.
Practice Listening and Reading
When learning a new language, you must master all four skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. But there are relatively few solo activities, aside from Pimsleur, that you can practice listening and reading simultaneously.
One of the strengths of video games is that listening and reading practice are woven in. You’ll find yourself reading and listening to a lot of dialogue and, in this way, learning grammar rules, new words, and idioms altogether.
Meet People Who Speak Your Target Language
No matter what game you choose, plenty of people worldwide always speak your target language and love the same games as you. Engaging in online forums, message boards, or social media communities can be an exciting way to meet new people and practice your new language while also learning secrets from your favorite game.
Level 2: Press Start
Want to try using video games to learn a language? Here’s how you can start.
Find the Right Platform for You
Playing video games was a more restricted and limited activity in the past. But these days, you can play video games on many different platforms, including on your smartphone. Downloading a game is as easy as clicking into your device’s app store. You can also play with Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox, Windows PC, and many other platforms.
Tips for Finding the Best Video Games for Language Learning
- Try dialogue-based games. These will be the best for practicing conversation.
- Try games that require solving puzzles or challenges using your target language.
- Try games in which you have to interact with other live players.
- Avoid first-person shooters. Lean towards role-playing games, adventure strategy games, and word games.
How to Play a Game in a Different Language
Great, you know what you want to play… but how do you play it in your target language? Here are some ideas for finding games in your target language.
- Mobile phones.
- Generally, you must change your phone’s language settings to play a mobile game in another language. Find out how to do that here.
- Online games.
- It’s easy to download games developed in your target language using Steam. Steam is an online platform that gives you access to many games for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows. You can filter them all by language, so if you’re learning French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, or another language… you’ve got it all there.
- Games for consoles.
- You can also buy games for your Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo consoles in your target language, you just might have to be a little creative. Some games have numerous language options, regardless of where you buy them. For others, you may have to order them online from a country that speaks your target language.
Level 3: Choose Your Game
Ready to give it a shot? Now you just need to pick a game!
Online mobile games, like AFK Arena and Scrabble, can help you learn and start speaking new languages, such as English, German, and even Russian. These games promise to connect you to native speakers from different parts of the world.
Here are four free options to download on Android and iPhone (iOS) phones.
In the mobile version of the famous crossword puzzle, you can go up against an AI player, your friends, or random players online. It is a great game to expand vocabulary for people who want to learn Portuguese, for example.
Scrabble brings the board games to the smartphone. Photo: Disclosure/EA.
Languinis: Match and Spell
This game mixes traditional puzzles with word search puzzles. The goal is to write as many words as possible with the letters at your disposal. It allows you to play in English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, or Russian.
AFK Arena is one of the most downloaded and well-rated RPGs today, both on Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Millions of players have tried the hero collector and liked its idle-style approach. AFK Arena can be played in a variety of languages besides English.
RAID: Shadow Legends
RAID: Shadow Legends is another RPG in which the player collects hundreds of heroes to form a strong group to face the different game modes. RAID has great graphics and lets you play with a variety of fantasy characters. Like the others, RAID can be played in a variety of languages.
Console Games for Language Learning
If you’re interested in console games, here’s a short list of popular games to use to learn languages, based on an unscientific poll of my friends:
- Animal Crossing
- Ace Attorney
- Legend of Zelda
- The Sims
Really, you can choose any game. Feel free to experiment and find which are the best for you. Also, feel free to share your favorite game to learn another language in the Comments!
Level 4: Include the Family
Video games are a natural choice for those of you wanting to encourage your kids to play a language. If they’re going to play their games, why not pick up Japanese while they’re at it?
It might take some convincing, but get creative. You might consider offering to buy their video games, but only if they’re in French. Or, perhaps you give them the choice of playing in English for half an hour a day, or in Spanish for an hour and a half. The promise of some extra screen time might be enough to get them into it.
At the end of the day, they’ll enjoy it just as much, and you can feel great about providing them the opportunity to gain a useful skill.
Try Playing Video Games to Learn a Language
Movies, music, and TV series are powerful tools for immersing yourself in your new language, expanding your vocabulary, and training your brain to think differently. The research shows that video games, too, can be effective language-learning tools.
They offer a variety of benefits all at once: engaging dialogue, a variety of grammar structures, new vocabulary, stress relief, and also the possibility of making new friends. They represent a revolutionary way to learn a language through context, interaction, and problem-solving. And they’re fun!
If you’re looking for a new way to complement your Pimsleur lessons, consider trying a video game in your target language. And please share your favorite games for learning a language in the comments below!
Download a free week of the Pimsleur app to start listening, speaking, and testing your skills and have fun!