Which Video Games are best for L2 Learning?

Today’s post is not about whether or not video games can help you learn a second language – anything which contains words, be they written or spoken, can theoretically help you learn.

Instead, we’re going to take a short look at what kind of games are best for language learning.  There are two basic categories:

  1. Games which require you to understand L2 before you can progress
  2. Games which have everything prominently labelled, all the time

Examples of the first type would be stuff like Monkey Island, Professor Layton, Phoenix Wright, and, to a lesser extent, RPGs like Final Fantasy or Pokemon.  The latter two are significantly worse, though, because you can skip text and either bumble your way through the game or consult a walkthrough, thereby avoiding the need to understand the L2 clues the game may be giving you.

Examples of the second type include Pokemon, Age of Empires, SimCity or the Sims.  In Pokemon games, you’re constantly forced to use the same few Pokemon and pick from the same few moves, for example – that’ll get those words into your head.  (The usefulness of such words is debatable, however.)

Games which won’t help are ones like racing games or FPSs (since most of the time there’s no text, and when there is, it’s extremely specific).

This Post’s Raison d’Etre

So, I played computer games a lot when I was younger (especially Nintendo), and sometimes even now, I succumb to old temptations.  Last year, I bought a Chinese 3Ds with Nintendogs, Luigi’s Mansion and Ocarina of Time.  Of the three games, I think I learnt the most from Nintendogs; the text was easier, there were lots of repeated words and there was no incentive to skip through all the text as in the other two games, where skipping would allow a faster return to gameplay.  Even then, however, the Chinese rewards from Nintendogs were limited, and I would not recommend a 3DS as a good tool for learning Chinese.

I’ve also played a lot of European DS games in French, and more recently, German, and it’s mostly RPGs, simulators or RTSs which have been best in terms of learning those two languages.

I got addicted to GTA Chinatown Wars (in French), but didn’t learn much because in addition to textual instructions, there are arrows pointing you all over the place.  Textual comprehension is unnecessary.  However, I did learn a lot from the very easy French Pokemon Diamond, simply because text is everywhere, ideas are simple and repeated, and unknown words are easy to guess.  The French Phoenix Wright was hilarious, and I learnt lots of words for ‘kill’, ‘murder’, ‘prosecution’ and so on.


So there you have it.  Anyone else tried using computer games for language learning?  Which ones worked best?


2 thoughts on “Which Video Games are best for L2 Learning?

  1. Hey there Eldon! I hope you are doing well! Currently I am learning Dutch and while I don’t primarily use video games to help me learn foreign languages, I think they can greatly enhance your language learning studies. For example, I play games from the Uncharted series and at least in the first game, they offer audio and subtitles in Dutch, which is awesome for me. If anything, it helps you train your ears and brain to work faster and process information as quick as possible. I have to admit, I couldn’t understand more than half of what they were saying in the cutscenes. However, there was plenty in there that I COULD understand. I think that it’s extremely important to listen to native speakers talk in your target language because unfortunately, in the real world, when you want to use a language and gain fluency, you have to be able to comprehend what you hear and be able to respond on the spot. Video games, I think, can be a great tool in enhancing your language studies. Good luck! 🙂

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