How video games can help you learn English

A controller

You’ve heard all the arguments against video games before:

Aren’t you a bit old to be playing games? 

Don’t you think you’re wasting your time? 

Can’t you do something useful instead?

Perhaps you’ve even asked these questions yourself. What’s important to remember, though, is that not all games are created equal. Yes, there are games that are only for entertainment - playing Candy Crush is not going to teach you much English except for ‘Loading’, ‘Sweet!’ and ‘Level 534’. But these are not the games I’m discussing. There are hundreds of excellent story-based games1 out there that include a lot of useful language.

In this article, I'll tell you five reasons why video games are a useful tool for learning English. Whether you’re already a gamer or you’ve never touched a controller2 in your life, I hope this article will persuade you that video games can really benefit language learners. 

1.  Practice your reading skills

It’s no wonder reading quickly and accurately in another language is challenging - around 10% of people struggle to learn reading skills in their first language. A team of researchers from the University of Padua were inspired by this fact to see whether video games could help children who have difficulty reading. The findings3 were fascinating: nine sessions of playing video games for 80 minutes a day improved the children’s reading ability more than a year of traditional learning methods[a]. Of course, video games have to contain enough text to make them worth playing. But if you choose the right kind of game, imagine how quickly your reading skills could improve.


Video games can improve our reading and listening skills

2.       Become a better listener

The days of text-based video games4 are behind us. Games nowadays are often voiced by talented actors with a variety of accents, so playing games exposes you to a lot of natural English. The best way to practice listening is to listen to something you find interesting, so find a game that you like and your listening skills will improve at a remarkable rate5.

3.  Improve one skill and you improve them all

You never develop one language skill in isolation6. Becoming a better reader makes you a better writer because you develop an instinct for what looks right; becoming a better listener makes you a better speaker because you hear natural pronunciation. Both reading and listening to English can expand your vocabulary and grammar. If you need to turn on the subtitles, don’t feel embarrassed – many native speakers do the same so they don’t miss any essential information, and reading while listening will help you absorb7 more language.

Video games can help us become better listeners and speakers

4. Get better at multi-tasking

Communication involves multi-tasking8: you’re listening to the other person and thinking about how to express what you want to say. People do this naturally in their first language. Understandably, it’s more difficult in a second language because you need to work harder to think of the words you need. A research team at California State University studied whether action video games can improve multi-tasking. They found that 5 hours of gaming a week for 10 weeks increased people’s ability to concentrate on more things at the same time[b]. This comes as no surprise, because video games involve a lot of concentration – that’s why you can play them for hours and feel like you’ve been playing for 20 minutes. So, play video games and you’ll get better at concentrating on more than one thing. This means you’ll get better at communicating spontaneously.

5. Take a break

Most people associate language learning with endless lists of vocabulary, sitting at a desk for hours, and tests that make your blood pressure go through the roof9. But learning doesn’t need to be done that way. You’ll want to learn more often and for longer if learning is enjoyable. You’ll never put off10playing a video game because it’s fun, but you’ll hear and read so much useful vocabulary in context. Spend an hour a day gaming and you’ll start to notice your English improving, all because of something you did in your free time!

You'll notice your English improving

Glossary

  1. story-based games (adjective + noun) - games that have complex stories, that sometimes involve making decisions that affect the way the story develops.
  2. controller (noun) -  a machine you hold in your hands to play games on consoles, such as PlayStation or Xbox.
  3. findings (noun) the results of a study. Usually plural.
  4. text-based video games  (adjective + noun) - games which have no voice acting in them
  5. a remarkable rate (phrase) - very quickly
  6. in isolation (phrase) - alone, without any effect on other things
  7. absorb (verb) - take in, learn (in this context)
  8. multi-tasking (noun) - doing more than one thing at a time
  9. go through the roof (phrase) - used to describe a number when it gets extremely high
  10. put off (phrasal verb) postpone, decide to do another time
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