Direct and Indirect Learning Through Games

Direct and Indirect Learning Through Games September 15, 2019

Those who know me personally or through my blog know that I love language learning, as well as having a passion for gamification. You also know that I’m teaching a course that includes a unit on China this semester, and that I’ve been increasingly enjoying audiobooks. And so you won’t be surprised to learn that, putting all of the above together, I looked to see what language-learning resources my public library has for those who want to learn Mandarin. One that I came across was called Dr. Blair’s Mandarin Chinese in No Time. I hadn’t heard of it before, and so I confess there was a bit of a lag between when I first checked it out and when I started listening.

When I pressed play, I was confronted not with the stereotypical language course beginning, but with a story. I was in a boat off the coast of China, asleep, when I was awoken by what sounded like gunshots.

My initial reaction at this point was that perhaps the Libby app had given me the wrong book. But I kept listening and the story continued:

I contacted the U. S. consulate and learned that pirates had seized some sort of national treasure and taken hostages. I happened to be the closest American citizen to what was transpiring, and so the U.S. official on the phone said they would need me to negotiate with the pirates. I don’t know Chinese, but they assure me that won’t be a problem. If I follow their method, I can learn enough to negotiate with the hostage-takers.

I was wowed. I’ve found some really great language-learning resources in the past that had gamified elements in them. But this one was essentially an immersive role-playing experience.

How had I not heard of Dr. Blair’s method before? Had you?

While it would be easy for someone who wasn’t already motivated to learn Mandarin Chinese to dismiss this as a gimmick, for anyone with a genuine desire to learn, this narrative-immersive approach seems like it would have the potential to sustain that enthusiasm and engagement in ways that facilitate learning.

Of related interest, a recent “People’s History of Board Games” highlighted that “many games through history have been about making the world a better place, from critiquing capitalism to fighting for women’s rights.”

Values at Play has lots of things related to games and learning (a colleague drew this to my attention). I blogged recently about a connection between the class I am currently teaching and the motivation for gamifying:

Grades vs. Learning

And here’s a call for papers that is connected with this theme:

https://relcfp.tumblr.com/post/187027802306/nemla-2020-call-for-papers-living-in-someone


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  • Uncle Dave

    I think immersive role playing is an awesome way to learn a language. I had three years of German in high school and the parts of German I still remember fifty years later were from the role playing of scripted dialogs we learned and then followed up by role playing the parts with other students in the class. One of the neat things about this was that we were able adapt the dialog by combining it in various ways with other dialogs for other role playing scenarios that were not scripted.