Evaluating Interactive Gaming as a Language Learning Tool


August 25, 2006


Yolanda A. Rankin


Northwestern University


We propose a methodology for evaluating second language acquisition in the context of massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Careful examination of learning opportunities present in gaming requires us to direct our attention to the characteristics of MMORPGs and how these characteristics support learning. Because role-playing games support social interaction between players, MMORPGs can serve as the catalyst for fostering students’ foreign language competency as students participate in interactive dialogue during game play. For these reasons, we believe that games embody an interesting and often underutilized learning environment for second language acquisition (SLA). Combing second language pedagogy and the benefits of MMORPGs, our goal is to create an effective learning environment for SLA. Rather than using traditional language learning software, we explore the immersive, virtual environment of Sony Online Entertainment’s EverQuest 2 as a language learning tool. After conducting a pilot study of English as second language (ESL) students, we presented the initial efforts of our research at the SIGGRAPH 2006 Educators Program: http://www.siggraph.org/s2006/main.php?f=conference&p=edu&s=40

Preliminary results suggest that intermediate and advanced ESL participants appear to increase their English vocabulary acquisition by as much as 40% after 16 hours of game play. Though all participants generated a 100% increase in chat messages within the first four weeks of playing EverQuest2, the number of chat messages and syntactical errors eventually decreased as students continued to advance game levels. These results suggest closer scrutiny of students’ interaction with both playing and non-playing characters and the types of syntactical errors found in each student’s chat logs as we prepare for the second phase of our game study.


Yolanda A. Rankin

Yolanda is a NSF Graduate Research Fellow, working with Professor Bruce Gooch at Northwestern University. As a recent Ph.D. candidate, Yolanda is currently conducting research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, developing 3D visualization tools to simulate global climate models. Her desire to improve the quality of life for others has contributed to her varied research interests, including computer graphics, educational technology and visualization. Yolanda’s primary research interest lies in computer game evaluation and design. She believes that computer games are often underutilized but provide the ideal learning environment. In joint collaboration with Microsoft Research and Sony Online Entertainment, Yolanda investigates the popular role-playing game Ever Quest 2 as a pedagogical tool for second language acquisition. As a graduate of Tougaloo College and Kent State University, Yolanda has attained a B.S. in Mathematics and a M.A. in Computer Science, respectively. With more than six years experience in industry, she has served as a software engineer for Wireless IS41 applications at Lucent Technologies and as a senior program manager for Optical Systems Engineering and Advanced Technologies at Luxcore Networks.