Study: Swedish Boys Are Learning English From World of Warcraft

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 2 2014 5:29 PM

Study: Swedish Boys Are Learning English From World of Warcraft

453613636-visitors-try-out-the-massively-multiplayer-online-role
Visitors play World Of Warcraft at the 2014 Gamescom gaming trade fair on Aug. 14, 2014, in Cologne, Germany.

Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Swedish children, especially boys, may be learning more English during a late-night Minecraft session than from struggling through hours of homework.

According to a study by Swedish academics Pia Sundqvist and Liss Kerstin Sylvén, fourth-grade Swedish boys spent 11.5 hours a week on average doing things in English outside school—and a not insignificant 3.5 hours of that time were spent playing computer games like World of Warcraft, Counter-Strike, and FIFA. By comparison, Swedish girls spent only 0.4 hours of their 5.1 extra English hours a week playing such games.

Advertisement

Sundqvist and Sylvén discovered that many of the boys were spending time on multiplayers games in which English had become the lingua franca for interaction, seeming to seriously boost their confidence and use of language. “Since players in these online games are often from different countries, English becomes the default language for communication, both for writing and speaking,” they wrote on the Conversation. “To succeed in such games, they have to understand game content and they need many English words to do so.”

As Sundqvist and Sylvén note in their study, many online games incorporate key principals of effective learning that make them highly useful for taking up a foreign language. James Paul Gee, co-author of Language and Learning in the Digital Age, has written that such games are particularly helpful because of their ability to put words in “situated meaning”—words learned during games can be attached to the type of experience in which they would normally be heard, making them easier to remember than simply being told the word’s definition in a more traditional setting.  “Flirt” will be more memorable if you learn it when interacting with a dwarf female, instead of from your textbook.

A number of schools in the United States are also experimenting with using World of Warcraft as a learning tool. Peggy Sheehy, one of the designers of WoW in Schools, a workspace for tools that use games as part of language art courses, told KQED’s MindShift that the multiplayer game was a great learning tool because if was highly engaging and collaborative: “In my estimation, a well-designed video game is pure, scaffolded, constructivist learning at its best. … Mastery of content opens up new content and offers unlimited opportunity for success.”

Unfortunately for kids born in the United States or in countries where English is already the primary language, they may be at learning disadvantage in comparison to these Scandinavian kids. Given gaming banter is mostly taking place in their most familiar language, the opportunities to learn how to insult other players in, say, Russian are somewhat limited.

Perhaps you should do your kids a favor and change their Minecraft settings to Spanish, all in the name of advanced language learning. Then you won’t have to feel so bad about the hundreds of hours they spend playing it.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ariel Bogle, a contributor to Future Tense, is an associate editor at New America.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 23 2014 10:30 AM Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 11:34 AM Louis C.K. Crashes a Brad Pitt Interview on Between Two Ferns
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.