Take Your Learners to Work: A L2TL Review of “MyCafe: Recipes & Stories”

This review is part of a series of posts that examine different games for their usefulness in teaching ESL/EFL under a game-design enhanced approach to TBLT. Want to know more about that first? See this foundational post for background information and an actual example.



Thank goodness… all we have is tea.

I have from time to time, played facebook games. I know to some gamers, that is.. like the most disgusting thing you can do. But I have found some of them fun and even, maybe.. engaging. Of those games, a certain genre generally gets my attention, the job simulator. These games put you in the position of worker, owner or designer of some sort of socially-acceptable job.

Unsurprisingly, jobs and work are often, very often, topics for second language learning and teaching (L2TL). This review then, is interested in discovering how well, if at all, casual job simulator games are for L2TL. this review will follow a basic format. First, I will explain basically the game and its core mechanics along with the communities that exist around the game. Then we will present an overall, table-form, evaluation of the main areas of game-design enhanced Task-based learning and teaching (TBLT) from Sykes & Reinhardt (2013). A detailed discussion of the evaluation follows with specific examples from the game. Part 2 of this review will discuss useful ways to leverage My Cafe: Recipes & Stories for L2TL.

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Using Games to Examine English L2 Learners’ Word Recognition Strategies

The following is a mini research project I conducted in 2015 using a simple card game designed for vocabulary learning, Word-A-RoundThis paper was never meant for actual publication and as such, the raw data for this project has been erased. But if you find the results here interesting, or the topic, this is might be a good jumping off point for your own work.



Garden-path jokes are a comedic staple.. and interesting linguistic phenomena!

Literacy and vocabulary knowledge, even in very young learners, has been suggested to predict future academic performance (Christian et al., 1998) and its importance both in education and the popular press has only increased over time. Additionally, literacy has been shown to improve cognitive functions and metalinguistic skill in ways that are similar to bilingualism (Hamers & Blanc, 2000). The interaction then, of education, reading and bilingualism has been a growing field of interest in second language acquisition (SLA) research.

Since the “sociocultural turn” (Johnson, 2006, p. 237) in SLA, literacy education focused on situated language use and the ecological affordances of the classroom have also shown new ways of understanding the role of literacy and learning. This turn, however, has often been viewed from the more general aspects of learning, considering fully contextual and authentic reading while ignoring traditional word recognition and decontexualized or perceived inauthentic reading. As such, little has been said in the new era of sociocultural SLA about word recognition in situated classroom environments.

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How We Hear Language: Representation and Direct Perception

  • The following is the first finished draft of the literature review for my Master’s thesis English Front Vowel Perception by Korean University and Elementary EFL Students: The Role of Syllable Codas and Foreign Living Experience. It changed in certain important ways after this, but I found the collection of information gathered here to be helpful.



And so science began – from SMBC

Knowledge and how we come to know has been a preoccupation of philosophy and science for centuries. The field of epistemology is entirely dedicated to this pursuit and still examines and re-examines what it means to know and if it is possible at all. A key tool, and maybe the most often pursued, is the knowledge that is available from our senses.

Speech perception clearly falls into the category of sense knowledge, being a specific form of sound sense. And while sound has often been given second-hand status by philosophers and scientists who more often build theories on the foundation of vision, many have begun to examine the specifics of sound sense itself and specifically the sensing of speech sounds (e.g. Nudds & O’Callaghan, 2009). Speech occupies an important place in the science of perception, language and knowledge because it has seemed to be unique to humans. Research into whether or not humans uniquely perceive speech and if so, how humans perceive speech differently has been approached from various perspectives.

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How To Give Effective Feedback to Language Learners?: An Example of Vygotskian Responsive Assistance

  • Previously, I wrote a piece critical of what many EFL teachers might think is good advice for giving student feedback. I mentioned in that post that a more effective method would be Dynamic Assessment. This post then is a follow-up to that post. Here I detail what exactly DA is and then provide an extend example with data of what it looks like in action.


Since “the sociocultural turn”, the field of second language acquisition has seen a shift in the way many educationalists and linguists view the dialogic nature of the teacher-student interaction. The turn from traditional initiate, respond, evaluate forms of teaching has been replaced with a Vygotskian form of responsive assistance, in some cases called instructional conversations (IC). The core these IC communications, according to Meskill & Anthony (2010) is the dynamic relationship between two people and how they “recognize and respond appropriately to the myriad of teachable moments” (loc. 515).

In order to recognize and respond, much more than attending to the forms and function of a language in the classroom is necessary. Our sociocultural theory of education must also be ecological in viewing itself as situated in a particular environment, with its own unique and variable affordances.

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Rewards and Quests as Motivation and Tasks in L2TL: A Review of “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft”

  • This review assess the potential for game-design enhanced second language teaching and learning of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. For background reading about the philosophical and linguistic-theoretic foundation for the approach used in this review, see here and here.

The Game

Hearthstone: Heros of Warcraft is an online competitive collectable card video game developed by Blizzard Entertainment first in March of 2014. It can be played from multiple platforms including a computer, apple or android phone and tablets. Hearthstone is a multiplayer, free-to-play, card strategy game with additional single player role-playing elements.  Hearthstone can be considered a traditional and casual game because of its dynamic player-matching system which intends on matching players against others of a similar ability. It is often promoted as “deceptively simple but epically engaging” because it can appeal to players unfamiliar with both the World of Warcraft universe and collectable card games, but at the same time fosters a play environment for serious, even professional, players.

Hearthstone, while two years old, maintains a high level of critical praise. Meta-review websites like Gamerankings and metacritic, which analyze multiple reviews from various websites in order to give a game a ranking give Hearthstone a 92.50% (out of 100%) and 88 (out of 100) respectively. Reviewers have consistently praised it’s easy to learn game mechanics, user friendly interface and general aesthetic design. The game is available in fourteen different languages including English and Korean.

Players in Hearthstone have two tasks, build a deck of cards based on one of nine specific classes of fighter such as Mage, Warrior or Hunter, and playing one versus one games against either a computer or real people. By playing games, primarily games against real opponents of similar skill via a match-making process, players earn gold and new cards to help them design and build better decks for future games. By crafting better card decks and play strategies, players gain ranks, which pits them against even more skilled players.

Players learn the game by going through a series of tutorial games first. After downloading the game, players are immediately put into a game and given step-by-step visual and spoken language instructions in order to play their first game. They begin with a simple game in which there is no choice given to the player besides playing a single card or not playing at all. The games build up slowly more player agency until the last game which gives the player the freedom to play a normal game. In Sykes and Reinhardt’s (2013) terms, the tutorial can be described as fully learning-driven at the beginning but more learner-driven by the last game. Once the player finishes the tutorial, they must continue unlocking content by playing practice games against the computer or real players. Once the player demonstrates some level of skill in all the basic classes and play-types, the game is fully unlocked and players are free to play the game as they want. There is no real end-point for the game, but each game played against an opponent can last between 10 to 40 minutes, depending on play styles.

Because Hearthstone is narratively based on WoW, all the classes and cards are based on characters and actions that occur in that world. For this reason, the game is designed to look as if the player is entering a WoW inn or tavern. When opening the game, a dwarven innkeeper invites the player to come in and play a game and folk music common to fantasy genres is playing in the background. When playing a game, background noises indicate that there is a “crowd” watching the game as well and they respond to how the game develops.

Hearthstone Communities

Besides playing with people in the game, Hearthstone has an active community outside the game on various websites. The official Hearthstone forums at battle.net provides forum discussions focused on the various game types and class types as well as strategies. In addition, questions can be asked which will receive official or “blue” responses from the game developers themselves.

Besides the official forums, Hearthstone has developed other forum-based communities such as reddit.com/r/hearthstone and hearthhead.com. Each of these websites discuss meta-game strategies, hypothesize about styles and report on games they have played. Hearthhead in particular has a visual collection of all the cards along with their audio as a tool to craft card decks without opening the game itself. Content on hearthhead is designed towards strategizing deck builds, whereas the reddit community is oriented towards more casual discussions of gameplay and news. Additionally, the reddit community provides links to casual and professional streamers, which are people who broadcast their games live on websites like twitch.tv. Each streamer has their own community of viewers who can chat with the streamer live, making their games either highly tutorial-like or even like a variety-hour show.

Evaluation Sources and Method

In order to evaluate Hearthstone I first played the game for five consecutive weeks (and have since played the game for close to a year). Each week, game-play was associated with one of the specific criteria in Sykes and Reinhardt (2013; described here) and described in a journal (see the end of this article for an example). Each week I played about 2 hours in game and about 2 hours in the various communities, equally about twenty hours altogether of game and community time. While this was still not enough time to become a complete insider or expert in the game, five weeks and twenty hours did allow me to move beyond first-impressions and change my mind or perspective about various aspects of the game.

To answer our questions, is Hearthstone good for game-design enchanced L2TL, then, I examined the answers given each week to the various question prompts from Sykes and Reinhardt (2013) that approach each criteria from various angles in order to determine Hearthstone’s applicability to L2TL. Finally, Hearthstone is given a categorical ranking based each criteria as either not useful, somewhat useful or useful.

General evaluation

As can be seen in the table below, Hearthstone is a mostly useful for game-enhanced L2TL activities, with some problematic aspects. The most useful parts of the game relate to the use of in-game tasks and goals and game feedback. Somewhat useful aspects include game interactions, narratives and motivation.


Using Goals and Tasks

At the same time however, the game provides various ways to play and rarely forces the player to play a single play type. Daily quests can be completed in one of the three main play types Ranked play, Tavern Brawl or Arena. The player chooses, for any given game, what type of game they want to play, in addition to choosing their class and card deck.The most useful aspects of Hearthstone for L2TL activities involve the multimodal and dynamic mechanisms for player feedback and goals and tasks that support player autonomy and agency. For Sykes and Reinhardt (2013) an important aspect of goals and tasks in games is the way tasks build up or lead to bigger or more global goals. Cycles of task and reward help motivate and signpost to the player that they are moving in a good direction.

In the case of Hearthstone the game provides a highly repeatable and simple cycle of

1) building a card deck and
2) playing against an opponent.

The combination of (1) and (2) leads to

3) rewards that lead to better cards
4) building better decks.

This broad cycle of card acquisition and playing individual games is supported by smaller daily quests and game events that provide players with explicit goals for each game they may be playing. In addition to these explicitly stated quests, the game also provides secret quests that, when completed, grant a surprise reward to the player. The main cycles of play, along with explicitly given quests with important and clear rewards gives the player a clear view of the direction they are heading in the game.


In-game feedback is rich in detail. If a player attempts to complete an illegal move (such as playing a card that costs more mana than they have), the game informs the player that this is not possible by: spoken message, a pop-up banner with a written message and a chat bubble from the player’s avatar that provides the spoken message in written format. In addition an indexical error sound is heard and the message banner in the center of the screen has a bright white color as a border.

In-game feedback also comes in the form of crowd cheers for good plays, highlighted cards that can be played during a players turn and differently colored information on the cards that indicate either a cards normal state (black) an improvement (green) or damage dealt to a card’s health (red).While the games tasks and goals are provide the player with autonomy and agency, the game’s feedback mechanisms clearly communicate to the player in the moment they need it, what their current status in the game is. Following the table of feedback mechanisms listed in Sykes and Reinhardt (2013) Hearthstone provides feedback related to all eight, often in multimodal forms (e.g. spoken and written language simultaneously).

Somewhat useful aspects


pal_in_paladinA major area of contention amongst players, and in this evaluation, centers around the in-game communication system Hearthstone uses to facilitate player-to-player interaction. Hearthstone uses an emoting system instead of an in-game chat program which only allows players to send one of six pre-determined messages. Players on the forums continually complain about the lack of in-game chat and the vagueness of the emoting system. For their part, Blizzard has defended their emoting system in large part because it prevents serious acts of online bullying that are common to other types of games. The trade-off for this safety however, is what some players have said makes Hearthstone a lonely multiplayer game. Additionally, because the emotes are so vague, some players feel that all emotes could be taken sarcastically and therefore as a type of taunting.

However, while the in-game communication may be weak, this could drive more players to the attendent communities in order to talk, perhaps generating even more conversation about the game.



A separate problematic area involves the narrative of Hearthstone. While Hearthstone is clearly built around the WoW universe, it may not be entirely obvious to players that they are entering a WoW tavern when they open up the game to play. Nor is knowledge of the game narrative or lore of WoW necessary to play the game. Hearthstone players can and do effectively play the game without any knowledge of WoW. In some ways this is a positive aspect, as it allows players to have fun playing the card game mechanics without spending too much time understanding why the cards are the way they are, but in other ways, the lack of explicit story-driven narrative can lead to difficulties in understanding the game. Such as why different classes have different abilities and cards, or why some minions seem to work better with certain classes.

However, as players get experience with each of the different classes, they are likely to enjoy playing certain classes over others. In addition, each class has specific play-styles that may seem more suitable than others. In this way, the player-narrative that emerges from interaction with the game classes and play styles does provide context and player identity.  Players in the community forums will often discuss their preferred class and play-style (or deck build) and many of them will choose to play a certain class and style, even though it may be considered a bad play-style by many others in the community. With nine classes and thirty cards to create a deck, the number of potential play-styles is very high and so also too, player identities.


Typical, random conversation on the official forums

In general then, Hearthstone provides a foundation of player agency, well-defined and repeated tasks and goals along with dynamic feedback about player progression through the in-game match-making system. These aspects recommend Hearthstone for L2TL game-enhanced activities. Potential problems come from the game’s social interactivity and narrative. This evaluation will now turn to a discussion of the applicability of these aspects to L2TL.


Through over twenty hours playing the game and participating in the player communities surrounding the game, it is the determination of this evaluation that Hearthstone does have potential for game-enhanced activities based on the five criteria from Sykes and Reinhardt (2013; see this explanatory post). How to implement or leverage these aspects of good game-informed TBLT L2TL will be the main focus of this discussion.

Crucial to TBLT is the idea of tasks and goals, and in game-informed TBLT, these tasks and goals are learner-driven and not just designed for learning. Hearthstone provides two key aspects that can help in this area. The first is that tasks are highly repeatable without being boring or monotonous and the second is that Hearthstone provides various play styles along with play types. More competitive players will enjoy playing Ranked play in the dynamic match-making system that pits players against other players of similar rank. Other players may be more interested in building a random deck and seeing how their deck plays against others. For them, the Arena is a good option. Finally, thematic games with special play and win conditions are offered every month in the Tavern Brawl. Brawls diverge significantly from other play types and add even more variety.


This variety of tasks and goals can be leverage by in the L2TL class by building students strategic and linguistic knowledge necessary to complete tasks or participate in different play types. Additionally, building students explicit awareness of what their goals are during any given play session can help them and their teacher see how their goals in the game and possibly in relation to language learning may change over time. Many of the daily quests offered by the game relate to winning games with specific classes. Learners will need therefore, to play a variety of games with a variety of classes, many of which they may not be entirely comfortable playing with. Learners can be instructed to use community websites such as Hearthhead to learn important deck-building concepts and get templates for good class-specific deck builds from the community. All of which has an sociocultural-linguistic component.

As these potential activities also relate to feedback, learners could also be instructed to get feedback on the card decks they have built. Instructors would direct learner’s attention to various examples in the community of deck reviews, which are a popular topic in the community, and observe what language appears to be vital in order for a deck to be reviewed and other important information, attitudes and linguistic functions used to elicit the most high quality responses from the community.

Hearthstone’s other feedback mechanisms are also well-developed and several areas can be used for L2TL. As seen in the image above, the player’s quest log represents all their various class levels, point ranks and daily quests. Learners can be asked to reflect on their quest log after a play session, make note of their various levels and create personal goals based on their log for their next play sessions. Over time, and as their levels increase, players can reflect back on their previous goals and consider their future goals.

Leveraging the somewhat useful game-design

Importantly for Hearthstone and L2TL, learners need to learn to use and navigate the in-game emoting system. As noted above, this is a contentious aspect of Hearthstone. For L2TL however, the emote system also represents an opportunity to teach communicative pragmatics and flouting. Students could be directed to a video of a popular streamer play several games, or a series of screenshots, capturing emote-use. Students would discover what the player intended to communicate and also what they interpreted from their opponent. Students could then practice in real games using the emote system to try and communicate with their opponent and record the results.

Finally, Hearthstone is part of a narratively-rich and expansive world that goes beyond the video games WoW and Hearthstone and involves books, music and movies. All of these other media could be potentially used to supplement and contextualize student knowledge about the world of Hearthstone. An easy way perhaps to do this would be to show the short trailers that Blizzard produces for each expansion of both WoW and Hearthstone. These short trailers are themselves short stories that provide an introduction and context for the story the games are intending to communicate.

As mentioned above however, the emergent narrative from the player-game interaction is also an important aspect to use, particularly as it relates to learner agency. After learners build and play a few decks and games, they could be directed to Hearthhead and asked to find the names for specific class/deck combinations (such as Patron Warrior, Fatigue Mage and so on) and to write them down. Learners could be tasked with providing reasons these archetypes exist and what type of player would want to play them (e.g. Control warrior would be someone who likes to play a long and deliberate game). Learners could then decide on a class/deck style that best fits their own personality and perceived playstyle or to try on a playstyle they perceive as their opposite.

As can be seen from this discussion, the use of games and particularly Hearthstone in L2TL can both teach specific linguistic forms and functions (e.g. through in-game emoting pragmatics) and facilitate playfulness with learner identity. Hearthstone is also an ideal game in comparison with its bigger brother WoW, in that it requires less time to play, is playable on a variety of devices and is free to play.  However, like all games, particular people and classes may view games in general negatively and Hearthstone does not avoid that. Additionally, the fantasy genre may feel less than applicable for many L2TL contexts that maybe are more focused on real-life communicative situations. While there is certainly an argument that can be made for the transferability of skills, teachers and students alike may not enjoy playing a fantasy card game that appears so far removed from their real-life communicative needs.


This evaluation proposed to examine Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a card strategy game based on the World of Warcraft for their usefulness in developing game-enhanced L2TL strategies. Five areas of game-informed TBLT L2TL were borrowed from Sykes and Reinhardt (2013) and used as our criteria. We found that overall Hearthstone is useful, with some problematic areas.

Positive aspects are related to the cyclical and explicit tasks and goals along with a variety of play options, which promote a learner-driven teaching environment. Hearthstone’s dynamic ranked match-making system and interactive quest log provide useful and just-in-time feedback related to player skill and ability. Problematic areas involve the poor social interactivity of what is mostly a multiplayer game due to a limited in-game communication chat system. Narrative too was found to be too implicit and possibly confusing for players unfamiliar with WoW and its context.

  • This evaluation recommends using Hearthstone by building off the goals and tasks provided by the game to motivate learners and promote their own agency. Teachers should also directly confront the problematic areas by giving learners explicit instruction in the pragmatic features of the in-game emote system and helping learners develop their own emerging narrative with the game through other online communities.


Sykes, J. M., & Reinhardt, J. (2013). Language at play: Digital games in second and foreign language teaching and learning. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Gaming Journal

Journal #:
Game Name:
Community URL:
Gameplay time:
Community time:

Our minimum requirement for playing sessions is one hour, though you are welcome and encouraged to play longer. Playing sessions consists of the combined time spent playing the game and visiting the communities surrounding it. After the playing session, complete the two sections below.

Section I. General information
1. Briefly describe your playing session (for example, what did you do in the game and in the community).

2. Overall, how do you feel about this playing session? Why?

3. What, if anything, did you learn about playing the game?

Section II. Reflecting on playing sessions through learning concepts
1. Go to the wiki find the “S & R areas and criteria” page. Copy and paste the weekly focus area criteria from that page to here.

Then, respond to the questions. Refer to the game evaluations in the Sykes and Reinhardt folder on the wiki for models and ideas.

2. “Other” learning experiences and criteria: 
a. Through your participation, did you learn or notice any new linguistic (L1 or L2), digital (e.g., images, videos, sound), or other forms of knowledge (e.g., values, practices, ideologies, stances) related to particular groups or sub-groups, or that were common to the online place/space?

b. Aside from the conceptual criteria listed in Sykes and Reinhardt, did you notice any other ways that engaging in gameplay or participating in community activity can assist L2 learning (for example, socialization processes or support from the digital environment itself)?


Using A Game-Design Enhanced Approach to TBLT: The Example of The Social Deception Tabletop Game “Coup”:

  • This essay attempts to both describe and motivate the Bridging Activities Cycle for game-design enhanced TBLT. For further foundational reading into the philosophical and theoretical motivations for using games and taking a game-design approach to TBLT, see here.


Vernacular video games, or commercial video games, have in the last decade begun to be examined for their usefulness for learning. From a fundamental level, Gee (2007) claims that video games demonstrate excellent learning principles inherent in their design. To operationalize and capture the learning potential in games, Thorne and Reinhardt’s (2008) Bridging Activities (BA) provide an approach to language learning and teaching that utilizes playing games with principles of language awareness (LA) (Bolitho et al, 2003).

In particular for BA, language learning is never seen as something decontexualized or simply about language in some general sense. Instead, BA aims to build in learners an awareness of how multimodalic forms are utilized by a community to make sense, achieve specific goals and perform situated functions. In this way, LA is an awareness both of and about language (Reinhardt & Sykes, 2011). Awareness of language is related to experiences that users have in specific situations, such as saying “hello” in a marketplace. Awareness about language then is the analytic side that users of language use in order to know that saying “hello” to the clerk at the supermarket is different than they “hey” they say to their best friend at home. BA then, attempts to use the situated experience and natural learning potential of video games and the attendant communities (e.g. websites and forums) around specific video games to build LA in learners in this way.

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Error Correction in Language Teaching

  • This essay is a short review of one specific aspect of Brown and Larson-Hall’s 2012 introductory book Second Language Acquisition Myths. In particular, this review addresses the myth of error correction, which Brown and Larson-Hall phase as “Language Learners Always Benefit From Error Correction”.


The question of error correction is certainly perplexing to many of us language teachers. Not only which form of correction, but even how to correct children as opposed to adults. As a teacher cited in Brown and Larson-Hall’s (2012) Second language acquisition myths  says, “[c]hildren make adorable mistakes” (p. 105; italics mine). Adults generally do not make adorable mistakes. The intersection between age and correction-type then, is in the center of this so-called myth. In my personal experience however, it seems the authors miss a few important factors in their deconstruction of this myth.

Beyond declaring one type of error correction better than another is the idea of dynamic correction (or assessment) (Lantolf & Poehner, 2011). Additionally, this myth is ripe for native-speaker bias in which native-speaking teachers correct what they perceive as errors, but what may actually be a more creative act of self-expression. Finally, while perhaps beyond the scope of their book, no mention is made of the philosophical concerns related to evaluation, both negative and positive. The categorizing and approving of specific types of error correction, which is the hallmark of the science cited in the chapter, seems to miss what I have experienced in my own classrooms as a more messy relationship between learners and educators and the process of evaluation.

Error Correction

Prologue: Native-speaker bias

Native-speaker knows best


To begin this discussion, I want to first address a problem present in the book, which goes largely unaddressed. In the chapter on error correction, the teacher “in the real world” (p. 105) points out an English construction they view as a grammar mistake of helping verbs and their objects. The teacher identifies the construction, “Let’s English!” as grammatically incorrect, because let requires a main verb (e.g. “Let’s do/eat/finish it!”). The teacher expresses the frustration of many when she says, “I have to admit that sometimes I just give up and say, OK let’s English! Corrections seem to do no good in some cases” (Brown & Larson-Hall, 2012, p. 106).

Verbing nouns is not uncommon in so-called native English. In my own classroom, we often play the card game Coup (Indieboardsandcards, 2016), where each player has two cards with names of certain kinds of people on them, like Duke, assassin, captain and so on. Each of these cards can perform certain actions in the game, like tax or exchange. When performing your action, it seems reasonable that you would use the verb to declare your action (e.g. “I will tax and take two coins!”). However, after a few games I, their teacher, began saying, “I duke your foreign aid”. instead of “[As a duke], I block your foreign aid”. The students soon caught on and began verbing the names of all the cards.

As a native speaker, I seemingly have the authority to be creative with my so-called errors. However, had my students begun doing the same thing without my help, would I have corrected them? I hope not, or at least I hope I would figure out a better way to understand why they did it. If it was a genuine mistake, I suppose I would want to help fix it. But if it was self-expression and creativity, well then why do I have the right to self-express, but not my language-learning students? The grayness of the two is nearly impossible to tease apart.

Recasts vs prompts

Brown and Larson-Hall (2012) end their chapter on error correction by advising teachers to use explicit prompts which both draw the attention of the learner to their error and provide an opportunity for them to correct it. Especially for low-level learners (and younger learners), explicit correction makes it clear what the teacher is expecting. This conclusion follows from the research provided, where two different types of error correction (recasts and prompts) are studied in experimentally sound conditions and generally prompts produce the kind of language improvement teachers look for.

Recasts, the authors note, are the preferred type of error correction by many teachers. They seem less intrusive to the language production of the learner and less directly evaluative. However, students, especially young learners, don’t seem to pick up on grammar corrections if they are not obviously pointed out.

This follows from the experience of everyone who has learned a language. The only time recasts happen naturally in the world is when interlocutors A) physically can not hear the speaker or B) the meaning of the word or sentence was unclear. In other words, recasts are communicative repair tools that people use to understand the meaning of each other’s speech. Additionally, it is generally found to be very rude and pompous to correct another person’s grammar in this way.

Explicit prompts, on the other hand, interrupt the learner’s communicative act, in order to step-down and address the grammar. I find that this interruption, especially in the beginning, may be surprising or annoying to students, but the research suggests that bringing learners’ attention directly to the problem helps them notice it. As long as the student is paying any attention to their teacher, their mental resources have to switch from communication to logical thinking about language.

This categorizing and evaluating error correction types seems to show that, of course, explicit prompts are better. However, we need to think more clearly about what our categories do. In many enterprises, category formation focuses specific content as exemplary and tends to ignore content on the boundary. When we think of error correction strategies then, it seems that explicit prompts are the best fit for the category.

Dynamic assessment

There is another way to think about error correction however. Instead of categories, we can think about error correction continuums, where the type of error correction selected by the teacher should meet the need of the learner. Instead of simply using “more” of one type of correction over the other. I believe that dynamic assessment (DA) (Lantolf & Poehner, 2011) provides a better method for error correction than simply preferring explicit prompts over recasts.

DA can allow teachers to see more clearly what level their learners are at, beyond just “can do X, can’t do Y”. It asks teachers to address a learner at the stage they are at. If a learner makes a mistake, but has almost nearly mastered the content, it may only take a questioning look from the teacher to make the student realize their mistakes. Other students may not even know that they don’t know they made a mistake. The point is, the teacher needs to listen to the student, identify where they fail to address their problem, and give correction at a scaled level. This changes the suggestion we would give teachers. It’s not simply be more explicit, it’s: meet your learner where they are.


Negative and positive evaluation

In my view however, this discussion of good, better, best jumps ahead to quickly. No mention in the chapter is directed at the concept of correction fundamentally. At a basic level, correction is a type of evaluation that goes beyond identifying good or bad production to providing opportunity to correct it. However, acknowledging the root of evaluation is important because it raises important philosophical implications for our language teaching and learning.

Earl Stevick in his language teaching book A Way and Ways (1980) notes that while negative evaluation is at times seen as controversial, positive evaluation is more often assumed to be good no matter what. This is seen as a mistake and it is argued that positive evaluation can be as harmful as negative. Stevick (1980) describes the use of evaluation as establishing an “evaluative climate” (p. 23) in the classroom. This climate is a tension between what is called the performing self and the evaluative self that resides in all of us. This is linguistically evident in phrases like “I’m my own toughest critic”. Often that is the truth. However, the same tension that we all at times inwardly feel is often unknowingly established in the language classroom through any type of evaluation.

Stevick (1980) illustrates this idea by an experience he had with a german friend who once told him, “Oh, I like talking with you. You use such correct grammar” (p. 23). This immediately made him self-conscious of his grammar, whereas he wasn’t before. I also felt this same tension while talking to people in Brazil. Often after “hello”, people would comment “Wow! you speak such good Portuguese!”. This experience always led me to feel pressure, because I knew that after a few minutes of talking, they would realize I didn’t actually speak such good Portuguese. I just happened to say “hello” very naturally according to them. This experience happens much more often in Korea, where any knowledge of Korean by a western-foreigner is met with much praise and adoration.

Natural evaluation in language

The issue with positive evaluation in the classroom, I think, lies in the way we naturally express positivity towards the language use of other people when they speak. In a phrase, we don’t. We signal satisfaction with the words of other people by attending more and responding to their language use. When someone says something interesting, we say, “That’s (the content)  interesting!” or “Well said (the content)!”. It would be seen as patronizing to say, “Very good on your grammar”.

Brown and Larson-Hall (2012) acknowledge this idea when they talk about the teacher who reacts communicatively to the content of their learner’s mistakes of “have” and “be” and this is how I try to signal error correction in my own classroom. I try to show interest in the content, while also signaling that the error is in the language itself, not the semantics. It is a difficult thing to do.


The word myth is something of a sledgehammer. It lacks nuance. It certainly is false that learners always learn from error correction; however, it is a very strangely worded myth. Brown and Larson-Hall (2012) handle the scientific debate between different types of error correction in a way that is probably helpful to many language teachers, but I wonder if they don’t in some ways only change the problem quantitatively and miss a greater opportunity to really address the issue with correcting language learner errors.

The scientific categorization of error correction types divorces the ecological practice of teachers and the needs of students. It says “this is better quantitatively” without perhaps addressing the qualitative issues and fears of teachers and students in evaluation.


Brown, S., & Larson-Hall, J. (2012). Second language acquisition myths. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. 

indieboardsandcards. (2016). Indieboardsandcards.com. Retrieved 5 March 2016.

Lantolf, J., & Poehner, M. (2010). Dynamic assessment in the classroom: Vygotskian praxis for second language development. Language Teaching Research, 15(1), 11-33.

Stevick, E. W. (1980). Teaching languages: A way and ways. Rowley: Newbury House Publishers.

Game-Design Enhanced Language Teaching

Let me start by saying this: “Game-design” language teaching is not the gamification of teaching. It is not “playing games” in a class in order to boost “fun”, though that is certainly a benefit. Game-design language teaching is something much bolder. (Check here for a brief definition of the differences). What follows here are a few principles of game-design and how they can be leveraged to teach languages in ways that address some of the hardest problems in language teaching. Namely, authentic communities of practice, learner-driven tasks and Dynamic, just-in-time feedback. This article will lay the foundation for future, praxis-oriented, content such as specific games for language teaching and specific language-learning plans.




Although, for me, Age empires would have been blue

Games in language teaching are, without question, seen as an integral and essential part of most teachers’ lesson plans. The intensity or involvement in any given game varies from teacher to teacher, class to class. From language puzzles like crosswords and hangman to active Dungeons and Dragons-esque RPGs. Researchers, too, have for decades recommended games in the language classroom for various reasons including the development of positive attitudes towards learning, providing clear goals and engagement (Palmer & Rodgers, 1983). Games, however, often only serve one specific goal for teachers: student engagement. Games are fun. The rise of gamification is related to this problem and it is an attempt to solve the same kinds of problems.

For this reason, there often is not much thought or discussion given to why we should play games, or how the games are beneficial language learning tools. Anecdotally, many teachers like myself know that games engage students and help scaffold their language production. But still, how? If it is true that games fundamentally help language learning, what principles of games and game design lead to these kinds of outcomes? These are the kinds of questions that researchers like Julie Skyes and James Paul Gee have begun to address. What follows here is a brief introduction and foundation to ground theoretically what will hopefully become a repository of useful information regarding games for second language learning and teaching (L2TL).

While many researchers have examined the language learning effects from games in themselves, as teachers many of us are interested in the ways we can effectively coordinate and implement games, particularly digital games relevant to our “digital native” (Prensky, 2003) students, in and around our classrooms. While games in general may be found to be effective language learning tools, how game-design, and in particular digital game-design can be leverage to improve pedagogy and classroom outcomes.

Some Assumptions

Language socialization 

Before going forward, I want to briefly mention some of the underlying theory and philosophy that leads many researchers and teachers like myself to believe that there is real value in using games to teach language. A game-design approach to L2TL takes a principled approach based on socio-cultural theories of language and teaching, in particular, language socialization (LS) (Ochs & Schieffelin, 1995) and tasked-based language teaching (TBLT) (Willis, 1996). An LS perspective views language and language learning as means-end oriented. That is, children come to learn and use language as a tool, or means, to achieve some goal, or end. These means and ends from an LS perspective are enforced by culture.

Ochs and Schieffelin’s perhaps most well-known example relates to how children are addressed differently in different cultures. They note that middle-class American caregivers are very likely to spend a lot of time directing their speech to their pre-linguistic infants. The speech is not random however. Nor is it monologue. It is conversational. Caregivers in these communities greet, ask questions and correct behavior all the while knowing the child can neither understand nor respond to them. Additionally, these caregivers go above and beyond normal conversational behavior to maintain the attention of the infant by exaggerating their tone of voice and body gesture.

Ochs and Schieffelin then go on to describe a different cultural practice by some Mayan (and many other) communities. Caregivers in these communities do not interact directly with pre-verbal infants. Adults in these communities do not view infants as appropriate conversational partners and so do not engage them directly with language until they already know how to talk.

The brilliance of the theory of Language Socialization then, is its ability to account for both of these cultural practices. Importantly, there is no single rule that governs the language development in these cultures. It is not the case that middle-class Americans learn language by direct conversation with their caregivers, nor is it the case that Mayan babies don’t learn language. Instead, LS says that different communities organize around the central principles of acceptable participation and evolutionary-driven needs (e.g. food, attention, touch and so on) that infants need to obtain. “novices”, as the children in each case are called, operate on the periphery of language communities. They are “peripheral members”. Core members of the community are those individuals and groups who have power and influence. These are generally adults, but can be other non-center groups who are nontheless closer to the center than the infant (such as older children). For us language teachers, it is easy to recognize that our L2 learners are peripheral members of their L2 language communities too.

So, how do the infant-directed approaches to language fit into this system of center and peripheral membership? For the Mayan children, they are required to follow their mother where ever she goes. The communal aspect of the every day life, on average, means that the child will be exposed to a great deal of language and conversation between their caregiver and other adults in the community. In the terms of Ochs and Schieffelin, the children become overhearers. They are legitimate peripheral members of the community. They are welcome to be present. For the American middle-class child however, particularly in traditional nuclear families, the child may spend days in the company of primarily one adult. The child in this situation then, is not overhearing much language at all. And hence, the effort of the caregiver to directly engage the pre-language infant.

For us, the L2TL educator, their are many other important insights that the LS perspective brings, but I just want to highlight the importance of this initial insight. Language learning is always the result of socializing into a community. And to do so, it is necessary to move from the periphery of that community towards the center. For our L2TL students then, helping them gain a legitimate and authentic position as a peripheral member of a community is a crucial step.

It is often assumed that the language classroom itself is that legitimate and authentic community. However, the goal of the language classroom is not to create a community of language classroom L2 users. But instead, to transfer the skills developed and honed in the classroom into a real community of speakers. Creating a positive and welcoming language classroom community is a real and important goal, but it is not itself the community we are aiming for. At least because the language classroom is necessary transitional and temporary, necessarily unstable.

  • So, we see a few important insights, as well as important challenges for L2TL. Membership in a language community is vital, but how to do so in a mostly inauthentic classroom setting?

Task-based Learning and Teaching (TBLT)


The general structure of a TBLT lesson

Traditionally, TBLT was motivated by the failures of methods such as audio-lingual  and Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). Importantly, how each of those methods failed to incorporate vital aspects of the other. In the case of the grammar-translation and audio-lingual, it was the complete lack of social knowledge needed to actually use the grammar rules or pronunciations learned through those methods. And in the case of CLT, the fact that students seemed to make great gains in comprehension of content language, but failed to make similar gains in functional aspects of grammar. TBLT attempts to fix these problems and also motivate students, but marrying real-life language use with problems that needed to be solved through language.

TBLT, in relation to LS, can be seen as a pedagogical means-end approach to L2TL. Sykes and Reinhardt (2013) situate the theoretical foundation of TBLT in communicative language teaching related to functional approaches to language. From this view, it was important that L2TL be applicable to real-world situations and not just the learning of language rules and forms. This end, communication in real-world situations, is achieved through pedagogically valid tasks that act as means to those ends.

A classic example is a hotel checklist task. Originally designed for immigrant ESL learners who had been employed in hotels as maids or other staff. The task, following the diagram above, gives a pair of students the task of cleaning a hotel room. Each learner has a different set of tasks that they have either “done” or “not done”. Most of the tasks, between the two learners, have been done. The goal of the learners is to determine what still needs to be done to successfully prepare the hotel room.

This task has the benefit of being immediately applicable to the learners, it involves words and language structures that will be immediately important and useful to them (words related to working in a hotel). Additionally, the learners must negotiate together to recognize and notice BOTH the content (what still needs to be done) and also the LANGUAGE (by carefully reading through their lists). There are also several problems with tasks like this, and if you’ve been teaching, you may be able to recognize any number of them. What follows is a short list (not comprehensive) of some of the problems that TBLT sometimes face, and how game-design can help us overcome them.

A critique of TBLT from a Game-Design Perspective

For L2TL at the moment, TBLT is the target most teachers are trying to hit. And there are many different approaches, pedagogues and lesson plans that utilize TBLT. However, some have recognized several short-comings in TBLT. In particular, researchers interested in game-design have discovered a short list of items that could be improved, and ways to do it.

Sykes and Reinhardt’s perspective of game-informed language socialization and task-based L2TL are categorized in five problematic areas:

  1. goals and tasks – lack of student agency
  2. interaction – promotes good ideational (semantic) interaction, but can fail to promote adquate interpersonal interaction
  3. feedback – Delayed, hard to give the correct feedback in the moment it will help
  4. context and narrative – Tasks can often be divorced from broader societal narratives and context that drives language learning (from an LS perspective).
  5. motivation – Tasks may motivate for awhile, but often do not lead to sustained, motivated attention over multiple class sessions..

A game-design TBLT perspective views each of the five areas of criteria differently than traditional views might. For this reason, we will briefly introduce them in this section along with a description of what good games do with the five TBLT areas mentioned above.

Sykes and Reinhardt describe goals and tasks in game-designed TBLT as centering around two main ideas: having learner driven tasks and goal-orienting. Learner-driven tasks contrast with learning driven tasks and the difference lies with who gets to decide how learning will happen. A game-informed TBLT perspective focuses on giving students agency and multiple routes of task completion with continually updated goals.

Interaction, Sykes and Reinhardt mention, is possibly the most defining aspect of games when compared with other types of media. For Sykes and Reinhardt, game-designed interaction is built on four levels of interaction. Ideational (or the interaction between learner and language, i.e., their own mind), Interpersonal (the interaction between speakers of a language) and cultural (the interaction of an individual user with the cultural expectations and values). Digital game-informed TBLT improves upon traditional applications by situating the learner into a game-oriented culture. Beyond multiplayer games, which promote both ideational language use and interpersonal, the communities that exist around games is vitally important. Using internet communities to learn, discuss and discover important information to better play the game is a fountain of possible interactions and provides the language learner with literally thousands of possible interpersonal partners.

Feedback in games is the primary way game-designers communicate to players whether or not they are progressing in the game. Actions taken by the player may lead to failure or success. Important then, for game design, is how to communicate to the player that they are failing or succeeding. For Sykes and Reinhardt feedback in games needs to be individualized, discernable and given “exactly at the moment it is needed” (p. 59). Feedback then, can be given both explicitly through the use of messages on the screen, level-ups, and tooltips. Or, it can be implicit through sound effects, or well-scaffolded tasks which teach the player step-by-step through each level of their development.

Narrative for Sykes and Reinhardt, is described as the way people transmit culture. Games generally have very well defined game-designed narratives. However, these narratives are never presented without a player and the player interaction with the game-designed narrative can lead to emergent, different narratives than perhaps the designed one. IThis is markedly different from other media genres such as books or movies. For example, game designers will intentionally create a narrative, build a world and populate it with characters and conflicts. However, unlike a book or a movie, the player then moves about that world making defined choices. Like in other genres, inside the players head there is an interpretation of the world designed by the creators. Unlike those genres however, an emergent narrative can unfold in the game-world itself, and not just in the attendant communities that surround it (such as fan fiction sites).

Motivation, finally, is described by Sykes and Reinhardt in terms of player engagement and flow. Motivation in games is not seen to reside within the individual player, but as an emerging factor in the interaction between the game-design and the player. Motivation in this view, then, is dynamic and continually negotiated and not simply an intrinsic property of the player or game. How the game uses the other four factors listed, it can help or hinder the motivation that the player brings to it themselves. The interactive nature of games can easily lead to a state of flow, or extended focus on the present moment. Flow is something of a mystical feature. We’ve all had the experience of being engrossed in a particularly good book, movie, conversation or other event. This in-the-momentness can lead to extensive exposure to whatever the game is exposing.


So, how can games be leveraged then? Do we just play games in English/Spanish/Korean and assume these principles will play out and, viola, language learned? Of course not. Though, then again, maybe. Some(1) researchers(2) have found(3) that just playing games leads inherently to learning outcomes, and this can be language learning in some cases.

But certainly, with the help of a Vygostkian helper, we can bring our language learners along faster. Reinhardt and Sykes help us with this and developed what they call a “bridging activities” cycle (example). In these cycles teachers help students explore these game worlds, analysis them and then perform them back in their authentic contexts.



I’m not lesson planning because blog

My 7th graders recently spent some time trying to figure out the difference between “because ______” and “because OF _____” in preparation for their midterm tests.  It caused a whole lot of consternation, even though the answer is fairly straightforward and easy to follow.

Simply, “because [reason]” is used to introduce a secondary clause; while “because of [reasons]” is used, like prepositions do, with noun phrases.

“I can’t go tonight because I have too much homework.”

“I can’t go tonight because of work.”


Unfortunately, 7th graders have a hard time understanding the difference between Independent Clauses and Noun Phrases (Hell, I had trouble with the idea of verbs in 7th grade).  So it can actually be more tricky than normal to explain at times.  But since I don’t actually teach grammar, this responsibility mostly fell on the shoulders of my co-teacher.

However, it took almost everything I had to not teach the kids my favorite grammatical structure, which completely breaks this rule.

The “Because reasons” structure.

It’s an emerging usage that I’m sure really annoys a lot of people, but I just can’t get enough of it.  It think it’s funny in almost any situation.  Twitter is abuzz with this usage, here are some examples.

As you can see from the examples, the usage doesn’t exactly replace the “because of” structure.  Instead, it carves out it’s own little category within.  “Because reasons” is used to exaggerate the meaningfulness of the reasons.  Something like,

“I can’t go tonight (and it should be completely obvious why that I’m not even going to waste my time explaining) because reasons.”

Or, it used when there really aren’t any reasons, but the speaker wants to promote their proposition anyway, like this example:

because reasons 1

However, because the “because reasons” structure is used either jovially or emphatically, it can be misused, particularly in situations when stating the reason is actually necessary. Take this example:

because reasons 2

Notice that the writer actually then produces the reasons for disagreement.  The “because reasons” usage feels out of place.  Which is not to say it is ungrammatical. It seems as grammatical as any other use, it just feels less appropriate, or at least less funny.

The grammar of “because reasons” involves the adverbial conjunction “because” changing its part of speech into a preposition.  This is actually more interesting than it sounds, as it is not everyday that a new word becomes a preposition.  Language mavens may lament what they call “Zombie nouns”, but the truth is, one of the beautiful facts of English that words can move in and out of certain categories (like nouns to verbs, or vice versa).  But not all word categories easily do so.  Prepositions are one such category.

“It is a little difficult”

In the “apartment” I live, I fit: a bed, fridge, closet, TV, a small folding table, kitchen area and a bathroom with a washer all in a smaller space than my room in my parent’s home. It’s small.

No bother.  I do not demand much else than what I have, though it would be nice to have room for company.  What I have in place of room, are white walls and one picture of my family.  I have facebook also, of course, which offers as many pictures and opportunities to communicate as I’d like.  But I only have one real picture, that I can feel with my fingers; and no room for chairs, that can be occupied by a companion.

While the white walls, on one hand, can drive a person crazy; they can also narrow my focus onto what it is I am striving to do here in Korea.  I have little room, literally, for distractions.  I don’t even have room for a bookcase, in the event that I decide to forget the harsh realities of Northern South Korea and lose myself in fantasy and abstractions.

The white walls though, they do not keep the loneliness out .  There is always a window through which I see both opportunities gone by or not yet realized.  Some of which are fantasy, some of which are potential.  As focused as I try to be, it is hard to not find myself looking out the window at times.

“So why do you stay?  How can you stand it?”

I am asked that a lot.  In part because I am a habitual complainer, but also because people recognize the difficulty of the situation.  And not everyone would trade places with me.  My answers are rarely satisfying to others and I imagine I don’t paint the most beautiful picture of this lived experience.

Robin Williams has shown me how I want to answer that question though.  In the movie, Dead Poets Society there is a short, seemingly unimportant scene (so much so that I am having trouble finding it on youtube) where Neil comes to Mr. Keating for help dealing with his father. While Keating makes some tea, Neil says, looking a picture of a beautiful woman playing the chello on Mr. Keatings desk:

“She’s pretty.”

“She’s also in London.  Makes it a little difficult.”

“How can you stand it?”

“Stand what?”

“You can’t go anywhere.  You can’t do anything.  How can you stand being here?”

“’Cause I love teaching.  I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

The last line is deftly delivered.  It is pointed, quick and obvious.  There is no thinking; teaching is fundamental to Mr. Keating.  Most, if not all, teachers understand that phrase, “I love teaching”.  Not many of us got into this profession for the love of something else.

But it is the second sentence, that answers Neil’s question. I don’t want to be anywhere else.  What does Keating want? Before this moment, it’s not even a question on our minds. His wants outside of teaching are obscured.  But in this scene, Keating is someone with love and a life outside of the private school he teaches at.  With a life outside the cramped office and white walls that keep him focused on his work.  “It is a little difficult” is said modestly.

— This scene starts with Mr. Keating sitting at his desk, working, but not focused.  He keeps looking at the picture of the woman on his desk.

And yet

I love teaching.  I don’t want to be anywhere else.