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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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.

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Deflecting Questions

For those unaware of what I mean by “deflecting questions”, I mean the teaching technique of not immediately answering a question that is asked in your classroom.  Traditionally, in a teacher-centered, expert/novice teaching setting, the teacher is considered the knower-of-things and the students are the sponges, there to soak up the knowledge of the knower.  It follows, in traditional teaching, that if a question is to be answered at all, it would of course be done by the knower.

With the shift from teacher-centered classrooms to student or subject-centered classrooms, the idea of the teacher being the only “expert” is also in question.  For most questions asked in a classroom, it is more than likely that a student is also a knowerof-things.  Or at least, as a collective, the class may be able to come to some realization of the answer.

My experience in this classroom has strongly suggested that I work in a teacher-centered, expert/novice, knower-of-things/sponge class setting.  Which can feel like being in a time-machine. However, simply forcing a subject-centered approach on the class is not always greeted warmly by the students.  They have been conditioned to learn in a certain way, and it involves having an expert lead the class–  It is comforting to think someone in the classroom knows what they are doing– And at times, a redirected question back to them will be met with silence.

As a skill, however, deflection has a few great benefits, particularly in a language class.

1)     First, if students are actively asking you questions in class; congratulations! That sort of classroom participation is not always achieved everywhere.  And congratulations to your students, who are probably very bright.

2)     Now that you’ve been asked, and deflected a question in the target language¸ the class now has more opportunity to use the target language in an authentic situation!

3)     Since the question came from a peer, often the class is much more interested in hearing an answer to the question.  At the very least, they are very interested in how you, the teacher, will handle the question as a template for future question/answers.

4)     Because the question came from a peer, students will be motivated to participate, either out of perceived cooperation or competition.

5)     By deflecting, you show the students that you value their thoughts, even if their thinking is flawed, illogical or irrational.  As a teacher, you can guide the students through their own confusion, without necessarily having to point the fact of it out to them.

—  Now, certainly deflecting questions in an ESL setting where you as the teacher do not speak the students’ language is a difficult task.  Often times even if I did answer a question, it still isn’t understood by the students.  Which is really only more reason to deflect the question back to the students, who, if they have a good answer, are better suited (knowing both Korean and some English) to help the question-asker to learn.

To finish, I’ll show an example of this that commonly happens in my classroom.

My students love spelling.  They love it and fear it.  It is a cause of much anguish to have to write for some of them.  So a common question that I get asked is “how do you spell ________?”  This question is not one of those great mind-bending, paradigm-shifting moments.  But it is an easy opportunity to deflect and get the class to participate in constructing and navigating English.  Especially since spelling is, apparently to some, so “random”.

So instead of answering, I might ask, “Hmm.. well, what do you think?”  and then ask, “any other ideas?” even if they get it right. Then maybe ask the class,
“Student X has a question, how do you spell _________?”
“ok, any other ideas?”
“Why spell it ______ instead of _____?”
— It is here that I could answer it, being the authority in the classroom.  But it is also an opportunity to teach the students how to discover resources, like a dictionary. So, instead, I might say,
“Let’s look it up!  Looks like it is spelled __________.”

You can even make a game of this, asking for bets on which spelling they think is correct.  Any single question, even a simple spelling question can go as deep or as shallow as you have time for.  There certainly are times when I will simply give the student the correct spelling, but if I can, I try to give them much more.

The Senses as Metaphor

Over the Korean Thanksgiving holiday, I had more than a few opportunities to talk with friends and strangers in Korean.  Such opportunities are always a mixture of self-loathing and confidence-building.

I had a thought one night after coming home from a full day of mumbling my way through conversations in a department store, that my level of fluency in Korean is at least 80% determined by the willingness of the listener to try to hear me.  It is amazing what a cooperative conversational partner can do with whatever it is we should call my Korean language ability.

Conversely, it is equally distressing how little I am able to communicate with someone who either chooses not to hear me, or through their own shyness/fear or inexperience, cannot hear me.  Suddenly all those inspirational stories, phrases and advice about “listening instead of speaking” I’ve received have new meaning.  It’s not that someone who listens more is better than someone who speaks, it’s that the vast majority of communication is accomplished on the listening end of it all.  Speech is necessary for listening (though, clearly not for communication), but even the most eloquent speaker can be misunderstood by a poor or inexperienced listener.

And I say inexperienced sincerely.  Listening, while the birthright of most humans, is a skill, chiseled by effort and time into a fine work.  It is not a passive skill nor does a person who listens much more than speaks a passive person.  It is a laborious effort for most and comes easily only to very few people.  I suspect there are a few “good listeners” out there who are really just quiet, which is not exactly the same, though if one wishes to develop listening, being quiet is a place to start.

My thinking about listening led me to this idea: First, sense words (sight, sound, etc) have secondary meanings in English to convey the meaning “I understand”.  The first to come to mind was, “hear”, as in “I hear you.”  A phrase I have come to really like due in small part to the movie, Australia.  My idea being that while many of the words for senses can convey understanding, words for “speaking” could not.  Here are a few:

“I hear you.”
“I feel you.”
“I see.”
“I’m touched.”

I thought I had stumbled upon an interesting phenomoneon (by which I don’t mean to imply I am the first).  However, I soon realized that “speak” can also be used to convey understanding:

“That speaks to me.”

Though I find the structure to be interesting, in a way I’m not particularly clear on yet.  The “speaks” example is slightly different in meaning (they all are) than the others, and “see” is really the only one that strictly conveys the idea, “I understand”.  The other tend to also imply a sense of empathy or other emotion.  “speaks” for example, seems to me to say something like, “I’m struck by this” or some other sense of wonder.  “touch” suggests connection, sympathy or gratitude.

So my idea is wrong, in addition, I can think of no way that the word “taste” is commonly used as a metaphor for understanding. “Delicious” is often used to convey a sense of goodness about something other than taste-oriented senses, but understanding isn’t one of them.  If you’ve got one, let me know.