It was 8am and before walking into the classroom, I knew my students were going to be disinterested in today’s lesson. Our 8am class was nearly three hours long and happened three times a week, and today was the third class… Friday. I loved teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) because the students I taught were always so eager to learn and I was eager to teach them. At the same time, I knew as well as they did that it was hard to keep that enthusiasm going in an early morning class, especially when learning a second language. It was on days like these that I would break out a game and would see a burst of energy in my students.
Research has shown that playing games is effective in teaching a foreign language to students. The reason for this is that students enjoy playing games and that enjoyment motivates students to learn. According to the article, Effectiveness of Using Games in Teaching Grammar to Young Learners, the competitive nature of playing games “automatically stimulate[s] student interest” and as a result “students get very absorbed in the competitive aspects of the games…. they try harder at the games than in other courses.” When students enjoy the learning process, they become unconscious of their learning, which helps them “acquire language in the same way that they acquire their mother tongue, that is, without being aware of it” (qtd. in Yolageldili and Arikan). Therefore, the more enjoyable the learning process is, the more effortlessly students can learn a second language.
In addition to encouraging active learning, games also encourage students to be interactive with one another. Anne-Louise de Wit wrote that “games provide language practice in the various skills [such as] speaking, writing, listening and reading” due to the fact that games require interaction and communication with one another. Being able to practice speaking helps them make better connections with the content that they’re working with. In her book, Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools, Mary Cay Ricci discussed how playing games helps students understand concepts and ideas more easily. For example, after spending time playing ShapeOmetry, Ricci conversed with one of the students and found that the students were “visualizing neural connections as they learn. Even though the child said ‘numerals’ instead of ‘neurons’ and said they were ‘sticking together in my head’ rather than ‘making connections in my brain,’ he still had a solid conceptual understanding of what was happening” (61). Socializing is more effective in reinforcing a language than just reading or listening. By speaking, students are practicing the words they learn while having fun at the same time.
Students that are engaged in positive socialization will also experience a reduction in anxiety because they are are less focused on the correctness of the language that they are speaking. This eases the stress surrounding learning another language since many students experience “the fear of negative evaluation, the concern of being negatively judged in public…. which is one of the main factors inhibiting language learners from using the target language in front of other people,” according to the article Using Games to Promote Communicative Skills in Language Learning. Students become more confident in their ability to speak when they aren’t so worried about being wrong. In turn, this leads to better language learning because students don’t let their anxiety disrupt their socialization with one another.
Playing games in the classroom is always fun for students, but it can be especially useful in an ESL classroom. When students play games, they feel more comfortable speaking in a second language, which in turn leads to learning through socialization. Playing games is a great way for students to become engaged in the classroom and be more motivated to learn another language in general. I would highly recommend playing games to bring more fun to any second language learning setting.