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Video Games for Language Learning

Like books, films, and music, video games are an incredible medium for artistic expression and storytelling, and are therefore great tools to improve your language learning. I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember, playing everything from big Japanese and Western AAA games to indie gems from all over the world. They’re a great way to connect with friends and get lost in a new world. I’m also fascinated with how video games can be used as teaching tools which improve problem-solving skills, engage us in social issues, and build empathy. Many teachers already use games elements in their lessons (progress checks, competitions, collaborative activities, points, timers, role-playing), so why not let the games we play be our teachers, too? Here are some tips for taking your language learning to the next level.

A fresh twist on an old favourite

Most games nowadays allow you to choose the language of dialogue and text separately, as well as add subtitles. Try playing a game you know by heart with the text language changed. Then, when you’re more confident, change the spoken language and/or subtitles to English, too. Soon, you’ll be immersed in new worlds of vocabulary. What’s more, the visuals, music, sound, and gameplay will make the words you learn more memorable. This is the perfect, simple starting-point for improving your English through games.

A social hobby

Many games allow you to play online either competitively or cooperatively. Text and voice chat can be great ways to practise language skills. You’ll be exposed to conversational English at natural speeds and also develop social skills like asking questions and giving orders to teammates. Certain situations play out again and again in games, so you will get plenty of opportunities to encounter the same phrases. You could also set up regular gaming sessions with your friends from school and agree to speak English while playing.

You don’t even need to play the game

Learning doesn’t need to end at playing the game, either. Seek out communities on social media sites like Twitter, Reddit, or Discord and talk about the games you love; you might even find other players learning the same languages as you. Watch an English language streamer on Twitch to learn conversational phrases. Watch YouTube reviews or video essays on games that you enjoy or are excited for; good reviewers will use the same skills to explain their ideas that you need for essays in school.

The last few years have also seen an explosion of great video-game film and TV adaptations. Why not watch The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Sonic the Hedgehog, Dungeons and Dragons, or Detective Pikachu with the English dub or subtitles? If you want a Netflix series to binge, choose an age-appropriate option from the wide selection available, include Arcane, Castlevania, The Witcher, Sonic Prime, or one of the thousands of anime adaptations of games.

Video games are a global industry, bringing us stories from all walks of life. If we embrace the learning opportunities games can bring, whether playing them by yourself or with friends, or watching their related media, then we can become truly independent learners excited to level up our language.

To get game recommendations that are appropriate for your language level, age, console, and budget, speak to your i-Learner tutor, or ask them to introduce you to a tutor who loves games too.

Suggested games:

Games for younger learners (can be enjoyed with family): Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (basically any Mario game), any Legend of Zelda game (Switch), Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch) any Pokemon game (Switch), WarioWare: Get it Together (Switch), any Kirby game, Overcooked (every platform except mobile),  It Takes Two (every platform except mobile).

RPGs with gripping stories for older learners:  Xenoblade Chronicles series (Switch), Final Fantasy series (all platforms), Persona series (all platforms), the Yakuza series (all platforms except mobile and Switch), Cyberpunk 2077 (all platforms except mobile and Switch), The Witcher 3 (every platform except mobile), Baldur’s Gate 3 (all platforms except mobile and Switch), Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (all platforms except mobile and Switch), Bioshock (all platforms except mobile), Fable (PC and Xbox).

Strategy games to test your problem-solving and management skills: Cities: Skylines all platforms except mobile), Total War (PC), Fire Emblem series (Switch), Civilization VI (all platforms).

Text-heavy games for stronger readers: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (Switch, PC, PS4/5), Disco Elysium (PC, Switch, PS, Xbox), Spiritfarer: Farewell Edition (all platforms), Return to Monkey Island (all platforms), Pentiment (PC and Xbox).

Cinematic and emotional stories: Firewatch (all platforms except mobile), What Remains of Edith Finch (all platforms except Android), The Last of Us (PlayStation, PC), God of War (PlayStation, PC), Lost Words: Beyond the Page (all platforms except mobile), Venba (all platforms except mobile), Metal Gear Solid series (all platforms except mobile), The Quarry (all platforms except mobile and Switch), Bury Me, My Love (PC, Switch, mobile), Life Is Strange (all platforms), A Short Hike (all platforms except mobile), Night in the Woods (all platforms except Android), Celeste (all platforms except mobile), The Walking Dead (all platforms).

MMORPG’s – play in a huge world populated with other players: Black Desert Online (all platforms except Switch and mobile), Final Fantasy XIV (PC), Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis (all platforms), VRChat (PC, Android), Rec Room (all platforms).

Team-based online multiplayer games: Apex Legends (all platforms), Call of Duty (all platforms), PUBG (all platforms), Rocket League (all platforms except mobile).

Play online with friends – get a team together to practise English: Fortnite (all platforms), Minecraft (available on everything), Phasmophobia (PC, Xbox, PS – a terrifying ghost-hunting game. Only for older students), Deep Rock Galactic (PC, Xbox, PS), Gunfire Reborn (all platforms), Jackbox Party Packs(all platforms: one player owns the game, the rest play on their phones), Golf With Your Friends (all platforms except mobile), EA Sports FC (all platforms except mobile).

Fighting games – train your muscles and your language skills: Street Fighter 6 (all platforms except Switch and mobile), Guilty Gear Strive (all platforms except Switch and mobile), The King of Fighters XV (all platforms except Switch and mobile), Dragon Ball FighterZ (all platforms except Switch and mobile), Tekken 7 (all platforms except Switch and mobile), DNF Duel (all platforms except Switch and mobile), Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch).