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Gaming as extramural English L2 learning and L2 proficiency among young learners*

  • Liss Kerstin Sylvén (a1) and Pia Sundqvist (a2)

Today, playing digital games is an important part of many young people's everyday lives. Claims have been made that certain games, in particular massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) provide L2 English learners with a linguistically rich and cognitively challenging virtual environment that may be conducive to L2 learning, as learners get ample opportunities for L2 input and scaffolded interaction in the L2. In this paper, we present empirical evidence that L2 English proficiency correlates with the frequency of gaming and types of games played. We base our observation on a study among young L2 English learners (N = 86, aged 11–12, Sweden). Data were collected through a questionnaire, a language diary, and three proficiency tests. The questionnaire provided demographic background information but was also targeted at measuring extramural English habits, i.e., learners’ out-of-school contact with English (cf. Sundqvist, 2009). The diary measured how much time the learners spent on seven predetermined extramural English activities during one week, while the tests measured their achieved L2 proficiency regarding reading and listening comprehension, and vocabulary. Previous research among learners aged 15–16 (Sundqvist, 2009) showed positive correlations between playing digital games and L2 proficiency, in particular with regard to vocabulary, and also identified gender-related differences regarding vocabulary (boys outperformed girls) as well as the frequency of gaming and types of games played. These results were corroborated in the present study. A clear pattern emerged from our data: frequent gamers (≥ 5 hours/week) outperformed moderate gamers who, in turn, outperformed non-gamers. Background variables could not explain the between-group differences. Even though the boys might have been more proficient or apt than the girls a priori and, therefore, chose to engage more in L2 gaming, the findings suggest that playing digital games at an early age can be important for L2 acquisition.

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Our study was funded by grants from the Erik Wellander Foundation and the Center for Language and Literature in Education, Karlstad University, Sweden.

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