This article has been written based upon our experience developing the immersive language learning video game Ruby Rei!
Last year, a childhood friend of mine took a language immersion course here in England. He had a very low level of English before he arrived. After just six months, he had reached an upper intermediate level.
And then I have several friends who live in Spain and have been studying English in language schools for years, and their level isn’t as good as my childhood friend’s.
Because we learn a language more quickly when we live in a country where that language is spoken.
I’m sure you already know this, as do the more than 500,000 people who travel to the United Kingdom each year to learn English.
What is language immersion?
Language immersion can be defined as the act of entering a real or fictitious environment with the aim of learning the language used within it. It’s also a method of teaching in which people actively use a second language as a medium for learning.
When we travel to a country where another language is spoken, we learn new words and expressions through context. Any foreigner who has travelled on the London Underground is likely to understand the meaning of Mind the gap, please.
One of the features of language immersion is that the second language is the medium for learning. There are no explanations in your native tongue. The student learns the language through the situations they experience.
There are many schools in Spain, for example, that use this method to teach other subjects in English or French. The students learn a language at the same time as studying, say, maths or geography.
There are also schools that offer intensive immersion courses. On these courses, you live with native speakers of the language you are learning for a certain length of time. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to pay for these types of courses.
So what if you can’t afford or don’t have access to a language immersion course?
It’s OK, you can play video games!
Have you ever become so involved in playing a video game that hours go by and you barely notice?
Have you ever played a video game that has made you feel scared, stressed or elated?
Have you ever felt as though you were inside the game, that it was real?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then you have played an immersive video game.
Immersive video games can be categorised into two groups:
1. Those which create a detailed and sensory environment:
Features of these video games are:
1. They are full of sensory information:
- if there are animals, they make sounds; if there’s smoke, it sometimes blocks your vision, etc. They appeal to all of the player’s senses.
2. They offer completeness of sensory information:
- nothing is abstract. If there are cars, animals, houses, smoke, etc., there also needs to be people. The player is able to recognise the setting, and what’s in it, as something that’s familiar to them.
3. They require the player’s full attention:
- the player has to remain alert and complete a number of challenges and tasks in order to progress in the game.
4. They have a captivating and interesting story:
- writers use this technique to captivate their reader and transport them to an imaginary world. Video games work in the same way. Good stories arouse people’s interest, and make the world and its landscapes more believable. This is a technique we’ve employed to great effect with our new video game, RUBY REI!
2. Those which ensure coherence between objects in the landscape.
Features of these are:
1. An absence of visual cues that are incongruent with the game world:
- there shouldn’t be any objects that remind you that you are in a video game. Visual elements such as tutorials, notifications and announcements interrupt immersion. The absence of such elements improves the player’s immersive experience.
2. Believable behaviour:
- the characters, objects and creatures in the game behave as you would expect them to.
3. Everything should be adapted to the game environment:
- when we’re playing, we don’t want to be interrupted. If we add in tutorials, menus or screens that have to load for the player to continue playing, we interrupt the immersive experience. Ideally, these features will be integrated into the game environment and transitory in nature.
4. The ability to interact with objects:
- manipulating objects, moving them from one place to another, talking to other people in the game and interacting with objects make the immersive experience more consistent.
Advantages of immersive video games
The main advantage of immersive video games is that the player uses all of their senses to interpret the information presented to them.
The player enters a world that is both new and familiar. A world where, to progress, they must take in new information: they must work out how to move from one place to another, how to defend themselves, where things are, how to overcome obstacles, etc.
The link between language immersion and video games
If all of the instructions and elements of the story are in another language, you intuitively look for a connection between the message and what you have to do. That’s why many gamers, who don’t have English as their first language, have a good level of English.
Immersion in a video game is ideal for learning languages because it prioritises practice ahead of theory. It places the learning in context. You absorb the language without even realising it.
So now you understand why I made sense for us to developed our video game to learn languages RUBY REI.
By Jonay Suárez, Head of Marketing at Wibbu.
Madigan, Jamie, ‘Analysis: The Psychology of Immersion in Video Games’, Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games, 25/8 (August 2010). Accessed 15 August 2016.