A Case Study of Using Online Communities and Virtual Environment in Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) as a Learning and Teaching Tool for Second Language Learners

A Case Study of Using Online Communities and Virtual Environment in Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) as a Learning and Teaching Tool for Second Language Learners

Isara Kongmee (School of Computing, Engineering and Information Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK), Rebecca Strachan (School of Computing, Engineering and Information Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK), Alison Pickard (School of Computing, Engineering and Information Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) and Catherine Montgomery (School of Health, Community & Education Studies, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/jvple.2012100101
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Abstract

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) create large virtual communities. Online gaming shows potential not just for entertaining, but also in education. This research investigates the use of commercial MMORPGs to support second language teaching. MMORPGs offer virtual safe spaces in which students can communicate by using their target second language with global players. Using a mix of ethnography and action research, this study explores the students’ experiences of language learning and performing while playing MMORPGs. The results show that the use of MMORPGs can facilitate language development by offering fun, informal, individualised and secure virtual spaces for students to practise their language with native and other second language speakers.
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Background

English language has dominated as an international language in recent times. Students learning English as their second language need to acquire communication competence in this target language. However L2 need to practice their language skills and there are limited opportunities to do this in the traditional classroom environment. Llurda (2011) claims that second language teaching in a classroom should offer practical language skills and not just traditional tools and examples from textbooks. Language acquisition can be enhanced by exploring and sharing the target language, including culture with native speakers (Mckay, 2000, as cited in Llurda, 2003). In some countries it is difficult to provide ‘live’ language opportunities in the classroom. Thailand is one such country and forms the centre of this study. L2 in Thailand are under achieving as the traditional classroom based instruction focuses on grammar based lessons with artificial language examples from textbooks, and limited English native speakers to draw on. Rankin et al. (2006) suggest that L2 should be able to progress in target language at the communication level by: 1) using and responding to the target language context; 2) constructing and comprehending the appropriate structure of language; 3) actively negotiating the meaning with other speakers through target language; and 4) applying the target language in real life.

Thai L2 seem to miss out on several counts according to the categories. Current technology developments have the potential to support and enrich L2 learning. In particular MMORPGs could be used as a communication tool for language development, especially using MMORPGs as communicative tool in L2 language development. MMORPGs are popular compared to other game environments and thus can help a player’s motivation and engagement in their learning. According to Gee (2003, 2006) in Bryant (2007), the MMORPG digital environment offers a learning experience that:-

  • Enables learners to transfer skills from the classroom to a practical performance.

  • Applies and adapts to real-life situation.

  • Uses communication skills with other players.

  • Provides immediate/active feedback.

  • Gives the opportunity to use the four language skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

  • Becomes part of self-learning as MMORPGs provide different levels of difficulty.

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