Can the Gamification of Language Learning Boost Student Motivation?

gamification of language learningThe gamification of language learning is an important topic in the EFL teaching world. There is an increasing number of apps and learning technology that use games as a way of motivating and engaging with students.

Gamification of learning in general has brought education and games together to create a fun hybrid – but is this a successful strategy for long term educational development?

Read on to explore the concept of gamification in education, its potential benefits, the concerns of critics and how the gamification of language learning could help to boost student motivation and engagement.


What is gamification?

Gamification is the idea of using aspects of game design to motivate the user and increase engagement.

The phrase ‘gamification’ was coined in 2003 by Nick Pelling as a concept for businesses. Companies started using apps and reward programmes to engage with customers, boost retention and encourage engagement.

For example, the reward programmes at coffee shops such as Costa and Starbucks that give you a free drink after so many visits.

In the context of language learning, gamification is used as a way of motivating the student and encouraging their participation in lessons.


Competition and collaboration

Gamifying a language lesson is a way of trying to engage with the learner’s needs and desires beyond the basic idea of learning.

Gamification of language learning engages with the students’ competitive side and their desire for collaboration.

It is not only software and apps that can gamify language learning. Teachers can use game design concepts to enhance their lesson plans and teaching materials.

Using fun games in the EFL classroom has always been a great way of engaging with students and gamification is an extended form of this type of lesson.


The gamification of language learning as a supplement

Although gamification in language learning is fun and motivating, it is important to always keep in mind that education is always the ultimate goal.

Games should supplement – and not fully replace – basic educational and teaching methods. This allows students to experience the best of both worlds.

Gamification of language learning allows students to find an alternative means of motivation and a new incentive to participate in the learning activity.

By engaging with learning through games, students can participate in the fun side of learning and not only focus on achieving certain grades in school or university.

Gamification of language learning also helps put language concepts and new vocabulary into context. This is because it gives the language a real-world context outside of the usual comprehension exercises or audio material.

Games and technology are part of modern life within the students’ social world, which brings the language even more into their personal life and makes it feel more relevant.

Gamification of language learning before apps and technology

Although gamification feels a new and exciting idea in the world of education, it is not actually a new concept. Gamification has been used in the classroom for many years in different ways.

Before apps and technology became a main feature of learning, teachers would gamify lessons in other ways. These could include awarding commendations to older students or gold star stickers to younger students.

These types of incentives added a competitive element to student interactions and also worked to provide physical evidence of achievement.

gamification of language learning - incentives

The concept of play as a learning enabler

Adding an element of play to any challenge gives you a feeling of freedom to try new things.

Play encourages the sense of adventure and it also enhances neuronal development, which aids learning and memory retention.

This idea of learning through play can be seen in all baby animals, including humans. Play can also be used as a way to distract ourselves and free the mind at the same time.

Apparently, the scientist Richard Feynman came up with his Nobel prize-winning work in physics while spinning plates in a cafe!

spinning plates - gamification as play

Gamification and special educational needs

Gamification is a way of motivating students and encouraging engagement and it can also work to personalise the learning experience.

For children with learning disabilities or special educational needs, gamifying a lesson can be an effective way of tailoring the content to suit the student.

Traditional classroom settings can be off-putting and counterproductive for some students. Gamification can be used within the classroom to change the learning environment to help students with learning problems.


Motivation can be hard to sustain for any learner, whether you are an older student or a child. It can be twice as hard for children with learning disabilities.

Actually wanting to learn and seeing the learning experience as something enjoyable and useful is vital.

Gamification in the language classroom makes a lesson more fun and create an experience that children want to engage with.

gamification of language learning for children

Using game design concepts in language learning 

The gamification of language learning turns a dry grammar concept into something to enjoy via the use of game design concepts.

It is important to realise that gamification it is not only about providing incentives for learning, such as gold stars.

People play games for many reasons, including for fun, to relieve boredom, to collaborate with others, for the prestige of achievement, for competition with rivals, to gain proof of success, and for the satisfaction of learning how to play.

Gamified language learning means understanding why people play games and using that information to develop an educational programme for language learners or an individual language lesson that uses these concepts of game design.


The negative possibilities of gamification 

Although there are many positive aspects to gamification if used sensibly in the classroom, some people are concerned that it is becoming too mainstream.

Critics argue that gamification is used to often to turn everything into a game and that often it can be a distraction, an irritation or simply a waste of time.

Children enjoy playing games and learning through play, but some critics point out that adults might feel patronised or even manipulated if all their learning materials are turned into games.

Some people also believe that gamification of language learning can result in the student doing only what they have to do in order to ‘win’ or progress to the next level in the game, without actually retaining the information.

This means that gamification might not be an effective learning strategy in the long term.

What are your thoughts about the gamification of language learning?

Why do you think people play games?

How can we use this information in the language classroom?

Do you think the gamification of language learning improves student motivation?

Have you used gamification in your learning or teaching?

Do you feel there are any negative aspects to the gamification of language learning or education in general?

Do you think gamification is effective in language learning?

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