Using games to promote communicative skills in language learning
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014
Author: Melnikova Tatyana, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
We will consider why
communicative games serve as a very useful activity when teaching English. The
use of games is definitely a powerful language learning tool. On one hand, the
aim of all language games is to make student (learners of English) use the
language; on the other hand, during the game learners also use the language
they are learning to persuade and negotiate their way to desired results. This
process involves both the productive and receptive skills.
researchers and those practitioners who are involved in teaching English have
changed their focus from developing individual linguistic skills to the use of
language to achieve the speaker's objectives. This new area of focus is known
as communicative competence. This kind of communicative competence leads
English teachers to look for task-oriented activities in order to involve all
their students in creative language use. According to Saricoban and Metin,
those games, that are task-based and have a purpose beyond the production of
correct speech, may serve as very good and useful communicative [1, p. 154]. As
well known, the aim of all language games is to make the language learner use
the language they are studying to communicate their thoughts and ideas with the
Why should the games be
used when teaching any foreign language? The first reason is that games can
offer students a fun-filled and relaxing atmosphere for learning and
practicing. Uberman proves that after learning and practicing new vocabulary,
students have great opportunity to use the language in a non-stressful way.
When the learners of English are playing games, their attention is generally on
the message, not on the language. In most cases the participants try to do
everything to win the game. At the time they forget about the language, don’t
pay attention to correct use of the language, its different forms [2, p. 21].
As Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope note this method can ease the fear of negative
evaluation, the concern of being negatively judged in public (that is a real
problem for some language learners), and which is one of the main factors
inhibiting language learners from using the target language in front of other
people. In a game-oriented context, anxiety is reduced and speech fluency is
generated [1, p. 158]. Thus, communicative competence is achieved.
The second reason say
that games are motivating. Games introduce an element of competition into
language-building activities. According to Prasad, this provides valuable
impetus to a purposeful use of language. In other words, these activities
create a meaningful context for language use. The competitive ambiance also
makes learners concentrate and think intensively during the learning process,
which enhances unconscious acquisition of inputs [3, p. 247]. Most students who
have experienced game-oriented activities hold positive attitudes towards them.
An action research was conducted by Huyen and Nga in 2003. The results of the
serves say that students said that they liked the relaxed atmosphere, the
competitiveness, and the motivation that games brought to the classroom. On the
effectiveness of games, action research reported that their students seem to
learn more quickly and retain the learned materials better in a stress-free and
comfortable environment [2, p. 46].
According to Lloyd
Rieber, author of Seriously Considering Play: Designing Interactive Learning
Environments Based on the Blending of Microworlds, Simulations and Games, 'it
is somewhat surprising that one of the most fundamental and important concepts
of human interaction has received so little attention.' He goes on to explain
how the misconceptions surrounding play foster this attitude. For example,
people view work as respectable and play as easy – even though many of the
things we "play" are actually quite difficult (such as chess, sports
and music) [4, p. 59].This is why many people balk at the thought of pupils
playing games in the classroom – it is not respectable or rigorous enough to be
useful. Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen and Khuat Thi Thu Nga, authors of Learning
Vocabulary Through Games: The Effectiveness of Learning Through Games,
conducted a study exploring just how successful games are in terms of helping
pupils learn vocabulary. During this study, they gathered pupil reactions to
using games in the classroom and found that they were positively received for
various reasons. They 'like the relaxed atmosphere, the competitiveness and
the motivation that games brought to the classroom'. Pupils also reported that
they like using their imagination and creativity and that they learned new
vocabulary during that games 'but also were forced to recall existing knowledge
and put it to use.' [5, p. 107].
The benefits of using
games in language-learning can be summed up in nine points. Games...
1) are learner
3) create a meaningful
context for language use.
4) increase learning
5) reduce learning
6) integrate various
7) encourage creative
and spontaneous use of language.
8) construct a
cooperative learning environment.
9) foster participatory
attitudes of the students [6, p. 194].
The game method as a
part of language education is thought to be a free learning activity that
certainly gives students opportunity to train and use the languages they are
learning with practical purpose and to use their creative skills in joyful atmosphere.
Mostly for that reason students of almost all ages like games. On the base of
school observation and discussion with teachers researchers consider that a
great number of learners and teachers underestimate game as a useful activity
just for relaxing. Some methodologists, for example Richard and Rodgers, do not
examine a game as a method in language education, on the other hand, others
think that games should only be considered as an additional device for building
up the basic skills in language education at primary school. But in our opinion
and n many others’ opinion, games are very useful as a method of teaching a
foreign language not only at primary school but at any age and in any group of
student. Many different surveys show that all learners of English are willing
to play games during their lessons.
Enjoyment of games is
never restricted by age. Some individuals may be less fond of games than
others. But very much depends on the appropriateness of the games and the role
of the player. In most cases it is accepted that young learners want to play
games. Sometimes teenage learners might be reluctant to do it. Games which can
be played in pairs or groups may be particularly useful for them [2, p.48].
Some problems can occur when a group of adult learners are reluctant to play
games, as they consider game not useful and appropriate. The aim of adult
learners is to learn the language for a particular purpose, to pass an exam to
get promotion or to be able to work in a new office abroad, to be more competitive
for example. The teacher has to respect their point of view and be able to
justify the use of each game in terms of meaningfulness of practice it
that “second language learning is a continuous process of discovery, checking
out and proving/ disproving the hypothesis; it is related to problem-solving
and decision-making. L2 system has to be in meaningful context” [3, p. 106].
Games can help a teacher to create contexts in which the language is useful and
meaningful. The learners generally want to take part and in order to do so have
to understand what others are saying or have written, and they have to speak or
write in order to express their own point of view or give information.
Sometimes games can encourage many learners to sustain their interest and work.
Sometimes games reinforce student motivation and form creative and positive
emotional atmosphere in learning process.
Games are one of the
best training activities and at the same time an active break. A great number
of games provide repeated use of certain language forms. By making the language
convey information and opinion, games provide the key feature of drill, that
gives the opportunity to sense the working of language as living communication.
We must agree with Wright, Betteridge and Buckby that language games can be
regarded as central to a teacher`s repertoire [6, p. 42].
Games provide practice
in all the skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking), in all the stages of
teaching/ learning (presentation, repetition, recombination and free use of
language) and for many types of communication tasks (encouraging, criticizing,
agreeing, explaining etc.).
ingredient of a game is challenge. It is very important for games to be based
on speech and reflection activity. For instance, if the teacher asks students
to describe a house in the forest (given on a picture) it does not stimulate
them for speaking activity because there is no challenge to student’s
imagination and thinking. This is not an ordinary communicative task. If the
teacher says: Imagine who lives in this house and what is happening there now –
it is a communicative task based on thinking and speaking challenge and
activity. It is typical for a language game then. Challenge is not a synonym to
competition but many of the games are competitive and need cooperation or team
work to solve problems. This kind of games provides an opportunity to develop
speaking skills as well as students’ social skills especially in group work.
The problems should better be related to the students’ age and interests.
Different kinds of game
may be examined as a variant of cognitive functional approach, a realization of
usage-based theory . For example, Tsvetkova shares this approach and
suggests a simple English structure with present continuous tense as a
cognitive model. This model consists of the parts of the cat – head (that is
for the subject that is moving), neck (for the finite verb form in the
sentence), body (for the verb itself) and tail (for the ending – ing). It is
always attached to the body, to the basis of the verb to form the present
participle. This way is appropriate to acquire linguistic information by young
learners at primary school. This approach demonstrates an hierarchical relationship
in English sentencein images and facilitates a learning process .
It is essential to note
that new educational resources in the Internet are game based in most cases.
They are shown in bright image context, which has a nice music background,
playful word and phrase repetition in different situations and very often there
are typical cultural elements [8, p. 302]. All these things are components of
any game as a strategy and these resources will develop more and more in the
future. In a present language learning process e-resources should be examined
as an important part of the learning process that has to be combined with
In which ways games can
help the teachers and the learners in the classroom?
First of all, we must say
that games not only help, but also encourage many learners to sustain their
interest and work. Secondly, they help teachers to create contexts in which the
language is useful and meaningful. Thirdly, they create a friendly and more
relaxed atmosphere. It is that learners respond to the content in a definite
way. Some of them are amused, some are angered or surprised.
When teaching a foreign
language through games it is important to speak about so-called method “break
the ice”. Breaking the ice is important on many situations and it leads to more
productive and more comfortable conversations.
structured activities which are designed to relax learners, introduce them to
each other, and energize them in what is normally an unduly formal atmosphere
or situation. Icebreakers are not usually related to the subject matter, where
as “openers” are related to the subject matter that is to be discussed. In addition,
they help to break up the cliques and invite people to form random groupings in
a non-threatening and fun way.
The term “icebreaker”
comes from “break the ice,” which in turn comes from special ships called
“icebreakers” that were designed to break up ice in the arctic regions. And
just as these ships make it easier for others to travel, an icebreaker helps to
clear the way for learning to occur by making the learners more comfortable by
helping to bring about conversation.
It is essential that
the learners are totally familiar with the games they are asked to play. It
might be helpful if they are familiar with the rules of the game in their own
language. New games are normally introduced in the following way:
1) explanation by the
teacher to the group or class;
2) demonstration of
parts of the game by the teacher and one or two learners of the language;
3) trial by a group in
front of the group/class;
4) any key language or
instructions might be written on the board;
5) first try by groups;
6) key language should
be removed from the board;
If the teacher is
unfamiliar with the use of language teaching games then it is advisable to
introduce them slowly as supplementary activities. When the teacher is familiar
with a variety of games, they can be used as a substitute for parts of the
Many teachers sometimes
believe that competition should be avoided. It is possible to play the majority
of games with a spirit of challenge to achieve some results, rather than “to do
someone else down.” It can also be wrong to compel an individual to
participate. Those learners who are reluctant to do this might be asked to act
as a judge and scorers.
It is always advisable
to stop a game and change to something else before the learners become tired of
it. In this way, their good will and concentration are retained.
The teacher’s attitude
and language are important in the process of any communicative game. The
teacher must never interrupt a game which is flowing successfully in order to
correct a mistake in language use. It would mean that the teacher is more
concerned with form than the exchange of ideas. In general, it is better to
note the error and to comment on it later, when a game is finished.
In order to use game as
an effective strategy in the process of language teaching/learningevery teacher
should answer the following questions.
1) Will the game be
relatively easy for you to organize in the classroom?
2) Is it likely to
interest the particular group of learners you have in mind?
3) Are you forcing
language activity into the game?
4) Is the amount of
language and the type of use enough to justify the use of the game?
If your answer is yes
to each of these questions, then the game you have in mind is a highly
efficient means of satisfying learners` needs.
The teacher has to
decide which form of interaction during games is the most appropriate and structure
Game strategy may be
considered as a basic element of conceptual matrix of communicative language
teaching [2, p. 239]. Game is one of the basic communicative methods in
language education. Lozanov’s Suggestopedia is a perfect illustration of a game
based education that develops hidden human reserves and creative skills.
In present language
methodology it is necessary to realize a role of game in language education. A
perfect example of game philosophy in education is the Suggestopedia method.
The process of learning in it is motivating and interesting both for students
and teacher. The reason is special game strategy and the atmosphere it can
create. According to Lozanov “the whole process of learning is a game, special,
pleasant, game of two plans (conscious and unconscious). Play this game! Life
is a game with its emotions and ambitions!” [6, p. 85].
The author of this
article believes that game in its traditional and e-version has to be
considered and explored not as an additional device but as a main strategy in
language education both for children and adults. Because the game maintains
learners` interest and motivation, facilitates the process of teaching and
learning and converts language education into real intellectual and emotional
experience developing student personality.
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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014