Title: Challenges in specifying and evaluating a conceptual design for a task-based mini-game environment for language learning
Authors: Cornillie, Frederik ×
Grenfell, Andrew
Windeatt, Scott
Desmet, Piet #
Issue Date: 2012
Conference: EuroCALL 2012: CALL: using, learning, knowing location:Gothenburg date:22-25 August 2012
Abstract: This presentation will report on the conceptual design and evaluation of a task-based mini-game environment for
learning French, Dutch and English as foreign or second languages. We define mini-games for language learning as small
and fast-paced games that do not require state-of-the-art hardware (and can hence be delivered e.g. through the
browser), which contain immediate feedback, and in which there is a primary focus on form (viz. grammar, lexicon and
pronunciation) (e.g., We hypothesize that
such mini-games facilitate the development of accuracy and fluency. There is some evidence that educational mini-games
lead to fast gains in L2 vocabulary and to increased speed of lexical access (e.g. Cobb & Horst, 2011).
Although mini-games have been around for some time, it may be argued that their design a) relies primarily on a model of
human motivation that is now considered outdated (i.e. extrinsic rewarding), and b) is out of tune with principles of
communicative language teaching approaches, including task-based learning and teaching. Digital game-based language
learning has been primarily associated with task-based learning (e.g. Baltra, 1990; García-Carbonell, Rising, Montero, &
Watts, 2001; Purushotma, Thorne, & Wheatley, 2008), precisely because the main focus for the learner during gaming
tasks is on outcomes, i.e. “to play [<] to play by the rules [<] and to play well”, rather than on language aims (Hubbard,
1991, p. 221). Hence, it is questionable whether mini-games with an explicit focus on form are (intrinsically) interesting for
a large share of language learners. Hence, our rationale is to embed such mini-games in a “fantasy” (Malone, 1981) and
in a greater interactive arc, which is potentially more engaging.
First, we will present criteria for the design of such a mini-game environment on the basis of insights in a) theories in
human motivation and b) game design. Subsequently, we will present a conceptual design based on these criteria in the
specific context of a European project that aims to develop such a mini-game environment (including reading and speaking
activities) for young and adult learners at the A2 and B1 proficiency level. Finally, we will report on the evaluation of this
conceptual design using focus groups.
Baltra, A. (1990). Language Learning through Computer Adventure Games. Simulation & Gaming, 21(4), 445-452.
Cobb, T., & Horst, M. (2011). Does Word Coach Coach Words ? CALICO Journal, 28(3), 639-661.
García-Carbonell, A., Rising, B., Montero, B., & Watts, F. (2001). Simulation/Gaming and the Acquisition of
Communicative Competence in Another Language. Simulation & Gaming, 32(4), 481-491.
Hubbard, P. (1991). Evaluating computer games for language learning. Simulation & Gaming, 22(2), 220-223.
Malone, T. W. (1981). Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction. Cognitive Science, 5(4), 333-369.
Purushotma, R., Thorne, S. L., & Wheatley, J. (2008). 10 key principles for designing video games for foreign language
learning. Retrieved from
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Faculty of Arts, Campus Kulak Kortrijk
Comparative, Historical and Applied Linguistics, Leuven
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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