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An Overview to Games and Gaming for Native and Foreign Language Learning

Kay Berkling, Roger Gilabert Guerrero et Eva Schaeffer-Lacroix

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1This volume was edited with the support of the Cooperative State University in Karlsruhe (Germany).

2In the last few decades, scholars have come to accept that developing problem-solving abilities and their associated language skills is a serious matter that requires careful and theory-driven design. Advances in digitalisation, game-based learning (Yang & Cheng, 2022), and serious games (Garris, Ahlers & Driskell, 2002; Acquah & Katz, 2020) have facilitated enormous design decisions that contribute to overall skill development. Digitalization has the potential to contribute to a paradigm shift in almost all of the following dimensions.

  • Uniform exams > personalisation

  • Predetermined questions > chosen or self-construction of questions

  • A single correct answer > degrees of correctness or open answers

  • Delayed feedback > immediate and detailed feedback

  • Marking mistakes only > marking correct answers

  • Marking all mistakes > focusing on a subset of skills

  • Counting mistakes equally across the class > relating mistakes to progress and improvement

  • Grading > meaningful scoreboard, skill chart, or progress bar towards mastery

  • Public humiliation > fun failure

3Digitalisation and serious game design have made it possible to improve the personalisation of teaching and learning (Holmes et al., 2018; Yang & Cheng, 2022) by attending to students' needs and their internal syllabi. For years, first and second language acquisition studies (see for example Long, 2015 for L2 acquisition) have shown that learners do not necessarily learn what they are taught but only what they are ready to learn. Scholars have pointed out the need to move away from the traditional concept of "one-size-fits-all" instruction. Learners' own internal syllabi push them to learn different skills by following very particular and highly individualised paths, and they do so at very different paces. The use of well-informed and carefully designed adaptivity algorithms in games is beginning to adapt and individualise learning trajectories with promising results (Serra & Gilabert, 2021), particularly when it comes to learners with learning difficulties (Vasalou et al., 2021).

4As far as mastery and automatisation of knowledge are concerned, it is by now well accepted that failure is an inherent component of learning. In the case of language skills, the internalisation, modification, and consolidation of learned features is a long process riddled with errors as well as phenomena such as backsliding (ie temporarily unlearning an unstable feature), ultimately leading to the automatisation of knowledge. Digital games offer the opportunity to expose learners to large scales of input data training, and such exposure creates the conditions for enabling learning. Extracted from digital game performance, learning curves provide information on learning with mistakes, alternating between progress and setbacks as learners move through increasingly difficult learning experiences according to their own choice. It may still be less well known just how many ups and downs such learning curves contain, and just how many mistakes are necessary to reach mastery. While psychologists (Anderson, 2000; Donner & Hardy, 2015), cognitive scientists (Ninio, 2008, cop. 2006; Sweller et al., 2019), the manufacturing industry (Glock et al., 2019), machine learning experts (Viering & Loog, 2021) and entrepreneurs (Edmondson, 2011; Klimas et al., 2021; McGrath, 1999) let us know that you need to fail to succeed, the cognitive process is still not fully understood; more interdisciplinary studies are needed. Regardless of discipline, researchers agree that the learning curves are surprisingly individual: one can distinguish between good and bad failures and support a climate for learning from failure. These insights match the above-described paradigm shift to personalised learning and a motivational environment that supports constructive feedback. At this point, digital games enter as a potential solution to provide many of these options if designed correctly (Berkling et al., 2017). It is clear today that learning within a game supports all the dimensions that we have listed above by providing an integrated, multidimensional environment that supports many personalised interactions in open worlds (Krath et al., 2021). Yet, while educational games are motivating, they still need to be embedded into a larger context of schooling to yield the didactic context. Teacher acceptance is therefore a very important factor in their usage (Huizenga et al., 2017; Pflaumer et al., 2021). The papers included in this issue are designed with the audience of second language didactics to provide a wide context for teacher education in this area of digitalisation.

5This special issue assembles various publications in the area of serious games, shows multiple approaches to their design, and demonstrates the interdisciplinarity of this research in a single issue. Our readers will find that in their article Faciliter l'accès à l'apprentissage du français pour tous au sein de parcours adaptables de jeux éducatifs numériques [How to Facilitate Access to French Acquisition for all Learners within a Digital Teaching/Learning Platform], Mireille Rodi, Nathalie Dherbey Chapuis, Thierry Geoffre, and Lionel Alvarez look at personalisation in a reading comprehension task for children with dyslexia and dysorthographia. In her article Effekte der App Phontasia auf die Lese- und Rechtschreibleistungen von Zweitklässlern [Effects of the app Phontasia on the reading and spelling performance of second graders], Nadine Pflaumer explores the learning effects of self-determined learning in grapheme-phoneme correspondence, crucial for reading and spelling development. With An Attempt at Describing Learning Curves for a Complex Sub-Task in Reading Acquisition, Hannah Kermes and Kay Berkling present a study on the role of learning curves in a reading game they point at the need to maintain motivation over extended periods of time for repetitive practice that is necessary to learn complex tasks. The need for iterative improvement in a motivational environment through a digital literacy game evaluation is taken up in the article À la croisée du développement de la compétence numérique et de la compétence en langue étrangère : étude préliminaire pour le développement d'un outil ludopédagogique pour les 4-7 ans [At the crossroads of digital and foreign language competence development: a preliminary study for the development of an edutainment tool for 4-7 year olds], written by Laurence Schmoll, Joséphine Rémon, Pascale Manoïlov, Anissa Hamza, and Élodie Oursel. Finally, in her article L'harmonie entre l'authenticité et la fiction dans un jeu sérieux [Harmony between authenticity and fiction in a serious game], Stelene Narainen describes a motivational serious game that tries to reproduce reality in a game environment. We hope the reader will enjoy the different viewpoints presented here.

6We would like to thank the members of the scientific committee who participated in the review of the texts submitted for publication in this thematic issue.

  • Franck Amadieu, France (Université de Toulouse);

  • Joan Arnedo-Moreno, Spain (Open university of Catalunya);

  • Kay Berkling, Germany (Cooperative State University Baden-Württemberg, Karlsruhe);

  • Catherine Bonnat, Switzerland (Université de Fribourg);

  • Alain Cazade, France (Université Paris-Dauphine);

  • Anne Chateau, France (Université de Lorraine, Metz-Nancy);

  • Simon Collin, Canada (Université du Québec, Montréal);

  • Isabelle Cros, France (Université d'Aix-Marseille);

  • Febe de Wet, South Africa (Stellenbosch University);

  • Béatrice Dupuy, USA (University of Arizona);

  • Heiko Holz, Germany (Universität Tübingen);

  • Hannah Kermes, Germany (H&H Communication Lab, Ulm);

  • Ronja Laarmann-Quante, Germany (Ruhr-Universität Bochum);

  • Catherine Muller, France (Université Grenoble-Alpes);

  • Jonathon Reinhardt, USA (University of Arizona);

  • Stéphanie Roussel, France (Université de Bordeaux);

  • Jérémi Sauvage, France (Université Paul Valéry Montpellier);

  • Haydée Sylva, Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México);

  • Eva Thue Vold, Norway (Université d'Oslo);

  • Denyze Toffoli, France (Université de Toulouse);

  • Daniel Georges Véronique, France (Université d'Aix-Marseille);

  • Constanze Weth, Luxembourg (Université du Luxembourg);

  • Shona Whyte, France (Université de Nice).

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Acquah, E. O., & Katz, H. T. (2020). Digital game-based L2 learning outcomes for primary through high-school students: A systematic literature review. Computers & Education, 143, 103667.

Anderson, J. R. (2000). Learning and memory: An integrated approach. John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Berkling, K., Faller, H., & Piertzik, M. (2017). Avoiding Failure in Modern Game Design with Academic Content–A Recipe, an Anti-Pattern and Applications Thereof. In Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (p. 25-36). SCITEPRESS– Science and Technology Publications.

Donner, Y., & Hardy, J. L. (2015). Piecewise power laws in individual learning curves. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22(5), 1308-1319.

Edmondson, A. C. (2011). Strategies for learning from failure. Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 48-55.

Garris, R., Ahlers, R., & Driskell, J. E. (2002). Games, Motivation, and Learning: A Research and Practice Model. Simulation & Gaming, 33(4), 441-467.

Glock, C. H., Grosse, E. H., Jaber, M. Y., & Smunt, T. L. (2019). Applications of learning curves in production and operations management: A systematic literature review. Computers & Industrial Engineering, 131, 422-441.

Huizenga, J. C., ten Dam, G. T. M., Voogt, J. M., & Admiraal, W. F. (2017). Teacher perceptions of the value of game-based learning in secondary education. Computers & Education, 110, 105-115.

Holmes, W., Anastopoulou S., Schaumburg, H. & Mavrikis, M. (2018). Technology-nhanced Personalised Learning–Untangling the Evidence. Stuttgart: Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Klimas, P., Czakon, W., Kraus, S., Kailer, N., & Maalaoui, A. (2021). Entrepreneurial Failure: A Synthesis and Conceptual Framework of its Effects. European Management Review, 18(1), 167-182.

Krath, J., Schürmann, L., & Korflesch, H. F. von (2021). Revealing the theoretical basis of gamification: A systematic review and analysis of theory in research on gamification, serious games and game-based learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 125, 106963.

Long, M. H. (2015). Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching. Wiley Blackwell.

McGrath, R. G. (1999). Falling Forward: Real Options Reasoning and Entrepreneurial Failure. Academy of Management Review, 24(1), 13-30.

Ninio, A. (2008, cop. 2006). Language and the learning curve: A new theory of syntyactic development (Ponatis). Oxford University Press.

Pflaumer, N., Knorr, N., & Berkling, K. (2021). Appropriation of adaptive literacy games into the German elementary school classroom. British Journal of Educational Technology, 52(5), 1917-1934.

Serra, J. & Gilabert, R. (forthcoming). Development of L2 reading skills in digital game-based learning: Comparing teacher and automatic adaptivity. Special issue by Vanbecelaere, S. and Benton, L. (Eds). Technology-mediated Personalised Learning for Younger Learners: Concepts, Design, Methods and Practice. A special issue in the British Journal of Educational Technology.

Sweller, J., van Merriënboer, J. J. G., & Paas, F. (2019). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design: 20 Years Later. Educational Psychology Review, 31(2), 261-292.

Vasalou, A., Benton, L., Ibrahim, S., Summer, E., Joye, N., Hobert, E., Coventry, W. (2021). Do Children with Reading Difficulties Benefit from Instructional Game Supports? Exploring Children's Attention and Understanding of Feedback. British journal of Educational technology, 52(6), 2359-2373.

Viering, T., & Loog, M. (2021, March 19). The Shape of Learning Curves: a Review.

Yang, J. C., Chung, C., & Chen, M. (2022). Effects of performance goal orientations on learning performance and in‐game performance in digital game‐based learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 38(2), 422-439.

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Kay Berkling, Roger Gilabert Guerrero et Eva Schaeffer-Lacroix, « An Overview to Games and Gaming for Native and Foreign Language Learning »Alsic [En ligne], Vol. 25, n° 1 | 2022, mis en ligne le 13 juillet 2022, consulté le 11 août 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Kay Berkling

Kay Berkling is a professor at the Cooperative State University in Karlsruhe (Germany). She teaches Software Engineering, Gamification and Games. Her research focuses on motivation of learning as well as orthography acquisition. Writing relates closely to reading, and both skills exhibit learning curves during acquisition, which are the focus of her studies. She received her PhD in 1996 in automatic language identification and has since applied speech technology to learning. Gamification and motivation help her to apply learning both to children through games and in adult education.
Affiliation: Cooperative State University Baden-Württemberg.
Address: CS Department, DHBW Karlsruhe, Erzbergerstraße 121, 76331 Karlsruhe, Germany.

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Roger Gilabert Guerrero

Currently an associate professor and researcher at the University of Barcelona, Roger Gilabert Guerrero's interests include personalisation and adaptivity in game-based learning, second and foreign language production and acquisition, task design and task complexity, individual differences, L2 production and acquisition, and multimedia learning. Roger Gilabert led a group of researchers from the University of Barcelona within a Horizon 2020 project coordinated by University College London, where we they worked on the development of reading skills through adaptive and integrated technologies (iRead project In the last few years, he has also worked on a Spanish Ministry project on the effects on early vocabulary learning of captioned video under different TV genres. His current project aims at developing an automated task design generator for teachers and task designers.
Affiliation: University of Barcelona.
Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 585, 08007 Barcelona, Spain.

Eva Schaeffer-Lacroix

Eva Schaeffer-Lacroix is a senior lecturer in Germanic Studies at the teacher training department of Sorbonne University (Inspé de Paris). Her research interests include digital corpora (pedagogical uses and discourse analysis), writing, language awareness, audiovisual translation, and audio description.
Affiliation: Sorbonne Université–Inspé de Paris.
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Address: research group STIH (Sens Texte Informatique Histoire), E3 Linguistique computationnelle, maison de la recherche, 28 rue Serpente, 75006 Paris, France.

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