AFFECTING LANGUAGE LEARNERS’ USE OF VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGIES IN MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER ONLINE ROLE-PLAYING GAMES - PLAY!
Victoria University of Wellington (NEW ZEALAND) & Saxion University of Applied Sciences (NETHERLANDS)
Immersed in the interdependent play/learn context of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), players’ desire to master gameplay had them racing to autonomously learn vocabulary. Participants in a case-study at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, revealed that play in MMORPGs affected English second language (ESL) vocabulary learning: specifically learning anxiety, responsibility and motivation; language experience duration and creativity; and creation, selection and use of vocabulary learning strategies. This study integrated information from three fields of study: MMORPGs as learning contexts (Delwiche, 2006; Steinkuehler, 2007; Yu, 2009), vocabulary learning strategies (Gu, 2005; Nation, 2008; Schmitt, 1997), and play (Brown, 2010; Caillois, 2001; Huizinga, 1950; Sutton‐Smith, 1997). Play is difficult to define; however, it is voluntary, purposeless, absorbing, inherently attractive, diminishes consciousness and promotes social groups.
This study was instigated in response to informal reports from students at universities in the Netherlands and New Zealand of vocabulary gains from playing MMORPGs. Using research processes inherent in Grounded Theory, data was collected from extant MMORPG texts and observations of, interviews with, and elicited texts from a criterion sample of six ESL experienced players of World of Warcraft® (Blizzard, 2009). Through constant comparative analysis, patterns and processes emerged to explain how play affected participants’ vocabulary learning processes and strategies within MMORPGs. Findings were compared to Gu’s (2005) model of vocabulary learning strategies in contexts, which was adapted to incorporate play as a significant factor. Although this small-scale study includes limitations, the results highlight the need to value how play in MMORPGs affects ESL learners’ use of vocabulary learning strategies and argue for further study into autonomous language learning during games and play activities.
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