A recent research paper: "Daily Online Testing in Large Classes" [published on journals.plos.org] shows that taking frequent short tests - or quizzes - can significantly boost learning. This appears to be true for subjects such as math and science, which combine rote memorization with thinking skills. It certainly can also be true for language learning, which requires the mind to absorb complex material gradually, and in steps that build on each other.
Typically in a school environment, quizzes were and still are used after students have learned their material, both to test their knowledge and give them feedback. In our new, digital trial-and-error culture, quizzing and learning often happen simultaneously.
Every Game is a Quiz
In order to advance in a game, you have to provide correct answers and are told immediately when you're wrong. This kind of immediate and regular feed-back on detail - pronunciation, vocabulary, spelling, grammar points, sentence structure, etc. - is exactly what you want when you're learning a language.
Games Engage the Whole Brain
Language learning tends to be a left-brain activity, but by involving several senses, you'll be engaging both sides of the brain. One way to do this is by playing video games that involve sounds, colors, movement, and various types of interactive play. It's well-established that multi-sensory learning helps create the kind of associations that deepen your language memory.
Games Help to Maintain Focus
By tapping into the rush of pleasurable feeling you get from achieving small successes and mastering challenges, games help you focus on each step and encourage you to stay with the language - as described in this blog bost: Games and your brain: how to use gamification to stop procrastinating. Accumulating points and badges gives you a sense of progress and motivates you to go on. Also, games can add humor to your learning (as text, images, sounds, etc.) and with it provide an extra level of fun and entertainment.
With Games You Can Practice All Four Skills Interactively
Digital games are versatile and can be structured to help you practice all four skills: listening, writing, reading, speaking - either individually or in combination. There are games to listen and repeat, others to record your voice, or write in the correct answer. Others still for constructing sentences, or identifying idioms. Digital games allow for as much repetition as you want. If a game is hard, you can do it several times, if it's easy, you breeze through and continue with the next.
Games Can Teach You How to Learn
If you use games for language learning on a regular basis, you're also forming good learning habits. A language is acquired gradually and step by step, so trying to cram a lot of learning into a short time doesn't work for most. Regular quizzing with games teaches you how to pace yourself and shows you the value of frequent recall and repetition.
The sudden, huge popularity of the gamified site Duolingo has put language learning with games in the spotlight. Other sites that consist entirely of language games, such as Digitaldialects, Mindsnacks, etc., and our Gamesforlanguage, are also getting increased attention.
In turn, social networks and communities for language learning - such as Busuu, Livemocha, Mangolanguages - have started adding games to their programs. Last but not least, educational communities such as edWeb.net have groups where educators share new games, including language games. For anyone learning a language, this is all good quizzing fun.