Posted on by Peter Rettig

Games for Language Learning – Observations of a Non-Player

video players - Maybe mankind is divided into people who like to play games and those who don't. Well, I'm sure there are some who argue that we all like to play – certainly as children.

I'll even agree and concede that I "played "(European) football as a child and young adult. I now "play" with my grandchildren, and play tennis quite regularly. However, card games, board games, and certainly computer games keep me entertained and focused only for a short time.

Maybe it is somewhat ironic that I am now engaged in a new venture, which has at its main purpose to help people learn a foreign language playfully.


I began to think about why certain games are enjoyable to me and why I quickly lose interest in others. I recently read a book, "The Art of Game Design" by Jesse Schell, in which the author described the tension between flow and skill.

He explains that a well-designed game requires the player to increase his/her skill level in just the right amount. Keeping the skill level constant, makes the game boring. On the other hand, demanding too much from the player, interrupts the play and may make him give up, i.e. interrupt the "flow" of the game.

I realized that many board games become boring to me because they don't require much skill, just luck. For others, such as Bridge, Black Jack, Poker, etc. I never progressed to a skill level which made it enjoyable for me, and thereby never getting into the "flow" of the game.


As we are designing our games around the language to be taught, we are first faced with finding the right balance between gradually augmenting the required skill level while maintaining the flow of the games.

"Skill" in a language program is acquired by listening, reading, and understanding new foreign words and phrases, then pronouncing and speaking them, and finally translating one's native vocabulary and sentences into the foreign language in spoken and written form.

Creating games that do all of that, without losing the player's attention, remains our major challenge for now. We've started to include game points and will certainly experiment "with a reward structure that includes a steady stream of rewards, points, etc."

We wouldn't mind making GamesForLanguage "addictive." Certainly, getting people to speak several foreign languages would seem a positive accomplishment. But for now, we are more focused on making our language games challenging enough not to lose players like me.