Language Play, Language Learning

by Sophia Mcmillan, Training Manager, TESOL Course Director
(Shane Training Centre, Shane Corporation)

Language Play, Language Learning


'Language games' are seen as an activity where learners use language to achieve a goal (usually by exchanging some kind of information), according to clear rules, in an enjoyably competitive environment. A classic example is 'Back to the board', where players identify unseen words written on the board using clues from their team-mates.

Teachers should see games as a legitimate use of classroom time and a useful motivational tool, offering valuable language practice. There is a plentiful supply of published materials featuring a wide variety of language games.

The advantages of language games are that they can:

1. Reduce learner stress and so increase their receptive to learning

2. Offer demanding and thorough language practice

3. Provide a context for genuine, purposeful communication

4. Allow teachers an opportunity to analyze learners' strengths and weaknesses

However, fun can be a trap for inexperienced teachers, because they might assume that learners who are 'having fun' are automatically learning. The use of games could imply that most learning is boring, and this could undermine the entire learning process. Penny Ur has used the expression ‘GLALL’ (a Game-Like Activity for Language Learning), which she argues differs from a game as it is not just for fun.

It is vital that the teacher is clear why they are using a game and how it helps the learning process.

There is of course another type of language game, one that involves playing with the language itself. This involves trying to demonstrate creativity and promote responses. This view of playing with language is explored in the book 'Language Play, Language Learning' by Guy Cook. He argues that native speakers (both children and adults) play with language in a wide range of situations - when they tell a joke, make a pun, write a poem or do a cryptic crossword for example. He shows that when people play in this way, they experiment with the form of language (e.g. when creating plausible new words), its sound (e.g. when using rhyme or rhythm), its meaning (e.g. when exploiting multiple meanings in different contexts) and its pragmatic force (how it is likely to affect the listener). They also play by using language to express their imagination; they create events, people and places with words.

Vocabulary Activity - Similes 'As... as...' (Int)

There are a number of similes that follow the above pattern, e.g. 'As good as gold', 'As quiet as a mouse' etc. It is possible to teach learners some of these standard forms, but many of them can sound clichéd and it is perhaps more interesting to see what alternatives the learners can invent. It may also be more motivating as they can create forms that are relevant to their lives. It is also interesting to allow them to try to create new similes for adjectives where no recognised simile exists.

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