What games can bring to your language learning experience

Have you ever noticed the board games held in Fisk 209? These are open to the community and language classes at Wesleyan. But why board games?

The Italian Department at Wesleyan has been holding board game nights led by Professor Camilla Zamboni since fall 2018. At these events, Italian students, professors, TAs, and anyone else connected to the Italian at Wesleyan community gather to chat, eat pizza, and play board games (or ‘giochi di società’).

Games are a fun, hands-on way to engage with a language. While one of the first things that might come to your mind could be Duolingo, this is an example of ‘gamification’ of lessons: ‘points’ for right answers. People who play games often, like Professor Zamboni, will tell you that nothing beats an immersive board game, role-playing game (RPG), or video game. But why? When a game actually taps into ‘play’, be it aspects of competition, chance, playing pretend, or even moving your body, you become immersed in the stimulating reality you and your friends have crafted together – you have ‘fun’. In this environment, we are both more engaged and more motivated to learn the material, rewarded by the rules we have set up. Sure, if these rules are broken (cheating, quitting) there are no dire consequences; however, we lose the immersion founded upon the rules and thus are no longer rewarded by the play (it’s not fun anymore!).

The first Italian board game night of the semester took place on November 3rd. We played ‘Just One’ and ‘Concept’. In ‘Just One’, everyone must write down a single word to get the guesser to figure out the word on their card. If any two people write the same word, neither is shown to the guesser. This game creates an environment in which you must think of the creative interpretations of a word. The native speakers were also challenged, trying to think of the clearest way to communicate an idea to a learner while also not being too common. In ‘Concept’, you must use tiles to mark pictures representing concepts such as ‘life’, ‘opposite’, ‘green’, etc. to communicate an idea that is easy, medium, or hard. Easy ideas were simple words that could be communicated in one or two tiles. Medium ideas got tricky, with titles like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Hovercraft’. Most of the learners reached their cap here but had easy to fall back on if need be. Hard ideas were mostly accessible to the native speakers, containing idioms, but would be fun for any advanced learner ready to challenge themselves. This game created an environment of abstract communication between students, probably helping them with their circumlocution and preparing them for an environment where they can’t fall back on English.

The Fries Center for Global Studies encourages other language departments to try out hosting these events to see how games don’t just improve the class’s language learning experience but also provide an opportunity to strengthen the community of students, to learn to chat casually in a target language, and to get to spend some informal time with a professor.

Written by Bobby Bourque ’23