Computer Assisted Language Learning

Recommendations by Fredrik (Nässjö, Sweden)

As an English teacher I have sometimes used IF as a tool for language learning. IF is exceptionally well suited for that purpose, except for two things: 1) Most good games use very advanced language, too difficult for non-advanced learners. 2) Those few games that have a simpler language are still often difficult for beginning learners, while potentially childish for intermediate learners.

A handful of games have been designed with the specific purpose of being used for CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning). The problem with these is that they are usually poorly designed as games, and not very fun to play. Anyway, this is a list of those IF CALL games that I know about.

Please let me know if others exist.

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IFforL2, December 22, 2016 - Reply
Hi, Fredrik. A couple of notes:

Escape | 逃出去 is specifically designed for Chinese language learners and uses a very specific vocabulary set.

Here is a TPRStory I found for Chinese language learners. I haven't made a page for it yet on IFDB, but it uses a much smaller vocabulary set than Escape.

Zork is available to play online in Spanish. Reading parallel texts is always a good idea at the early-intermediate stage of language learning.

peter@gameenglish has made a series of levelled games for ESL, available on IFDB

Fitbos has a good list of "Easy English" games in his poll.
Fredrik, March 31, 2011 - Reply
I found a reference to the bilingual version of Adventure I mentioned in a previous post. Someone has scanned an old software catalogue from the early 80s:

The game in question is described on the third page from the end.

(By the way, I did play Carma, and while it was not my type of game exactly, the puzzle you referred to was very interesting. (Spoiler - click to show)I never thought about making an in-game test as part of the narrative. My idea was to have it constantly available from the command prompt, possibly producing different contents depending on how far the player has played, or which words the player has looked up in a built-in dictionary.)
Emily Short, January 4, 2011 - Reply
I'm interested in educational uses for games and IF especially, so this is cool to see.

Out of curiosity, what would make a game good for this purpose? Are there lists of preferred vocabulary or suggestions about grammar to avoid? There are some relatively simple games written for children that aren't on your list -- are they unsuitable for you?
Fredrik, January 14, 2011 - Reply
A small correction regarding my previous reply. I have checked some texts that claim to be for intermediate learners, and it appears they usually start from a base vocabulary of about 1500 - 2000 words.
Fredrik, January 5, 2011 - Reply
Those are some very good questions you ask, and I do not have all the answers. What makes a "good" game to a large degree depends upon the target group. Their level of language proficiency, of course, but also their preference in terms of genre and puzzle difficulty. For this reason, there can never be one "perfect" IF for CALL.

Some things which would potentially improve learning would lower playability. For example, I have this idea that the game should not accept abbreviations, thereby forcing the player to practice spelling while playing. A German or French game should not accept nouns without the correct definite article.

One game I have heard about (but never seen, alas) offered bilingual game play, so that the player could at any time switch between English and French. That would be a great feature. A similar feature would be a built-in dictionary with definitions of difficult words. The program could then store the words which the player has asked for and produce a list for practicing, or an interactive test.

The German game mentioned by another person in this discussion has an introduction in English. That may be a good thing, but it also restricts the game to a more specific target group (English-speaking learners of German).

As for vocabulary, there are lists of the most common (printed) words for all major languages. I would suggest using such a list as a basis, and make sure that all other words are understood from the context. Exactly how many the "base" words should be depends, again, on the specific target group. Texts for intermediate learners often start from a base vocabulary of some 500-1000 words.

As for children's games, the problem is that often the language in them, while simpler, is intended for a native speaker. Therefore, they are still too difficult for beginning learners, while they may seem childish for intermediate learners. I am not saying that they cannot be used, and they may well be better than some of those that I do list, but the subject of my present list is games that are specifically intended for educational use. Potentially useful games should perhaps better be the subject of a poll.
ifwizz, January 5, 2011 - Reply
There is a Swedish translation »Äventyr« of the prototype »Adventure« (Wil Crowther / Don Woods 1976) with its amazing lyrics. Perhaps there are other Swedish translations of English language IF. (I'm interested in links for our translations section of the ifwizz database)
Fredrik, January 5, 2011 - Reply
I think there have actually been two different Swedish translations of Äventyr, but I am not completely sure.

I can think of no other Swedish translations of English games, although one or two have gone the other way (from Swedish to English).

However, translations like that are of little use for CALL, unless someone would take the trouble to combine two games into a truly bilingual game.
Fredrik, January 12, 2011 - Reply
It has now been added. Thanks for the info!
Fredrik, January 6, 2011 - Reply
The point with a bilingual CALL game is that the game could give the player immediate translations. Two translations of the same game are useless for that purpose.

It would be possible to do it with just one language for the command prompt and optional languages for all messages, but ideally it should be possible to give commands in both languages as well. Perhaps when you switch language for the texts you also switch language for the commands? I think that was the way it was done in the game I read about. That way you will need two separate parsers in the game, instead of one parser that can understand two languages.

I will take a look at Carma. Thanks!
ifwizz, January 5, 2011 - Reply
The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode by Victor Gijsbers is easy in language, introduces children to IF, and transports some thoughts about intransparancy of games without source code.
Fredrik, January 5, 2011 - Reply
I have not (yet) played the game, and while it does not belong on my list (since it is not explicitly designed for CALL), I am sure that it could be useful.

I do have one objection, namely the title, which implies the "political" message about open source. This is something which I could see myself taking into the classroom as a separate item for a discussion topic, but not into a language classroom. It would take focus away from the game as such, and thereby from language learning.

Also see the thoughts regarding children's games that I have stated in another comment in this discussion.
ifwizz, January 5, 2011 - Reply
You may recompile the source code with title "Fluffy Bunny Friends", the PDF essay and ABOUT command explain the misleading original title.
Fredrik, January 5, 2011 (updated May 9, 2011) - Reply
Even if I had the energy to download and install the compiler (which I do not), and then do the necessary changes in the source (which, again, I do not), I would not do it. My disclaimers against IF for children still hold, and even assuming that there would be no problem there, I would feel that I was doing violence to the programmer's intention. Yes, I could ask, and yes, I would probably be given permission. But if IF for kids is the way to go, I am sure there are other programs, ready to go and intended for that target group. What about A Bear's Night Out, for instance?
Fredrik, January 5, 2011 - Reply
Brilliant! That is exactly the kind of game I am looking for. I shall play the game for a bit to try it out and then add it to the list.
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