Willingness to communicate has been shown to affect second language acquisition and the use of computer games is thought to facilitate L second language communication. In this study we are interested in the relationship between participating in MMORPG games and second language interaction and therefore pose the following questions:
Past studies into willingness to communicate have demonstrated its positive effect on second language acquisition; a willingness to communicate is clearly related to the likelihood of students improving their second language skills, particularly in productive skills. Major findings from willingness to communicate studies indicated that learners who demonstrate willingness to communicate interact in the target language actively, which, in turn, contributes to increased frequency and greater amount of second language use (Clement et al., 2003; Freiermuth & Jarrell, 2006; Hashimoto, 2002; MacIntyre & Charos, 1996; Yashima, Zenuk-Nishide, & Shimizu, 2004). Second language researchers have recognized that language learners who are more active with second language use have a greater potential to develop language proficiency as a result of having more opportunities to communicate with others. Language learners who are more willing to communicate have been found to have more potential to practice in an second language (MacIntyre, Baker, Clement & Conrad, 2001), improve their communicative skills (Yashima et al., 2004), acquire language fluency (Derwing, Munro, & Thomson, 2008), and generally achieve greater language proficiency (MacIntyre et al., 2001; MacIntyre et al., 1998; Yashima, 2002). Clearly, an important aim of second language instruction should be to improve willingness to communicate, and for second language acquisition research to investigate how this can best be done.
In recent years there has been a lot of interest in the potential role of digital games in language education. Playing digital games is said to be motivating to students and to benefit the development of social skills, such as collaboration, and metacognitive skills such as planning and organisation. An important potential benefit is also that digital games encourage the use of the target language in a non-threatening environment. Willingness to communicate has been shown to affect second language acquisition in a number of ways and it is therefore important to investigate if there is a connection between playing games and learners’ interaction in the target language. In this article we report on the results of a pilot study that investigated the effects of playing an online multiplayer game on the quantity and quality of second language interaction in the game and on participants’ willingness to communicate in the target language. We will show that digital games can indeed affect second language interaction patterns and contribute to second language acquisition, but that this depends, like in all other teaching and learning environments, on careful pedagogic planning of the activity.
The Input hypothesis is Krashen's attempt to explain how thelearner acquires a second language – how second language acquisition takes place. The Input hypothesis is only concerned with 'acquisition', not 'learning'.According to this hypothesis, the learner improves and progresses when he/she receives second language 'input' that is one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence. For example, if a learner is at a stage 'i', then acquisition takes place when he/she is exposed to 'Comprehensible Input' that belongs to level 'i + 1'. We can then define 'Comprehensible Input' as the target language that the learner would not be able to produce but can still understand. It goes beyond the choice of words and involves presentation of context, explanation, rewording of unclear parts, the use of visual cues and meaning negotiation. The meaning successfully conveyed constitutes the learning experience.
Many claims are made for the benefits of games on affective factors such as anxiety and motivation, but few studies have directly investigated the effects of digital games on second language acquisition. An example of such a study was conducted by deHaan, Reed and Kuwada (2010), who investigated the effects of playing a digital game versus watching it on immediate and delayed recall of vocabulary by Japanese learners. Participants in the study were given a music game in which the players had to complete parts of a song by pressing controller buttons at the correct time. Participants in this study did not collaborate but were interacting only with the computer (Chapelle’s human-computer interaction; 2001). An important feature of the study, and perhaps a major limitation, is that participants did not have to understand the English in order to play the game. The authors found that playing the game resulted in less vocabulary acquisition than watching it (although both resulted in learning gains), probably as a result of the greater cognitive load of having to interact with the game. A post-experimental questionnaire revealed that there was no difference between players and watchers in terms of their mental effort, so the effects were due only to their interaction with the game. The authors argue that playing digital games and interactivity are therefore not necessarily conducive to language acquisition. However, it is of course important to understand these findings in light of the fact that the language was not a focal part of participants’ experience and that they could complete the tasks without attention to the vocabulary. It is therefore important that future studies investigate gaming environments that do involve meaningful language use. Another limitation of this study was the nature of the game that was chosen. This genre of game lacks a detailed narrative component that requires comprehension in order to respond appropriately, which is common in many adventure games, for example.
He has theorized on the subject of second language acquisition for years and has been quite influential in the field of linguistics approaching the subject of second language acquisition by presenting his five hypotheses for his theory of acquiring a second language.
In this area of study, Johnson and Newport (1989) is among the most prominent and leading studies which tries to seek evidence to test the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) in second language (L2) acquisition.
According to Krashen there are two independent systems of second languageperformance: 'the acquired system' and 'the learned system'. The 'acquiredsystem' or 'acquisition' is the product of a subconscious processvery similar to the process children undergo when they acquire their firstlanguage. It requires meaningful interaction in the target language - naturalcommunication - in which speakers are concentrated not in the form of theirutterances, but in the communicative act.
The Monitor hypothesis explains the relationship betweenacquisition and learning and defines the influence of the latter on the former. The monitoring function is the practical result of the learned grammar. According to Krashen, the acquisition system is the utterance initiator, while the learning system performs the role of the 'monitor' or the 'editor'. The 'monitor' acts in a planning, editing and correcting function when three specific conditions are met: that is, the second language learner has sufficient time at his/her disposal, he/she focuses on form or thinks about correctness, and he/she knows the rule.
A key element in the studies above, and in discussions of computer games in education in general, is that learners more actively participate in the activity at hand (see also Garcia-Carbonell, Rising, Montero, & Watts, 2001). In language learning, this means that games are suggested to encourage more interaction in the second language. We therefore now briefly discuss the importance of interaction on second language acquisition.
Interaction is the term used to refer to the interpersonal activity that takes place both face-to-face and electronically between people or between people and computer, as well as the intrapersonal activity that occurs within our minds (Chapelle, 2001). Interaction in the foreign language has been found to contribute to language acquisition. Interaction helps generate comprehensible input (Krashen, 1985), encourages negotiation of meaning (Pica, 1994), facilitates noticing (Schmidt, 1990), produces negative feedback (Schmidt ibid), and encourages output (Swain, 1985). Swain’s Output Hypothesis (1985) posits that for successful second language acquisition to occur comprehensible input alone is insufficient but learners must also be given opportunities to try out new language and produce comprehensible output during interaction, which, in turn enables them to develop competence in the target language.
For comprehensible output to be produced, however, learners have to be pushed in their language production. Pica (1994) claimed that negotiation of meaning helps learners make input comprehensible and helps them modify their own output, and, in turn, provides opportunities for them to acquire new language. Similar claims for the benefits of negotiation have been made by Long (1996) in his Interaction Hypothesis. According to Long, negotiation of meaning during interaction contributes significantly to second language comprehension and the negative feedback received through negotiation facilitates second language development, particularly for vocabulary, morphology, and syntax. Negotiation also provides opportunities for learners to focus their attention on linguistic form and to notice aspects of the target language. Noticing has been considered important because when input is noticed, it can become intake, i.e. input that the learner has comprehended semantically and syntactically, which facilitates acquisition (Schmidt 1990). In addition, noticing pushes learners into a more syntactic processing mode that will help them to internalise new forms and improve the accuracy of their existing grammatical knowledge.