Getting started on my dissertation: MMORPGs for Second Language Acquisition

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Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games with Strategic Activities to Improve Grammar, Listening, Reading, & Vocabulary 

My dissertation will investigate the use of a noneducational, massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), EverQuest II (EQ2), as a second language acquisition (SLA) tool for English.  This study will measure the effectiveness of using MMORPGs to increase the SLA of general English as a second language (ESL) skills and vocabulary. It will replicate and extend a study by Rankin, Gold, and Gooch (2006) that only had four college-aged intermediate/advanced level English language learners (ELLs) in which they reported that participants improved their English language vocabulary by 40% from solely playing EQ2 for four hours a week for a month without instructional supports.  I will use mixed methods to produce a more robust understanding of the phenomenon of gaming for SLA.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the proposed study is to determine whether college-aged ELLs can improve their ESL skills in a short amount of time from playing commercial MMORPGs as an extracurricular activity without language supports. Rankin et al. (2006) found there was sufficient support for ELLs within the EQ2 videogame; this is why I have chosen it for my study. EQ2 provides opportunities for the participants to select an avatar (character) to speak to other players’ avatars through text-based chats or in-game speech capabilities.  Player characters sometimes form alliances to collaborate on a task. The non-player characters verbalize the rules and alerts to players. This and other embedded support systems (e.g., rules, signage, animation, audible alarms) provide ELLs with guidance and model language.  For example, the components in EQ2 are labeled, which serves as a written English language support mechanism. This means participants will do a lot of reading and will need to understand the vocabulary in order to play the game.

A special thanks to Dr. Burke Johnson for getting me started on my dissertation in his course this semester (Advanced Research Design).

Note: This was updated 12/31/15, as I write my dissertation proposal for spring semester.

See my PowerPoint presentation on MMORGs for Language Learning that I presented at SITE 2014 in Jacksonville, FL.

Here’s a live presentation on the topic at the 7th Virtual Round Table.

Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

Author: teacherrogers

Content developer, instructional designer, trainer, and researcher

3 thoughts on “Getting started on my dissertation: MMORPGs for Second Language Acquisition”

  1. Hello Teacher Rogers,

    A short intro: I am an instructional design student, avid gamer, and linguistically curious person who, needless to say, became instantly fascinated by the premise of your dissertation study. I wish you nothing but the best with your work!

    If you haven’t considered it already, you might be intrigued by auto-translate functionality in MMOs and its implications for the process of learning a new language. A great example is found in one of Square Enix’s MMOs, Final Fantasy XI. The game’s multilingual player base was united by Square Enix’s prominent take on auto-translation, which allowed players to render a wide array of general and game specific words and phrases into a special ‘babylon phrase’ that displayed in the reader’s default language.

    What does this mean for the learning process? Perhaps we can see how easing the burden of recalling an expansive vocabulary of common and game-specific words and names might allow for more effective use of working memory on other language topics – topics like grammar rules and cultural expressions.

    Will your dissertation cover topics like these?

    More information on Final Fantasy XI’s auto translate feature can be found at the below web sites:


    1. Hi Jorge,
      Thanks for sharing this information. I plan to focus on second language acquisition of vocabulary from playing MMORGs, so I’ll definitely look into the auto-translation feature. Translation has its pluses and minuses when it comes to language learning. If it’s available on the game I choose for the research study, then I would need to take that into consideration as a potential variable.

      In theory, I wouldn’t want the students to rely too heavily on the translator, but it would be helpful when they get into a bind. Instead of the auto-translator, I’d recommend students use the alliances that they forge from the multiple players online, the contextual environmental alerts, and the game rules and cheats to obtain the information. That’s the beauty of MMORGs, situated learning helps the language learner figure out the next steps from various sources.

      Thanks again and I will check out the site.


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