“Using Video Games to Teach Italian Language & Culture: Useful, Effective, Feasible?” NEMLA Italian Studies XXXIX special issue “The Italian Digital Classroom.”

VGBL in F/L2 Publications, Video Game-Based Language Learning, Video Game-Based Learning, Video Games in Foreign Language Teaching & Learning

I am very excited to announce that my article “Using Video Games to Teach Italian Language & Culture: Useful, Effective, Feasible?” NEMLA Italian Studies XXXIX special issue “The Italian Digital Classroom: Italian Culture and Literature through digital tools and social media.”, 2017, pp. 42-71, was published today, October 6, 2018. It is available as a PDF download  (https://www.buffalo.edu/content/dam/www/nemla/NIS/XXXIX/NeMLA%20Italian%20Studies%202017%20-%20Using%20Video%20Games.pdf) and in print.

This 30-page article is my most extensive contribution to the field of video game-based learning (with a focus on commercial, non-serious gaming) in second/foreign language acquisition to date. It is a practicum. While it focuses mainly on Italian as F/L2, the information and instructions provided can be applied/adapted to any major language/any language in which the games mentioned are localized. It also includes plenty of information on video games for use in ESL, Japanese as a foreign language & culture, and for K-12.

Many thanks to the editors Tania Convertini, Ph.D., Dartmouth College and Simona Wright, Ph.D., The College of New Jersey for this excellent opportunity.

Abstract

Video games are an integral part of life for our students. Some commercial video games are multi-media realia that can be used to enhance language acquisition both in and outside the classroom. Compared to other digital realia, they add opportunities for language exploration: direct interaction and agency; critical thinking and problem-solving; and a detailed narrative. This article presents a practicum for their use. Evidence that utilizing communicative video games can be conducive to F/L2 acquisition is provided, particularly focusing on the use of Assassin’s Creed II and Heavy Rain. Then, technical advice and best practices related to gaming in F/L2 acquisition are offered. Discussion of the development of an intensive language & culture course for gamers concludes the article.

My Altagram Interview & More Great Video Games that Should Be Localized in Additional Languages (Italian included, Of Course) [But are Great for ESL]

Microsoft, Nintendo, Non-serious gaming, PlayStation, Sony, Switch, Video Game Localization, Video Game-Based Language Learning, Video Games in Foreign Language Teaching & Learning, Xbox

I was delighted when Altagram (altragram.com) approached me a few weeks ago about an interview for their website/company blog. My research and teaching practices are based on commercially-available video games with high-quality localization in multiple languages. The fact that a company such as Altagram showed interest in my work gave me an awareness of related areas that my research on video game-based learning and foreign language (& culture) acquisition might impact.

In my interview (available here:
https://altagram.com/learning-languages-through-gaming-interview-with-simone-bregni/)
I make two main points:

I) Some excellent current games are, alas, not localized in Italian (nor in other major languages). Such is the case of  [quotes from the Altagram interview]:

a) “Square Enix’s Life is Strange [….] is an excellent portrayal of the life of American teens in a small, Northwestern US coastal town. Life is Strange has not been fully localized in Italian, which is really unfortunate, because I would have loved to use it in my courses, since it has many topics that would “speak” to my student population, and, more importantly, it provides opportunities to discuss and develop empathy.” [Same goes for the two other games currently out and taking place in the Life is Strange universe: Life is Strange – Before the Storm, and Captain Spirit]. 

b) Tequila Works’ The Invisible Hours: “I am also disappointed that the amazingly innovative and well-written The Invisible Hours by Tequila Works has not been fully localized in Italian. But for ESL students it is an excellent learning tool: being able to observe lip movements up close and personal, especially in VR mode on PlayStation VR, greatly enhances listening comprehension, especially given the in-game ability to review and fast-forward time at will.”

“[…]not all games are fully localized as I feel they should be. Full localization is an investment that I believe all companies should make. The interest that my research and teaching practices have generated (as of today, they have been mentioned in ninety news sources of various kinds, for general audiences, educators and gamers, all over the world) show that there currently is a high interest in video games as learning devices for foreign languages and cultures.

II) The localization of lip-syncing

“I believe that the next frontier of localization will be the localization of lip-syncing also. The market of commercially-available games as foreign language learning devices may be exploding soon, as I am inclined to believe given the positive response I received regarding my research and teaching. This spring semester I was on sabbatical in my native country Italy, and while delivering presentations and workshops at a number of European institutions, I met a number of young men and women who instantly connected with what I was talking to them about, games as foreign language tools, because those kids had experienced exactly the same: they noticed that their foreign language skills improved rapidly while playing video games.

Currently, I believe that the Assassin’s Creed series [by Ubisoft] and games by Quantic Dream are excellent examples of strong localization, which, to me, is much more than “simple” translation. High-quality localization makes every single in-game data and reference fully understandable and accessible to people from other cultures.”

Other excellent examples of video game localization are the 2013-present day Tomb Raider series by Square Enix and the Syberia series by Microïds. The latter has the merit of being suitable for most ages; it is also available also on Nintendo Switch; and it is fully localized in a wide selection of languages (out-of-the-box; the US version of Syberia I, which I own, includes Italian, German and Russian besides the “usual” English, Spanish and French).

PS: Italian Gamers who are familiar with the Final Fantasy series will catch a little typo (which I became aware of, and pointed out tonight): it was FF VIII, not VII [which was alas not localized in Italian until much later. My memory of events that happened 18-20 years ago is not as good as it used to be ;-)]
EDIT on 5/7/18: Thank you Julia Pazos at Altagram for approaching me about the interview. It was a pleasure. And thank you for prompt edit. 

IMAGE: Life is Strange – Square Enix
Original Image by Spinoziano – PlayStation 4 PlayStation Store screen capture; Copyrighted, https://it.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6161721

The Best Multi-Language Video Games for Foreign/Second Language Learning (Autonomous & Course-Based – Ratings Teen/M-18) – Part 1

Microsoft, PlayStation, Video Game-Based Language Learning

In my research and teaching practices with video-game based learning I have identified a number of cinematic games that are currently on the market that I believe are ideal for foreign language learning. They all feature appealing, complex narratives, possess a task-based, problem-solving orientation, and present full voice-acted conversations between characters. These are all features that aid in stimulating learning and organizing group interactions in the language classroom setting. In my experience, they can also be successfully used for autonomous learning by second/foreign language students, starting from the ACTFL Novice-Mid level (which roughly corresponds to two semesters of foreign language in college, or two years in high-school).

This blog post focuses on games which I have personally used in the foreign language classroom. The games are multi-lingual, meaning that they have been localized in a fairly large number of languages (including Italian, which is my professional focus). These games go above and beyond the “usual” English, Spanish and French, which is the norm for games sold in North-America and, often, Europe. These are all games for mature teens and above,

Since the early 2000s, engaging, fully voice-acted narratives have become the hallmark of interactive digital stories in commercial video games. All the main games in the Assassin’s Creed (AC) series by Ubisoft lend themselves very well to game-based activities in second/foreign language & culture courses. The first game in the series, AC: Altair’s Chronicles (2008), took full advantage of technical advancements afforded by the new, at the time, generation of consoles (PlayStation (PS) 3, Xbox 360 and more powerful Windows PCs), presented players with a historical fiction that unfolded in an action-adventure, open world video game. The success was such that the game turned into a series, which at presents counts nine episodes plus a number of supporting “side stories,” each set in different eras and regions of the world. Other recent incarnations of game series that began in the late 1990s such as Tomb Raider have also recently evolved into full voice-acted, complex narratives.

Among the current or recent games, those that represent the best fully interactive, multi-media digital narrative “anime cinematic games” for foreign language & culture courses (senior year of high-school and college) are:

Heavy Rain; Beyond: Two Souls (known in Italy as Beyond: Due anime) (respectively, 2010 and 2013 for the PS3, and 2016 for the PS4 version); and the recent Detroit: Become Human (PS4), developed by Quantic Dream and Sony exclusives.

Assassin’s Creed – The Series, by Ubisoft. I personally worked specifically with the three chapters that take place in Renaissance Italy, which have allowed me to also deliver accurate cultural elements to my Italian language & culture college courses.  [Assassin’s Creed II, for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows and Mac OS (2009-2016); and its direct sequels, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, for PS 3, PS 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac OS (2010-2016); and Assassin’s Creed Revelations (for PS 3, PS 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac OS (2011-2016)]

Tomb Raider, by Square Enix for PS 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows (2013) and its direct sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, initially an Xbox One exclusive (2015), and now available also for PS4 and PC. A new chapter, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, has been announced for fall 2018.

These are all games that I have used in my class instruction. They, in my view, present the best scenario for F/L2 acquisition. The games I select, besides having engaging narratives (with AC II, AC Revelations and AC Brotherhood even offering outstanding overviews of Italian Renaissance culture), also conform to my own personal rules on teaching through video games, that is, no war games nor any horror games. While there is some graphic violence in all games, they are still suitable for the average college student population, with ratings ranging from Teen through Mature (18+).

Some of the games I have mentioned date back as far as 2008. Keeping up to date with the latest video game offerings is not a requirement. In the gaming world, “retro” is cool. Also, we should bear in mind that given the Teen/Mature ratings of those games (or other similar games); many of our present-day students would not have been of suitable age to have experienced those games when they were first available. An additional advantage in using older games is that many of them are available at a much cheaper price than current releases, and often via convenient digital delivery.

The primary reason I chose and recommend the above mentioned games, however, is because they all have a higher emphasis on storytelling/narrative, animated scenes and voice acting, and more “casual gamer” oriented gameplay that does not require much in terms of previous experience with gaming. Any student can potentially take the controller and proceed through a section of the game. This is even more likely for students with some gaming experience, which at this point in time is the most likely scenario with our students.

NOTE: This blog post is a revised/edited/paraphrased extract from an upcoming publication.

Image: Assassin’s Creed II by Ubisoft.

Effective, High-Quality Video Game Localization & Foreign/Second Language Learning (Autonomous & Course-Based)

Microsoft, Nintendo, PlayStation, Sony, Video Game Localization, Video Game-Based Language Learning, Video Games in Foreign Language Teaching & Learning

Cinematic games, with a high emphasis on communication, contain many opportunities to reinforce a variety of grammatical forms and to explore new vocabulary through listening and reading comprehension, lexical expansion and problem solving. Each main chapter in the Assassin’s Creed series (Ubisoft), with its outstanding recreation of everyday life and culture of the specific era and geographical areas in which they are set, allows educators like me, in languages and cultures, but also in other fields such as architecture and the social sciences, to explore several aspects of life first-hand in those times and places in dynamic, immersive and interactive ways.

The Assassin’s Creed series is the perfect example of effective, high-quality localization in multiple languages. Dubbing, subtitles and menus have been effectively localized in all languages that I know well  and use regularly (Italian, English, French, Spanish), besides many others upon which I cannot comment. Another excellent example of high-quality game localization is provided by Quantic Dream in their games Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and the recently-released Detroit: Become Human. The 2013 and 2016 Tomb Raider games by Square-Enix also embody excellent examples of game localization in multiple languages.

An important limitation that I currently see, is that not all games are fully localized as I feel they should be. Full localization is an investment that I believe all companies should make. The interest that my research and teaching practices have generated (as of today, they have been mentioned in ninety news sources of various kinds for general audiences, educators and gamers all over the world) show that there currently is high interest in video games as learning devices for foreign languages and cultures.

Another limitation that I currently see is lip-syncing. Most cinematic games appear to have been created with lip-syncing designed for the English language. Observation of lip movements assists in listening comprehension. This is an important limitation until more games are created (or adapted) specifically for other markets. That said, in all cinematic games, co-speech gestures, another essential component of communication and foreign language acquisition, are excellent, and definitely provide a visual aid that enhances overall student comprehension. Although most games are currently produced with English, or, in some cases, Japanese as the main in-game language, cinematic games are, in my view, still very usable and beneficial for the acquisition of languages other than English. However, they become an outstanding tool for English as a Second Language (ESL) and Japanese language instruction.

I believe that the next frontier of localization will be the localization of lip-syncing also. The market of commercially-available games as foreign language learning devices may be exploding soon, as I am inclined to believe given the positive response I received regarding my research and teaching. This spring semester I was on sabbatical in Europe, and while delivering presentations and workshops at a number of European institutions, I met a number of young men and women who instantly connected with what I was talking to them about, games as foreign language tools, because those kids had experienced exactly the same: they noticed that their foreign language skills improved rapidly while playing video games.

Image: Intensive Italian for Gamers at SLU – Spring 2017

Teaching Foreign Languages with Commercially-Available Video Games

Microsoft, Nintendo, Non-serious gaming, PlayStation, Sony, Video Game-Based Language Learning, Video Games in Foreign Language Teaching & Learning

Ciao! Benvenuti!/Welcome!

Welcome to my website and blog. I will be sharing regular updates on my research and developments in my teaching practices for video games (“non-serious”) in second/foreign language & culture (F/L2) acquisition.

Since April 2018, my research and teaching practices using commercially-available video games in F/L2 have received a lot of attention globally, with lots of curiosity and some questions.  Mostly, however, I believe that the ideas have resonated with many people around the world, who have experienced, directly or indirectly, that some recent cinematic, narrative-driven video games enhance, and contribute to, foreign language acquisition.