In his book, The Neurobiology of Affect in Language, John Schumann explores what factors are responsible for the large variations we see in the success rates of different foreign language learners. By comparing an analysis of the neurological learning mechanisms responsible for motivating language learners with a series of quantitative surveys and qualitative case studies, he identifies five primary elements that appear regularly in the learning environments of successful language learners. Notably, each of these elements overlaps with play, story and social activities.
In many of the old-fashioned approaches to language pedagogy, repetition was the norm. With more recent communicative approaches to language teaching, story and play activities have greatly reduced our reliance on repetition and brought more novel experiences to the language classroom. However, there is still much room for improvement. By studying the production techniques used by video game designers to systematically generate novel contexts we could increase the novelty level of many homework assignments in U.S. introductory language classes.
Older approaches to language pedagogy emphasized that content was ordered and structured around grammatical features. While this may have been pleasant for the curricular designers, it did little to create a pleasant experience for the students. As we have been working to organize curriculum more around themes and stories (with the grammatical organization in the background only visible to the curricular designers) foreign language classrooms are becoming far more like the activities people voluntarily enjoy engaging in on their own.
In essence, play is about using constraints to fabricate goals and needs for a player.
One of the most notable qualities of video games today is the way they manage to adjust their difficulty to always challenge the player without exceeding their maximum coping potential.
As we include more social activities, we teach students not just grammatical skills, but how to apply their language abilities to participate in a social network.