April 23, 2014

U.S. State Department Launches Online Game to Aid English Learners

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The U. S. government has joined the list of organizations using gaming to enhance learning. This week, the U. S. Department of State released  a new game to give English-language students a hands-on way to augment their mastery of English.

The free game, Trace Effects (pictured), available on the State Department’s American English website, was created to introduce users to American society, while also exploring “themes related to entrepreneurship, community activism, empowering women, science and innovation, environmental conservation, and conflict resolution,” according to the site.

Users play the game from the perspective of Trace, a spiky-haired college student from the year 2045 who’s accidentally sent back to the present day and must now find a way back home. Players navigate a 3-D, Sims-like landscape that starts on a typical college campus and includes locations such as New York, New Orleans, and the Grand Canyon.

Though Trace Effects is light on action, it provides students a number of opportunities to flex their language skills. During the game, Trace encounters a variety of characters who give him simple tasks to complete and help him along his way.

The first phase of the game requires Trace to deliver sandwiches to another character and apply vocabulary skills to do so, identifying individuals who are wearing items of clothing such as a “red shirt” or “blue jeans.”

A dropdown menu allows users to engage in conversation with other characters. Players select words (“hello,” “bye”), sentences, short phrases, or requests. While the dialogue is often repetitive, the characters’ concise sentences and slow speech patterns via audio are ideal for English language learners.

While completing their tasks, players also collect large, brightly colored flashing verbs that appear on screen (visually, but without audio) like “show” or “give” that help in their interactions with other characters. Users must also collect relevant objects such as a student ID card that allow them access to buildings on campus.

Added features, including links to Scrabble-esque games such as  Word Soup and Word Builder, give players the chance to compete with othersby forming words from letters. Social media has a place here, too: Trace’s Facebook fan page features game strategy suggestions, while a link to the State Department’s Exchange Connect Youtube channel offers information on exchange programs where students can put their English language skills to good use.

The State Department’s American English website also offers teachers and students academic resources, from lesson plans in which student brainstorm New Year’s resolutions, to DVDs offering tips about how to teach English through jazz chants. Users can also download free PDFs and MP3 recordings of literary works by Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, or Jack London.

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Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is an Associate Editor for Library Journal, and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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