Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Are video games hurting your learning?

That looks like it might be the case. From the New York TImes:
The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys’ brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a “significant decline” in the boys’ ability to remember vocabulary words.
So video game use up, vocab retention down. Definitely not good for a language learner, but I'd like to see what happens when that video game is in your target language. That could very well turn these results on their head.

As a quick throwaway from the same article, is anyone surprised that the person who seems to have gotten his knickers more knotted up than anyone else over technology is the Latin teacher?
“It’s a catastrophe,” said Alan Eaton, a charismatic Latin teacher. He says that technology has led to a “balkanization of their focus and duration of stamina,” and that schools make the problem worse when they adopt the technology.

“When rock ’n’ roll came about, we didn’t start using it in classrooms like we’re doing with technology,” he says. He personally feels the sting, since his advanced classes have one-third as many students as they had a decade ago.
Update: Syz noted in the comments below by linking to this blog post on Language Log that the study referenced above isn't exactly persuasive, with the basic argument being that too little was studied (only 11 test subjects, all boys, etc.) and that in the end the differences weren't even that big. Those are certainly all valid criticisms, although I'd say the findings do hint at something that a more robust study might be useful in sorting out.

And, as a quick aside, even if video games might make your vocab retention poorer, they seem to be helping people to learn how to do their jobs better.


  1. Maybe because it's the way Latin is teached is just plain boring?

    Anyway, the biggest danger playing video games (for me, that is), is that it's eating away the time I can spend on getting some more input in my target language. To be honest: I rarely play a video game in my target language, simply because the quality of the translation is poor...

  2. Thanks for the link. I modified the post above with info on the counter argument there.

    I think that quote directly above is speaking more to the New York Times' selection of what to cover than to the merits of the study, but the post definitely points out some of the obvious flaws of the study.

  3. Getting exposure to English from online games would certainly do a lot for your language learning. If the study's conclusions are right, though, that exposure would have to overcome the hindrance to retaining words caused by the video games, so a double-edged sword in deed.