Sundqvist, P., & Wikström, P. (2015). Out-of-school digital gameplay and in-school L2 English vocabulary outcomes. System, 51(C), 65–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2015.04.001
In this article, Sundqvist and Wikström investigate the extent to which digital gameplay outside of the classroom impacts L2 English vocabulary acquisition for Swedish L1 learners. To begin, the authors address existing literature in the domain of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and its subcategory of digital games. While many studies in the digital game field have focused predominately on a classroom context, both researchers point to the need for additional analyses on the way in which students learn supplemental vocabulary through incidental learning as exemplified by technology supported gaming practices. In a previous study, Sundqvist invents the terminology extramural English (EE) as an umbrella term that includes not only digital game play but other forms of L2 exposure that extends beyond the walls of the classroom. This includes reading, watching television and films, and listening to music in the target language (Sundqvist 2009; 2011). In this way, students are motivated not by the intent to learn, but rather by a desire to understand the meaning of the said content for purposes of communication or entertainment. The authors point to the fact that in Sweden, the English language is considered to hold the status of second language versus foreign language due to its prevalence in the vast majority of the country. This pre-exposure to the L2 both inside and outside of the classroom is taken into account in their study of vocabulary acquisition through digital game play by way of a questionnaire that outlines various variables ranging from travel experiences to regular usage of the L2 with family and friends to family cultural capital defined as the amount of reading material in the home. With these data points in mind, the authors designed framework that included language diaries in which the fifty participating students recorded the various L2 activities completed in a naturalistic setting as well as vocabulary test and essay form questions conducted in the school environment. While the results of their research were not unilaterally linear, the data did indicate that the more that the student participated in digital gaming, the richer their overall vocabulary compared to that of moderate gamers and non-gamers.
One compelling point within the research that the authors indicate is that of gender differences. By large, boys dominated the category of frequent gamer—out of 19, 18 students were male. In order to explain this curious spilt between the sexes, Sundqvist and Wikström point to several possibilities: issues of sexism within the open play gaming world, different pedagogical preferences (e.g. ideas on how language should be taught) and lack of general interest. While the researchers did not dictate what genres of games the students could play, this would be a noteworthy point of comparison for questions of gender in the gaming realm. If students were instructed to pick a game from an overarching genre from week-to-week, perhaps this would help to alleviate differences in play between boys and girls. As previously mentioned, English in a Swedish L1 context is regarded as a second, rather than foreign, language. Conducting a similar study on the effects of digital gaming on vocabulary procurement in a foreign language context where access to the L2 within the cultural community is not as readily available would also prove insightful in regard to gender. As Prestopnik indicates in his 2016 study conducted in an English L1 context with a Spanish L2 in the digital game domain, many boys and young men do not go on to higher levels of language learning past curricular requirements. Yet, as Sundqvist and Wikström demonstrate, this same category of gender gravitates towards digital gaming.