A new study from Karlstad University, Sweden, reveals that there are positive relations between gaming and English writing skills. The study focused on essays that students wrote in 9th grade as part of the national test in English. Pia Sundqvist, associate professor in English at Karlstad University, investigated how Swedish teenagers who play computer games performed on English essay writing in school and what grades they received.
"There are few studies that examine correlations between gaming and learners’ writing skills in a foreign or second language. We know from previous research that when English language learners are tested on vocabulary in specific vocabulary tests, learners who are frequent gamers tend to score significantly higher than children and teenagers who game less, who in turn score higher than those who do not game at all. In short, the more they game, the larger their English vocabulary tends to be. This finding was repeated in the new study, but there was also a new finding having to do with writing skills.
"When we examined their English essays in great detail, we found that the frequent gamers also wrote the best essays," says Pia Sundqvist, who carried out the study together with doctoral candidate Peter Wikström.
There were 77 students in the study divided into three groups: frequent gamers (five hours or more of gaming per week), moderate gamers, and non-gamers. Sundqvist stresses that more and larger studies are necessary, in particular in order to establish whether there is a causal relationship between gaming and writing skills. However, the results of the current study did not surprise the Swedish researcher:
"There is great potential for English language development by playing games using the target language.
She adds that they controlled for a number of background variables that usually explain differences between learners in language studies, such as the educational level of the parents, reading habits (in both Swedish and English), and to what extent the learners had traveled abroad. The study showed that the statistically significant differences between the three groups remained. The group of frequent gamers used more “difficult words” as compared with the other two groups, and the frequent gamer group also had the highest mean grade for the English essays.
"We examined how many difficult words the learners wrote simply by counting the number of words with three syllables or more, and also what types of words they produced.
The results showed that the frequent gamers’ vocabulary was the most advanced. Some examples of advanced words used in the essays are creation, furthermore, maturity, opportunities, resources, surrender and vehicle.
'The fact that the frequent gamer group used more advanced words than the other two groups most likely explains why their essays were rated the highest. It is also interesting to note that when we compared the final grades in English upon leaving school, the frequent gamer group had the highest mean grade for English, so they also did really well overall.
Gaming was found to be more common among the boys than the girls, so the researchers analyzed the results from the perspective of gender as well. Whereas the majority among the non-gamers was girls, the frequent gamers were exclusively boys. The moderate gamer group included a mix of both boys and girls.
"That is just the way it is. It is relevant to highlight that the boys did particularly well in English in school. The reasons is not that they are boys, but probably that they game more, even though we cannot really know for sure with regard to cause and effect. Anyway, this is usually what we find," Sundqvist explains.
She adds that the group of non-gamers reached second place, so to speak, when it comes to using difficult words in the essays, the essay grade, and the final English grade. A possible explanation may be the fact that there were many girls in that group, and girls tend to do better than boys in school in general.
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