The other day, I was asking my online class what games they liked to play with their friends. This being a) the 21st century and b) during lockdown, the answers were centred less around sports and more among mobile games. I asked the kids to explain the games to me, and was amazed when an A2 level student told me that “you are on a spaceship, and you have to find the imposter”. To me, “imposter” seemed like a very advanced vocabulary word for a student of his level, but when I saw a friend playing “Among Us” a few days later, it all made sense.
You might think that mobile games are a waste of time for your kids (or even for yourself!), but they can actually be a great way to learn English. I always argue that the best way to learn a language is to find something about it that inspires you, so why not let that thing be a fun new mobile game? Imagine how fast your language skills would progress if you were so fascinated by your English textbook that you just couldn’t put it down! Well, mobile games are designed to be insanely addictive, so if you pick the right one you might just find yourself practising English for hours and hours each day without even trying!
But that doesn’t mean you can just play Tetris for an hour and claim that it counts as your English homework. The best kinds of mobile games for practising English are the ones that involve interaction with instructions in English. Think 90s style point-and-click adventures like Monkey Island (am I showing my age here?!) If you (or your kids) have to read and understand the instructions to progress through the game, then you’re going to be motivated to look up words you don’t know, and you’re more likely to remember recurring vocabulary - as in the case of my young student and the word “imposter”!
Here’s my round-up of the Top 5 mobile games for learning English in 2020, as defined by me - gamer girl and English as a Foreign Language teacher!
This was the game that first got me onto the whole “mobile games as an English learning tool” concept. Kids love it, adults love it, and it’s all over every meme page there is. Players take the role of astronauts aboard a spaceship, and win by completing a series of tasks to fix the ship. The catch? One of the astronauts is an imposter, and is out to kill them all! Every time a dead body is found, the players enter a chat and debate who the imposter might be. It’s the classic “desert island debate” beloved of English teachers, but the students are holding it without any prompting!
This game is ridiculously addictive and gives students the chance to improve not only their reading skills by following the instructions to fix the ship, but also their writing skills by participating in the chat and accusing other players of being the imposter!
Clash of Clans
This game is a classic that made a comeback recently - you’ve probably seen their adverts all over the place online! This is a very addictive game in the style of Age of Empires. Players build villages and grow their clans, before competing in epic Clan Wars! There are a lot of opportunities for English learning here - choosing which objects to buy for your village, interacting with creatures like goblins and wizards etc.
Where this game really comes into its own, however, is in its multi-player element. Players can join pre-existing clans, and chat with fellow clan members. So if you make sure to join an English-speaking clan, then you will have plenty of opportunities to chat with native speakers, using the vocabulary that you’ve already learned by playing the game!
The Sims Mobile
What are the first vocabulary topics that new English learners cover? Talking about yourself - your appearance, your hobbies and your job - and talking about your house and the things inside it. What better way to put that vocabulary into practice than my playing The Sims?!
The Sims is an ideal mobile game for beginner English learners, as it progresses almost like a basic English textbook! First, players customise every detail of their Sim’s appearance (a fantastic way to revise “parts of the body” vocabulary!) and then help their Sim to create their dream home, practising “rooms of the house” and furniture vocabulary as they do so. Next, it’s time to get a job, and practise vocabulary to do with careers and specific tasks involved in working in a coffee shop.
Later, players can improve their Sim’s lifestyle by going on mini-quests, which brings us back to my favourite style of gameplay for English learners - interacting with instructions to progress through the game!
What if I told you that you could practise English by playing a ridiculously addictive, Candy Crush style game? In Homescapes, you collect objects such as lamps and cups by matching shapes and colours, and use them to spruce up a dilapidated old house. This is a great mobile game for beginner English learners, with accessible vocabulary and short, simple instructions. Choose furniture items, colours and patterns - classic English Level 1 vocabulary!
For the more advanced English speakers among you, there’s also a fun plotline centred around Austin, an expert butler, and his quest to restore his family home to its former glory!
June’s Journey - Hidden Objects
In this super-addictive game, players travel back to the ultra-glam 1920s to solve a murder mystery by collecting clues! June’s Journey is a classic hidden objects game, in which players must tap named objects to progress through the levels. It’s a great way to build up your vocabulary, as you search for everything from fans to chimneys to riding crops.
The simple gameplay style is very accessible for beginners, while the range and sheer randomness of the objects means that even advanced learners will discover a new word or two! The murder mystery plot and quick progression through the levels make this game very hard to put down, so you’ll have doubled your vocabulary before you know it!
What is your favourite method for learning English? If you’re looking for fun English lessons that can take place any time and anywhere that suits you, try a free online class with Oxinity! Click the button below to get started.