Playing simple games using words and pictures can help people to learn a new language with greater ease, according to a new study.
Researchers from The University of Nottingham found that using fun, informal ways of learning not only helped complete novices to acquire a new language but also made more traditional methods of language learning more effective.
“The results of this study have implications not only for language learning and teaching, but also for anyone interested in improving their knowledge of a foreign language,” said researcher Marie-Josee Bisson of the University’s School of Psychology, who led the study along with Drs Walter van Heuven, Kathy Conklin and Richard Tunney.
“They show that informal exposure can play an important role in foreign language word learning. Through informal exposure, learning can occur without intention, in a more effortless manner,” Bisson said.
“Anyone attempting to learn another language would benefit from activities such as simple games using foreign language words and pictures, or foreign language films with subtitles where they can enjoy the activity without focusing on trying to learn the words,” she said.
“The results of this study suggest that these kinds of informal activities can facilitate language learning, even days afterwards,” she added.
In the first phase of the study, English speakers who did not know any Welsh, viewed Welsh words on a computer screen and were asked to indicate whether a particular letter appeared in each word.
While viewing the word, they also heard the word being spoken and saw a simple picture showing its meaning. Importantly, the pictures and spoken words were irrelevant to their task and they had not been asked to ‘learn’ the Welsh words.
In the second phase of the study, English speakers were explicitly asked to learn the correct translations of Welsh words. They were presented with pairs of written English words and spoken Welsh words and had to indicate each time whether the English word was the correct translation of the Welsh.
Information about whether or not their responses were correct was provided so that they could learn the correct translations. Importantly, half of the Welsh words had been presented in the first phase of the study.
Results indicated that participants performed better on the Welsh words they had previously been exposed to, indicating that during their informal exposure they had started to learn the meaning of the Welsh words.
Better performance in the explicit learning task was found immediately after the informal exposure as well as the next day.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.