Games have long been used in foreign language teaching but some teachers and students may still view them with suspicion. They may think that games are just a waste of time or just a means of filling in, for example, the last fifteen or ten minutes of a class period. However, a thorough understanding of the relative merits and uses of language games will dispel such misconceptions. In fact, the use of games proves to be a good idea because of its following major contributions to the teaching and learning of foreign languages.
First, games can increase the amount of student practice and participation. As games are often played in pairs or teams they create favorable conditions for pair work or group work to take place. Since these two forms of student grouping provide students with more opportunity to use the language (with students initiating their turns-at-talk instead of waiting for them to be nominated by the teacher) it is right to say that games intended for groups of two or more than two students can increase student talking time. As far as second or foreign language acquisition is concerned, any increase in student talking time, big or small, is significant because it will help develop students’ language competence.
Second, games can generate and increase motivation, a vital factor to students’ success in language learning. A common reason for the use of games in language teaching is that they are an effective ways to interest students. Indeed, games are capable of involving students if they are entertaining, intriguing and challenging. And nearly all learners enjoy playing games or want to have fun while studying regardless of their age or level. To play games students have to rely on themselves and cooperate among themselves. It is the principle of self-reliance, cooperation and joint learning that awakes and maintains students’ interest in the lesson. As interest is a main ingredient of motivation it can be concluded that games contribute much to providing motivation to students. And of course, once students are highly motivated, they will likely study better.
Most importantly, games give meaningful practice in any of the four skills at any level of ability or in any stage of the teaching process. It is true that a library search will yield a great number of games that have been designed for students at different levels from elementary to advanced. More over, these games are intended for the practice of the four skills, namely reading, speaking, listening and writing. In addition, games can be used at any stage in language teaching and learning as warm-up activities or activities aimed at accurate reproduction and controlled or free practice. Some well-known or commonly used books of games are Communication Games series compiled by Jill Hadfield for three different levels: elementary, intermediate and advanced; Reading Games and Writing Games, both by Charles and Jill Hadfield directed at intermediate to advanced learners of Eglish; Play Games with English Henemann series including games, puzzles and quizzes for beginners and pre-intermediate learners. What is more important, games create meaningful contexts for language practice. Initially, students have to make sure that they understand the rules of the game. This requires reading or listening comprehension of the instructions as set out in the book or explained by the teacher. Subsequently, students have to discuss with their friends to solve the problem presented by the game. They have to use the language they are learning to express their opinions and to exchange ideas to reach their goal. Most of the time, their communication is based on an information gap or opinion gap, thus replicating real life communication. Games are therefore said to provide meaningful practice as students have to read, listen, speak and write for a clear purpose.
In conclusion, the analysis above shows that language games make significant contributions to students’ learning a foreign language. The value of language games lies not only in the great number of games that have been invented or in the variety of levels they serve but in the useful and purposeful language practice they provide. That is why teachers should make optimal use of games in their language teaching to increase students’ work and motivation and to offer them meaningful practice. Provided that teachers can select or design and organize good games in terms of language and type of participation, they will achieve these worthy aims.