the best of qualities is dispassion

Videogames Designed for Acquiring New Languages Cycle 5

My continuing quest to find creative ways to support language learning through the use of technology has lead me to the language learning game Influent, which was previously named SanjigenJiten, as a working title. Influent was developed under the Monbukagakusho Research Scholarship at the University of Tsukuba’s Entertainment Computing Laboratory in an effort to use computer games to enhance learning. The paper I will review for this cycle is titled SanjigenJiten: Game System for Acquiring New Languages Visually and describes the thinking behind the game design and reports the results of the initial trials. The paper was prepared by Howland, Olmstead, and Hoshiro (2012) who were engaged in a research project at the University of Tsukuba’s – Entertainment Computing Laboratory. According to Howard (2012) his “… research there focused on discerning what elements make regular video games fun and how they can be applied to making educational video games equally, if not more, entertaining and rewarding.” This research eventually led to the development of the language learning videogame Influent.

The thinking that led to the development of Influent is summarized in the following quote, which also identifies the design criteria of their videogame; criteria which are later tested in their research trials:

Imagine being able to approach any object in the real world and instantly learn how to read and pronounce the name of the object in any other language. This paper introduces a system that simulates this idea by utilizing the video game medium in a way that makes learning a new language simple and fun. The system was designed specifically for the within a game environment. The process of learning a new language with this system strays from previous and conventional methods in that it employs a more visual-spatial approach to learning. Additionally, this system engages the player through the use of industry-standard video game elements such as a 3D environment, controllable main character, item collection system, scoring system, rewards system, and a solid storyline with character development and interactive dialogue. By keeping in line with what people expect from standard video games, this game is capable of holding the player’s attention for longer periods of time than when compared classes, textbooks, or tutors. (Howland et al., 2012)

Influent Screenshot
Influent Screenshot

The research conducted by Howland et al., (2012) consisted of monitoring vocabulary gains in two test groups (Group A and Group B) where Influent was evaluated for its efficacy in language learning. Surveys were also provided to the test subjects where the participants reported on their general impressions of the videogame. The trials and the associated assessments as related by Howland et al., (2012):

In both trials, half of the test subjects required some assistance in understanding the game, while the other half managed to learn how the game worked on their own. After getting comfortable with using the system, test subjects were asked to add 10 new words to their vocabulary list within the game. They were then instructed to enter Time Attack mode and test themselves on the new words. The game gave each test subject 120 seconds to locate the 10 words in their environment. Once the game was over, the test subjects were given a written test made from the words they had studied within the game.

Howland et al., (2012) summarize the outcome of their research trials and surveys in the following statement and table “The test results reflected that the test subjects were indeed learning through the use of this system and surveys showed that all test subjects enjoyed the game.”

Assessment Test Group A Test Group B
Time Attack Results 86% 74%
Written Test Results 90% 70%

The research presented in the paper is a little thin as it fails to describe the number of test subjects or any details about them, such as: their target language proficiency, general education, videogame playing expertise, or ages. Nor do they attempt to explain why the second trial resulted in lower overall vocabulary gains, which are reflected in both the Time Attack and Written Test Results. And yet the data that are provided, reporting the results of their research, and the vocabulary gains of the test participants are quite encouraging. I see the need for further research, although I am emboldened enough by what I have learned to include Influent as one of the tools in an online Korean language lesson that I am developing for a CU Denver graduate school project. I will also become more familiar with Influent gameplay and include my impressions in an upcoming blogpost.



Howland, R. (2012). Kicking It Forward. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from

Howland, R., Olmstead, E., & Hoshiro, J. (2012). SanjigenJiten: Game System for Acquiring New Languages Visually [Scholarly project]. Retrieved April 7, 2016, from


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