Fulbright Visiting Professor Dr Jonathon Reinhardt: Learning languages through play

2023-06-14 Grammar often dominates language teaching. Yet languages could be learned better if more attention were paid to the reality of the students' lives, says the American applied linguist. Video games, social media or pop music could motivate learners.

[Translate to Englisch:] Fulbright-Gastprofessor Dr. Jonathon Reinhardt: Spielend Sprachen lernen ©Leuphana / Ciara Charlotte Burgess
[Translate to Englisch:] Fulbright-Gastprofessor Dr. Jonathon Reinhardt: Spielend Sprachen lernen ©Leuphana / Ciara Charlotte Burgess
[Translate to Englisch:] Fulbright-Gastprofessor Dr. Jonathon Reinhardt: Spielend Sprachen lernen ©Leuphana / Ciara Charlotte Burgess

"Surprisingly, there are millions of people around the world who learn English while playing video games alone," reports Fulbright Visiting Professor Dr Jonathon Reinhardt. The American researcher focuses on technology-enhanced second and foreign language teaching, with particular attention to digital tools and games. "In games, decisions have to be made. Players take an active role. In classical language teaching, learning is often experienced passively."

The content is less important than the language itself. Japanese games can be just as suitable for learning English as American games. "In affinity-based learning, it is important to find out what students are interested in," explains Jonathon Reinhardt. Comics, song lyrics and even Escape Rooms could be integrated into traditional lessons. Especially vocabulary is expanded during games. Playing together also trains communication skills. However, games or non-traditional texts in class make assessment more difficult: "In grammar, there is right and wrong. These tasks are easier to correct than, for example, a social media post or the linguistic exchange during games."

This semester, the American is teaching at the Institute of English Studies. With the seminar "Understanding and Teaching Texts: From the Traditional to the Digital", he wants to motivate future teachers to teach close to their students' lifeworld. In his seminar, which he organises together with Prof. Dr. Torben Schmidt and doctoral student Jonna Kaßner, the focus is on non-traditional texts such as fan fiction or interactive fiction. Although they have some features in common with traditional texts, these new genres tend to be more informal, multimodal, dynamic and social; this makes them very motivating and accessible, like games, but also more intrinsically rewarding to use. Language learning apps go one step further: "The programmes praise the users and never give them a bad grade. That also has a motivating effect," says Jonathon Reinhardt.

He has conducted several studies on technology-enhanced teaching and learning. The researcher published on topics such as corpus linguistics, social networks, social media and language learning as well as on digital literacy with games. Work done by Torben Schmidt, Professor for English Didactics, and his past and present students was a key reason Reinhardt came to the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. The two researchers had already cooperated in previous years: "The topic of ,games in language teaching‘ is less common at traditional universities. I chose Leuphana because the Institute of English Studies gives me a lot of freedom and the room for promoting innovation in teaching is large."

Reinhardt and Schmidt will work together editing an anthology on game-based language learning. With the book, they want to show how researchers and teachers from all over the world approach the subject from different yet complementary angles.

Prof. Dr. Jonathon Reinhardt received his Bachelor's degree in German from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989. In 1992, he graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics/TESOL. He taught English as a foreign language in Japan and English as a second language in the United States. In 2007, he received his PhD in Applied Linguistics from the Pennsylvania State University. He is currently full Professor of English Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona, where he has been since 2008. He has presented around the world and published over 40 articles, chapters, and books on technology-enhanced language learning and teaching, especially with social media and digital games. He is currently President of CALICO (Computer Assisted Language Instructional Consortium), the leading professional and research organisation in the field of digitally-enriched supplemental language learning in North America.