Take a look at Duolingo and Babbel. Both offer online language learning experiences with one major difference: Duolingo claims to be a more "gamified" experience, meaning that you lose some progress in the lesson everytime you answer a question incorrectly. On the other hand, Babbel allows you unlimited attempts on each exercise until you get it correct to move on. What aspects of the language, or the language learning process, does Duolingo's gamification help to improve, compared to Babbel's style of teaching? Vocabulary, grammar, spelling, or something completely different?
By far, the most important impact gamification has on any activity, including language learning, is to increase one's attention span.
By making mundane tasks into games (from cleaning a child's room, to walking up the stairs, to saving the world, to asking and answering questions online, and to to vocabulary memorization) it makes the task less mundane. This can serve as a huge incentive to continue with a task that would otherwise become boring.
Three of the oft-cited educational benefits to gamification relate directly to this:
- Boosts enthusiasm toward the subject matter
- Lessens disruptive behavior (Speaking specifically about class rooms, but can apply equally to self-study where distractions might exist)
- Game-centric learning improves attention span
That doesn't mean that gamification is always good. It can be the case that once gamification is removed, the task seems even less desirable than it did before the game was introduced. Whether this is a problem in a specific situation may depend on the task, and the individual. Once you've learned some vocabulary, removing the game may not be harmful, because continuing the task may not matter.
The University of Oregon published a study in which students learn Advanced Chinese using gamification.
Participants seem to be very interested in the games used to teach advanced Chinese, playing them from 1 to even 10 hours per week. 21 of 24 students said that they liked the games, only three didn't. Over half of the students were exposed to video games to in their life. Thus gamification can help by making learning more fun (motivation/competition), be easily accessed in their daily lives, and can allow students to study longer. The article also states:
Surprisingly, 2/3 of the students wrote down their ideas on various aspects, including their wishes to study phrases (especially idioms), making classroom activities more engaging, competitive but fun, the flexibility of the teacher's lesson planning, creating real-life situations, and incorporating technology.
Gamification also is very enjoyable, allowing students to be more eager in continuing learning their new language. This concept is also especially helpful in learning environments such as schools and tutoring classes.
Gamification might have its disadvantages as well, including being non-economical in terms of class time and discouragement when students don't feel competitive and competent. But it might also have a good future as students and interviewees express their confidence in the concept of gamification as it brings competition and fun into the classroom.
Interviewees have their concerns about using game elements. Prof Mao worried that those struggling students might feel discouraged as they are less competent and competitive in games; she also mentioned using game elements might not be an economical way in terms of class time. However, interviewees have expressed their confidence in the use of game elements. They thought the competition and fun elements of games could be brought into the classroom.
I've realized that if I have more practice with gamified language education on lingualeo.ru, I became more proficient with their game system, but not with learning language itself. It's the most important disadvantage.
The second, less important disadvantage is that game is unbalanced - some exercises are much harder, but give fewer XP points.
As in any competitive social activity, gamification will encourage the best and discourage with worst.
Think of sports. Those that are good at sports are further motivated by the cheering, the prizes, and so on. Those that come in last, that are never cheered and never win a medal, will feel dejected and avoid that sport.
You can see the same in video games: Those who aren't among the best begin to cheat (by using hacks or modifications) or buy advancements (with in-game purchases) or a good rank (by buying accounts that have been played and advanced). That is, gamification doesn't even work in computer games, where it comes from.
I use a language learning app that includes weekly ranks of its users. In the top ranks are users who have "learned" tens of thousands of words per day. These are either autists with a linguistic savant syndrome, or kids who had fun clicking "correct" for hours one day and abandoned the app thereafter.
Gamification is good if it presents learning materials in an easy to grasp and attractive way. It is counter-productive if it introduces a competitive character to learning. Marks (in school) are gamification, and they don't motivate most kids.
The best motivator is finding something in a foreign language that interests you. For some it was the exchange student they fell in love with, for others it was foreign movies or books. My son loves computer games, and that English is the lingua franca of gamers motivates him to learn it. In that sense, "gamification" is motivating him to learn.
In the end, people learn only if they have a goal that they can achieve through learning. In my opinion, finding such a goal is much more motivating than the design of the learning material or process.