Language Games
Sonja Eisenbeiss (University of Essex)
[email protected]
• What are language games used for?
• Which role can they play in student
• What can language games look like?
• Where can I find out more?
Supporting Language Development
Using Games
• child and adult second language learners
• typically developing monolingual children
• multilingual children who need more
language input for one of their languages
• children with speech and language
impairments or general learning problems
Language Assessment Using Games
• speech therapy
• school
• research on language development
Student Projects
on Language Games
• Motivating students to learn about
• properties of their (second) language
• communication
• Transferable skills training
• Research/analytical skills
• IT skills
• Communication skills
• Work Placements and Collaboration with Charities
Learning About Linguistic Properties
• What is the generalisation in the target language?
• For instance, when do speakers use ‘s and of?
Jane’s leg
vs. the leg of Jane
my mother’s leg
vs. the leg of my mother
my table’s leg
vs. the leg of my table
• How complex can linguistic structures get?
Jane’s mother’s father’s dog’s leg
Learning about Communication
Raising awareness of people’s motivation
to engage in communication
• director/matcher games
• speaker/listener games
• co-player games
• A “director” describes a scene/object etc. and a
“matcher” who is not able to see this
scene/object, has to recreate it.
• E.g. Bevan (2010): Whose Ballon is red? Two
sets of pictures, both with animals that have
balloons, one with coloured and one with blank
balloons. The child “director” tells the matcher
where to put the colour.
Wendy Bevan (Undergraduate 2010)
A speaker provides information for someone who
does not have access to the information.
Variant 1: speakers retell a story they have
heard while the listeners were out of
the room
Variant 2: speakers tell a puppet that cannot see
what is going on
• All participants are involved in a game and
provide each other with information to coordinate their actions.
• For instance, players can be involved in a
construction or puzzle game.
The Co-Player Puzzle Task
• The child describes
contrasting pictures on
a puzzle board, adult
finds the matching
pieces, child puts them
into the correct cut-out.
• We use exchangeable
pictures and puzzle
• This can be used to
encourage the use of
particular forms or the
encoding of particular
Using Contrasts
Requires participants to be specific in picture descriptions:
• different actors and objects: the dog vs. the cat
• action reversals: dog chases cat vs. cat chases dog
• object properties:
the big red balloon
the small red balloon
the big blue balloon
the small blue balloon
• different possessors: the lion’s balloon vs. the elephant’s
Some Puzzle Materials
Whose balloon is red? (Wendy Bevan)
Adding Complexity
Nikola Koch (MA-Project)
Nikola Koch (MA-Project)
Getting Speakers to Talk, not Point
• Whoever starts pointing looses a point (sticker,
• Give them something to hold:
• a two-handled very deep drawstring bag with
the rewards for the puppets: explain that you
need help handing out rewards as the bag is so
deep that you cannot pull out rewards easily;
and explain that pouring them out will get the
puppets fighting over them
• a magnetic fishing rod that they can use to
place items in the game
Al-Houti (PhD-Project)
Using IT
• Pictures, photographs, or videos can be created and
manipulated using free or commercial software:
Photoshop, drawing software, video-editing
software, educational software like Clicker, etc.
• Standard presentation software (Powerpoint etc.)
can be used for displays of pictures etc. on the
• Free presentation and reaction-time measurement
software can be used with students that like to
“programme” their own games and measure
participant’s reaction times (e.g. DMDX combined
with game pads etc.).
Eisenbeiss, S. 2009. Contrast is the name of the
game: contrast-based semi-structured elicitation
techniques for studies on children’s language
acquisition. Essex Research Reports in Linguistics
Eisenbeiss, S. 2010. Production methods in language
acquisition research. In: Blom, E. and Unsworth, S.
(eds.) Experimental methods. Amsterdam: John
Benjamins, 11-34. (pre-print available on

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