Six universally known video game phrases for the young learner

This summer I was listening to my eight year old son playing video games with some other kids. It was at one of those big tent places with several Playstations, Xboxes and other consoles. The local and television radio stations often set up these kinds of things on the beach near where I live here in Spain. Anyway, there were a mix of children there all playing various racing, shooting and other video games. I noticed several English words coming up again and again even though the children were speaking Spanish, German or French. I think the following six certainly make up the beginning of a YL Lingua Franca Core nowadays.

1. Game Over.

This is probably the number one collocation or chunk for today’s international video game playing youth. These two words probably have quite a negative connotation, unless you have the option of the next words in our list.

2. Start/Restart Game

Yay! We can keep playing, or start the whole thing over again. These words have very positive connotations, and I bet that a majority of kids around the world recognise “start game” anywhere (and instinctively reach to press a button to play). Wouldn’t life be great if we had the option of a “restart game” button to rectify bad career or relationship choices?

3. Weapon

I hadn’t thought of this one until I heard the children yelping excitedly that they had “encontrado los ‘weapons’” (found the weapons). This was followed by rather indiscriminate using of said weapons. Looking at a few of the other games there were several collocations with weapon I would imagine are necessary for the young English-speaking gamer: use weapon, load/reload weapon, arm weapon (for the really BIG ones) and of course fire weapon. I have not yet seen a video game which features the language chunk “lay down your weapons” and really mean it.

4. You have won. (or You win)

The three words every YL longs to see on the screen. ‘Nuff said.

5. Combo

Okay, the older and not-so-clued in readers of this blog might think this is something to do with fast food. Let me explain. Many video games have basic moves which we can all understand. So why is it when you are playing against your six year old nephew he or she can consistently kick your ass? This is because they know the mysterious combinations, or combos, of buttons that make their character move or attack faster and better. Picture a child, holding a joystick, face screwed up in deep concentration and fingers flying across the buttons in a belwildering blur. That is a child using a “combo”.

6. Loading

When I asked my son which other English words he saw most in video games he thought for a moment before finally saying this one. This word is synonymous with frustration for many young learners, as it means they have to wait until they can begin playing in earnest. Sometimes I wonder if some my beginner learners might not benefit from using this word in class when I press them to speak. To give themselves time to think, they could simply answer: “Loading.”

I’m sure there are others I’ve missed out. Anyone want to share one? Or make a comment about video game English?

By the way, the folk over at Digital Play have actually got a whole blog on video games and language learning – it’s my latest find on the net.  Go check them out if you are interested in this kind of stuff.

Published in: on September 8, 2009 at 6:20 am  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well done, Lindsay! That’s given me food for thought going into the new school year… or should I say, “loading”?

  2. What a riot! I hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it, but even totally Japanese games (as in made here, all the dialogue and text is in Japanese) still have these words in English.

    I have GOT to figure out how to use them in class. I think they will give me an “in” with the boys, especially. maybe “game over” can be our code for “stop poking each other and sit down right now!” (sounds much nicer, doesn’t it?)

    Thanks for this!

  3. What about ‘cheat’? My kids get on the web and look up the ‘cheat-sheets’ as soon as they get a new game.

    I can’t think for a moment where they got such inspiration from…

  4. Is that your son in the picture, Lindsay? I do detect some sort of likeness!

  5. You know your young learners have had too much gaming when after finishing a worksheet in class the student raises his/her hand and calls, “Teacher, Game Over!” (True story)

    At our school we are experiencing random outbursts of “Fire in the hole!”

  6. I gotta say, video games and language learning go together like chocolate and peanut butter. 😉 When I studied German in Germany, I had a leg up on my fellow Austauschstudenten when it came to the “push” and “pull” signs on doors.


    The main screen of RPGs, of course! Each game started with this screen: “Drueck Start.”

    Which door do you push on? The one with “Druecken” written above the handle!

    Thank you, video games!

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