Improving language skills with a game

Together with the Centre for Language and Speech Technology at Radboud University Nijmegen, 8D Games conducted research into the use of speech technology and gaming to promote language skills in primary school pupils. Test runs with the app ‘DigiJuf’ provided valuable new insights on the potential and practical preconditions of game-based practice with speaking and reading.

The power of DigiJuf

Part of long-term scientific research
Speech recognition developed by Radboud University; data collected is used for research purposes only
Stimulates creativity in primary school students: practising speaking and reading becomes fun

Game-based language promotion

Reading, writing, speaking and listening form the basis of good education and provide children with important skills for their future. Yet for years there has been a worrying trend: young people’s language skills are deteriorating. An increasing number of young people are even leaving school low-literate. (Source: NOS) How can we connect language teaching to young people’s perceptions and interests better?

With the Centre for Language and Speech Technology (CLST) at Radboud University Nijmegen, we investigated how speech technology and gaming can promote language skills among youth. Test runs with different prototypes show that a combination of these elements can make primary school children more motivated to practise speaking, reading and creating stories together.

This is how we tackled it

Each project starts with the end user for us: we want to hear how they experience the problem we are trying to solve. From conversations with children we learned that they dislike two things about reading in particular: you usually do it by yourself and you cannot influence how the story develops. As game designers, we understand this very well. What makes gaming so engaging is that you can make your own choices, which impact the story. Autonomy! That is what we enjoy and what motivates us.


With the preconditions of ‘doing it together’ and ‘influencing the story’, we set to work on a game concept in which speech technology from the Center for Language and Speech Technology plays an important role. In the soel concept, children create a story together by taking turns to speak sentences on a mobile device. The sentences are converted into text in real time. Players are instructed to include specific words or phrases in their contributions and can vote for their favourite excerpts. This encourages accurate speaking, reading and creative thinking.

A challenging component for the CLST researchers: children’s voices vary widely in pitch and intonation, making accurate speech recognition difficult. The collaboration therefore focused – besides developing an effective creative concept – on refining the technology to match the varied speech patterns of young students.

Testing with the functional prototype

Lessons learned from the research

The protoype of DigiJuf was tested during multiple stages of the research trajectory. The functional protoype was received with much enthusiasm from more than forty students. We notived that the chosen game concept stimulated creativity and moved the focus from ‘learning’ to ‘playing’. It was great to see how children started to articulate better already  after a few sentences, because they wanted to see their contribution on the screen (and gain points from their classmates, of course!). Researchers from the CLST got a lot of interesting input from the data gained during test rounds for new publications. One of the conclusions: getting feedback from classmates has many advantages – and from tests with DigiJuf it appeared that children are just as trustworthy critics as adults are!

Currently, 8D Games and CLST are exploring opportunities for further development. The ambition is to further develop DigiJuf into a freely available end product that adds value to both education and research fields.

Want to know more about serious games for research?

Serious games as a research tool are making their rise. But if you have never used such a game yourself, the whole idea remains somewhat abstract. What added value do games have for research and what concrete examples are there already?

Want to know more about improving language skills?

Call +31(0) 58 843 57 57

Mail giel@8d-games.nl

Contact Giel, the project leader of DigiJuf

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