"Ce Matin..." is the name of my Masters Project, a video game to help French-learners practice the skills they have been learning in an effective and entertaining way. I chose this project because of my personal interests. French is my native language, but I get few opportunities to use it while living in the US. I am very passionate about video games and game development, and am interested in the potential of educational and serious games.
+ Accompanying Vocabulary List
- habiter (to live in, to inhabit)
- Suisse (Switzerland. The Western part of Switzerland speaks French)
- un matin (a morning)
- une amie (a friend)
- s’habiller (to dress oneself)
- des vêtements (clothes)
- me souviens (to remember. Infinitif: se souvenir)
- un père (a dad)
- une grand-mère (a grandmother)
- porter (to wear / to carry)
- une jupe (a skirt)
- des pantalons (pants)
- une lumière (a light)
- allumer (to turn on (lights))
- la vaisselle (dishes)
- nourrir (feed)
- gauche (left)
- une soeur (a sister)
- le salon (the living room)
- le souper (dinner in Switzerland. It differs by country)
- d’accord (OK)
- veste (jacket)
- sors (to go out, infinitif: sortir)
- froid (cold)
- une clé (a key)
- la cuisine (the kitchen)
- partir (to leave)
- d’abord (first / before)
- eau (water)
- imprimer (to print)
- seigneur (lord)
- anneaux (rings)
- des jeux (games)
- souviens (remembered. Infinitif: souvenir)
- un ordi (Computer. short for ordinateur)
- une nuit (night)
- téléchargement (downloads)
- un sac-à-dos (backpack)
- une peluche (plushie)
- frais (fresh)
- un mur (wall)
- chaîne (channel)
- allemand (German)
- là (there)
- fumais (smoked. Infinitif: fumer)
- seule (alone)
- sonner (to ring)
I started by researching the various topics that relate to the game I wanted to create. I ended up learning about: Educational Games, existing language learning digital applications,
+ See full list of research sources
Existing Research in Educational Games
Research Papers: “Digital Game Based LEARNING It’s not just the Digital Natives who are restless” By Richard Van Eck; “Does Gamification Work? — A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification”, Juho Hamari, Jonna Koivisto, Harri Sarsa; “GamiCAD: A Gamified Tutorial System For First Time AutoCAD Users”, by Wei Li, Tovi Grossman, and George Fitzmaurice
French as a Second Language Education
Research Papers: “Diagnosing Foreign Language Proficiency: The Interface between Learning and Assessment”, by J. Charles. Alderson
Special thanks to: Georgia Tech’s French department professors Nora Cottille-Foley and Michael Wiedorn, who took the time to talk to me and offered initial guidance.
Textbooks: “Motifs: An Introduction to French, Fourth edition”, by Kimberly Jansma, and Margaret Ann Kassen “Horizons, Fourth edition”, by Joan H. Manley, Stuart Smith, John T. McMinn and Marc A. Prévost
Alliance Française website: https://afatl.com/
Existing Related Products
Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Memrise, Fight to Learn Japanese, Gamester Mechanic (game design learning tool), babel.com
The first element I identified at the start of my project was who my target users were. I wanted to speak to native English speakers who had learned French. I chose to look for self-identified intermediate French speakers to interview, and found 10 French speakers with whom conducted hour-long semi-structured interviews to research the viability of my idea.
I ended up realizing that what I identified as intermediate speakers were more advanced than I expected, and wouldn't generally have much use for such a targeted experience as they were able to consume content meant for native French speakers, and that was the best practice they could have. Instead, I chose to refocus my prototype to beginner French speakers, and ended up researching the vocabulary and topics that are first covered across different learning platforms.
These topics ended up being the base for the narrative of my educational game, as I realized that they were fairly uniform across platforms. The verbs and grammar rules were also generally taught in a similar order. I ended up coming up with a list of guidelines to follow when constructing my experience.
+ List of Guidelines I followed
- Didactic: the purpose of the experience is first and foremost French language learning
- Playful: the user needs to be entertained to be self-motivated enough to use the experience. As much as there needs to be some form of language learning, fun with French content is really the goal.
- Simple control: users are here to learn a language, not a control scheme
- Limited vocabulary: the vocabulary was largely informed by what is used in French classrooms based on my books, as well as what is learnt in Duolingo and other learning tools like online websites. Final vocabulary
- Limited topics: The narrative centers on the house, family, colors, clothes, animals
- Simple grammar: users won’t understand complex sentences
- Only ‘présent’ and ‘imparfait’tenses: beginners often start with those tenses
- English only for ‘entrance’ and ‘exit’: encouraging users to start thinking in French
Software and Tools
Very early in the process, I had decided to use JRPG conventions to create my educational games, as that type of games lends itself well to mechanics based on narrative and conversations. Because I didn't want to spend too much time learning to program for a game engine, I chose to create my game in RPG Maker MV. This tool is easy to learn and has a visual interface to affect the mechanics. RPG Maker is limited in what it can do, especially in it's initial state, but it also has a strong community supporting it which allowed me to get scripts and to add some flexibility to a fairly rigid tool. I created the visual assets using paper and Photoshop.
My largest hurdle in learning RPG Maker was figuring out the breadth of flexibility I could add through the plugins, but although I explored quite a bit I ended up sticking to very simple conversation-related and text editing plugins and focus more on non-technical aspects of the mechanics (such as the exact conversation lines used).
First Prototype and Early Testing
I put together an initial prototype using RPG Maker's default assets and putting in only the most basic elements of my game, including all mandatory dialogue. I then had two users test it, and observed what worked and what didn't in my experience. I noticed that some of my vocabulary was much too complex, and that although I tried to use simple tenses within my experience, a lot of seemingly simple sentences were a lot more complex than I realized. I combed through the dialogue in detail after this to ensure no complex dialogue was left.
Overall, the experience seemed to be very successful though, as the vocabulary matched what my users had learnt so far well and they recognized a lot of the words. I edited the flow of the experience after testing and finalized the separate elements that made up the game.
I finished my prototype and ran user testing sessions to test it's validity. Through word-of-mouth, I recruited users and ran user testing sessions with 5 different users. Again, I looked for people who were learning or had learnt French in the past, who identified as beginners this time. I decided to run a pre-test/post-test comparison. I also wanted to collect qualitative data through semi-structured interviews.
+ Details of User Testing Sessions
Test Tasks (45-55mn)
- Introduction / Tell users what is going to happen / Consent Signing (5mn)
- Brief interview (10-15mn)
- Pre-Test (5mn)
- User testing session (15-20mn)
- Post-interview (5-10mn)
- Post-test (5mn)
- Long-term retention post test (1 week later)
- Definite Improvement between pre-test and post-test.Long term retention test lacked participation.
- My current target audience is still too broad. The vocabulary was perfect for some users (3/5), while others struggled or found it too easy(2/5).
"I don't know what's going on. I'm frustrated."
"I wish there were more words in the vocabulary list."
- Users enjoyed the Experience. 2/5 of users would play multiple times unprompted, 5/5 were interested in similar experiences, and 5/5 would recommend it to other French Learners.
- The dictionary was used frequently and consistently. However, the current implementation wasn't very usable.
"I'm having trouble finding specific words."
- Narrative choices were engaging, but they weren't meaningful enough. Users wanted to see more variation in scenarios to be encouraged to go through the scenario multiple times, experiencing more repetition and helping the vocabulary stick.
"I can easily see myself playing this various times to see how it changes."
"I wish things changed more."
- Overall, I wish I had more participants
- Responses to the prototype were positive
- The target audience needs to be further refined
- Users want their narrative choices to have more impact
- The dictionary feature is successful in concept, but needs to be better integrated
Next Steps, if Continued
- Think further on digital implementation of the dictionary, potentially 1 vocabulary list per room
- Look into branching scenarios based on choices, rather than minor changes
- Focus on a more specific segment (most likely self-taught French learners who use digital software for learning)
- Re-desing the experience to be more targeted
- Further test the learning effectiveness of my solution with a more specific audience (potentially using a pre-test)