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New Computer Game Teaches English as a Foreign Language

One of the greatest triumphs of technology is when something that generally gets a bad rap, like video games, can be used for a greater good.

Technology wins again, this time in the form of Wiz World Online, a virtual world designed to help Chinese-speaking children learn English. The game was developed by 8D World, a company with offices in Shanghai and Woburn, Massachusetts. The game’s builder, Rick Goodman, is responsible for other popular gaming titles, like Age of Empires.  

According to the New York Times, the idea for the game came from Alex Wang, 8D World’s chief executive and co-founder. On his first visit to California, despite scoring well on English tests after studying the language for years, Wang did not know enough conversational English to order off a McDonald’s menu.

“Hundreds of millions of people experience the same problem worldwide,” he told the Times. “People study languages, but cannot talk, cannot communicate,” mostly because children do not have enough of a chance to practice using the language conversationally. This game aims to change that, by providing children with an encouraging and fun environment to practice their English where they won’t be afraid to make mistakes and don’t need the attention of a busy teacher.

Using video games for educational purposes certainly isn’t a brand new idea, but teaching an entire language online is still relatively young. Companies like Rosetta Stone have been capitalizing on computer-based language learning, but 8D World’s website claims the game is “the first virtual world dedicated for global English-as-foreign-language (EFL) learners to improve their spoken English.”

Perhaps most impressive is China’s reaction to the game. The Chinese government has recently blocked many popular websites, including Google in 2002, Twitter, right before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square riot, and Facebook. The government is not only supportive of Wiz World Online, but is promoting the game as a healthy activity for kids during their summer vacation. The government even plans to hold a conversational English competition called the “Wiz World Cup” to promote the game.

For now, Wiz World Online is available free of charge. Once the developers work out all the kinks—and figure out how to get sponsorships from advertisers—subscriptions will cost about $120 to $150 a year.

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