Language Games and Language Learning

When one mentions the concept of language game in relation to Wittgenstein, there are four related concepts that come to mind: context, intention, other people and purpose. That is, as one develops into a language, one comes to use language in a range of contexts with learned intentions amongst a community of people for diverse purposes. To be proficient in one language game is only a partial proficiency as it is the amalgamation of language practices that will make up that which will be referred to as proficiency.

There will be certain practices that we assume all members of a community of practice will share. We will call this extensive knowledge (Gee 2008). There will be other, specialised practices that some members of the community will have deep knowledge/experience of and which will be called upon by the general community. We will call this intensive knowledge (Gee, 2008). We encourage individuals to specialise and build up intensive knowledge, so that it can be supplied to others (usually for a price). How else would a comedian make a living?

Therefore, we would like all members of a community to be able to report information, reflect and record, speculate, joke, contemplate, etc. We would like all members of a community to be appreciative of the language practices that help one make decisions, rationalise, etc. However, this does not mean that we want everyone to be Shakespeare, a person who attained an intensive, poetical knowledge for his generation and who was called upon by his community to present for public education, entertainment, etc. Does this mean that we leave poetic practice to Shakespeare? No, extensive practices are expected across the population even if certain individuals attain intensive practice. Across the community, there is a need for extensive practice in the contemplative, speculative, political and aesthetic function of poetry.

As noted by Ken Hyland, “the last decade or so has seen increasing attention given to the notion of genre and its application in language teaching and learning. This is largely a response to changing views of discourse and of learning to write which incorporate better understandings of how language is structured to achieve social purposes in particular contexts of use” (Hyland, 2007, pg. 148).



Gee, J. P. (2008) A sociocultural perspective on opportunity to learn. In P. Moss, D. Pullin, J.P. Gee, E. Haertel, and L. Young (Eds). Assessment, equity, and opportunity to learn (pp. 76-108). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, K. (2007). Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy and L2 writing instruction. Journal of Second Language Writing, 16(3), 148–164. doi:10.1016/j.jslw.2007.07.005