Our research addresses young learners of English as a second language (L2) in Sweden and their spare time use of computers for various language-related activities in English, Swedish, and other languages. For instance, they socialize with friends online via Facebook, play various types of digital games, listen to music, watch clips on YouTube, and so on. We use the term “extramural English” in reference to all sorts of spare time activities in English.
The main purpose of our study was to examine language-related use of computers in general, and engagement in playing digital games in particular. We collected data with the help of a questionnaire and a one-week language diary from 76 children in 4th grade (ages 10–11), and then we compared their computer use in English, Swedish, and other languages. Another purpose was to see whether there was a relation between playing digital games in English and (a) gender, (b) first language, (c) motivation for learning English, (d) self-assessed English ability, and (e) self-reported strategies for speaking English. In order to do so, the participants were divided into three “digital game groups”: (1) non-gamers, (2) moderate gamers, and (3) frequent gamers (≥ 4 hours/week). It was possible to divide the participants into these groups since we had access to diary data consisting of their self-reported times for “playing digital games in English”.
The results showed, among other things, that the 4th-graders in this study spent 7.2 hours per week on extramural English activities. In other words, in comparison with the time that is devoted to formal instruction of English in school, the time spent on English outside school is much greater. There was also a statistically significant difference between the boys and the girls, because the boys play more digital games and watch more films. On the other hand, the girls spent significantly more time on out-of-school language-related activities in Swedish than the boys, the reason being that the girls spent more time on Facebook. The examination of the three digital game groups revealed that there were mostly girls in the non-gamers group, there was a mix of girls and boys in the moderate group, and there were mostly boys in the frequent gamers group, which is in line with previous studies. Interestingly, participants with another first language than Swedish were overrepresented among the frequent gamers – a finding which calls for more research. As for the values for motivation and self-assessed English ability, we found that they were high across all groups. Finally, regarding the self-reported strategies, code-switching to one’s first language was more common among the non- and moderate gamers than the frequent gamers.