Cipher – Faoi Gheasa: putting the fun in Irish in a digital game-based language learning app

Presented by: Monica Ward, Liang (Charlie) Xu & Elaine Uí Dhonnchadha

This session will provide an overview of the Cipher:Faoi Gheasa, a digital game-based language learning app for Irish (Ward et al., 2022). It will give participants an opportunity to play the game themselves and consider how it might work with their students.

The Cipher game world is a magical one in which a mysterious and evil spirit is attempting to deny access to the ancient mythological tales in which the ancient spirits dwell, by placing the tales under a spell. The player’s mission is to decipher these spells in order to restore the tales before they are sealed and lost forever. There are many different spells (ciphers) and stages before all the evil spells can be lifted and the story is restored. Players accumulate points when they correctly identify ciphered words and lose points when they fail to spot a ciphered word or incorrectly identify a ciphered word. Players can use their points to buy hints if they wish, which means that players with a minimal amount of Irish can enjoy playing the game.

In Cipher, traditional stories and fairy tales are presented to the learners in pages, with approximately 40 words per page. Each page has an (AI-generated) image related to the story. There is an English language and an Irish language interface. The Cipher game was tested in three primary school classrooms in Ireland. Cipher was installed on tablets and each student could play the game individually or in pairs. Feedback from the teachers and students is that they enjoyed playing the game and the teachers liked that the students discussed Irish between themselves when trying to spot the ciphers (Xu et al., 2022).
In this session, participants will learn about the pedagogical underpinnings of the game. It combines research findings from Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL), digital game-based language learning apps and socio-cultural aspects of language learning. It was developed with a multidisciplinary team, which included a primary school teacher. However, the game is suitable for learners of all ages. The participants will have the opportunity to see how it might work in their classroom and explore options of using it with their students with the Cipher team. The game works on tablets and these will be supplied to the participants during the session.

Ward, M., Xu, L., & Dhonnchadha, E. U. (2022). Game based language learning for Irish: noticing errors while playing. Intelligent CALL, granular systems and learner data: short papers from EUROCALL 2022, 380.
Xu, L., Dhonnchadha, E. U., & Ward, M. (2022, June). User experience study of” Cipher: Faoi Gheasa”, a digital educational game for language learning and student engagement. In Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Games Systems (pp. 5-8).

Presenter Biography:

Monica Ward is a Computer Aided Language Learning (CALL) researcher from Dublin City University and has developed CALL resources for a variety of languages, including Irish.

Liang (Charlie) Xu is a d-real PhD researcher at DCU and main developer of the Cipher game.

Elaine Uí Dhonnchadha is a computational linguistics researcher at Trinity College Dublin and has developed computational linguistics resources for Irish.