Simulation games with Business English

A simulation game is similar to role play except that in a simulation the participants are free to take their own decisions and are not directed in any way by constraints laid down on a role card.

For example, in a role play activity, a participant may be asked to take on the role of someone in the purchasing department who wants to buy a particular product while their partner may be asked to take on the role of someone in the marketing department who is very anxious to buy a different product. Their role play task will be to discuss their products and use persuasive language. There will be no need for them to agree on one particular product by the end of the activity as the process of talking and using persuasive language is the core purpose of the activity.

In contrast, in a simulation game there are likely to be more than two participants and each will be given a role. For example, one may be the accountant and another may be the marketing manager while another may be the purchasing manager and so on. They will start off with a basic scenario; for example, they may be told that their company sells bicycles and that a new type of folding bicycle has come on the market and they need to consider how best to take advantage of this product and make a profit.

So, for example, they would have to think about what they could afford to pay for each bicycle, what the selling price would be, who would be interested, how they could market it and so on. They could take whatever decisions they wanted. They would start with a cash sum and they would have to think about how best to use that money. They will be using language they have learnt, but another aim of the simulation will also be to, for example, make as much profit as possible in the course of the game.

From time to time, the simulation ‘umpire’ could add additional pieces of information (higher interest rates, higher transport costs, new competitors, a successful web site and so on) which the members would have to take into account and adapt to.

There would also be ‘wild’ cards that groups pick up from time to time and which would either be lucky or unlucky in terms of the success of that company. Many simulations involve the use of dice which can decide certain elements that impinge on a particular company or on all of the companies. For example, a group could roll a die (or two dice) to see if the weather in their area that summer was going to be good or bad. An even number might mean a poor summer while an odd number would be classified as a warm, dry summer. These are factors that are likely to have implications with regard to the sale of bicycles.

I think it’s clear that although role-play tasks and simulations are ‘cousins’ there are also significant differences.

  • Simulations involve more participants.
  • They take longer than role-play activities.
  • They are more suitable for more advanced learners as the language used is more advanced and complex.
  • The focus is on general fluency rather than specific language functions.
  • There are no constraints (i.e. on role cards) on how the participants behave. Each participant has a role (e.g. managing director) but how they act out that role is completely up to them.
  • Simulations take quite a lot of preparation but if they work well they can be reused in future classes.
  • The simulation can be set up so that there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in terms of the amount of money that a company makes during the course of the activity.
  • Because of the competitive nature of the simulation, simulations are invariably popular with the participants and they get intensely involved in them as the activity progresses.