There's a story on Gamasutra today about using games, specifically WoW, as a way of exposing Asian youth to English. As an author of English-language textbooks for students in Japan and Taiwan, this particularly caught my attention. I'll let you go read the article to understand what's been done, but I'd like to share some thoughts here on the subject.
First and foremost, I think that using a game like WoW to teach casual, conversational English is a fantastic idea. With in-game chat, as well as Teamspeak/Ventrilo, you can really expose non-native speakers to the language in all its forms. Granted, you're not going to learn high-level business English, but you are going to be able to come away with a grasp of the language and some of its conversational nuances.
I also firmly believe that language is not as severe a barrier in WoW as it may be in other games. I know that many of us have come across a member of the opposite faction, and have been able to communicate through emotes or movements, or even through how we interact with the mobs in the situation. With less of a barrier to communication from the get-go, there's less of an intimidation factor involved for someone who wants to get something across.
However, through my experience, I've definitely seen some roadblocks to using WoW as an educational tool. I think it may be less prevalent on the European servers (please let me know if this is so, or I have a misperception), but on the North American servers I've played on, there seems to be a solid amount of intolerance for people who can't perfectly communicate in English.
A lot of this may stem from gold farmers who don't speak the language, but there are also French and Spanish speaking players on these realms who may have had to endure a certain amount of ridicule before finding acceptance in a given guild.
My question to the WoW Insider community is this - if you were aware that your server was being used for cross-cultural and cross-lingual training, would you accept this and would you put forth the time and energy to help non-English speakers be a part of your guild or your party and learn the language?
If not, why not?