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How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games

jason-oxenham-ceo October 3, 2018, 12:28 am

Textbooks. Lectures. Homework.

 

What if you could just throw it all away?

 

What if you could pick up a PlayStation controller instead—and your grammar would actually get better?

 

It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

 

Give it a try.

 

Why should you use a video game to learn your target language?

 

Okay, you might not be able to dunk your textbooks into the trash entirely. But pairing traditional learning with a few weekly hours of virtual immersion is effective for several reasons. (Of course, you’ll have to switch the game into your target language. You can’t play Call of Duty in English and expect to learn Chinese.)

 

First, immersion. Outside of moving to a new country, games are the most immersive experience that you can have—unlike watching a film or listening to music, it’s not passive. You become a character. You live in their world. Imagine walking through narrow Polish streets, hearing a woman shout, “Pomóż mi!” (The Witcher III) or fighting to save your kingdom as your best friend begs you in German, “Enttäusche mich nicht” (Final Fantasy XV). How will you help the woman? How will you save your comrade? By thinking on your feet! You’ll have to master through the language quickly if you want to beat the game. Every minute matters.

 

Secondly, entertainment. Games are just—fun! When you have fun, you want to keep going back. A little bit of excitement keeps you from burning out, so schedule in game time just as you would any other study activity; I often replace a day of studying with an hour of my favorite German-language RPG. This tactic might seem strange, but at the end of that hour, I am refreshed, excited and armed with a long list of new vocabulary words.

 

Games also make it easy to track your progress. Test this. Start a game in your target language. When you’re about halfway through (which is usually after 10-20 hours), take inventory. You’re probably pausing to look up words less frequently than when you started. You’re probably absorbing the language more easily. In other words, you know more. By the time you beat the game, your comprehension will be miles ahead of where it was.

 

Okay, so how do you get started?

 

Pick games with strong storylines.

 

Humans are narrative creatures. We use stories to make sense of the world around us, and we remember facts better when they’re coded into our episodic memory.

 

Zero in on games with definitive narrative arcs. For one, you’ll remember the words better if they’re part of a larger, overarching narrative.

 

For even better results, gravitate toward narrative games that require you to make choices that affect the plot—not only will you have to comprehend the language, but you have to think and respond in it too.

 

Plus, the story will hook you in and keep you coming back. The only catch is that if you want to find out what happens next, you’ll have to keep working hard at decoding the grammar and vocabulary.

 

Check these out:

 

Haunting and Experimental: What Remains of Edith Finch and The Stanley Parable

 

Role-Playing: Stardew Valley

 

Sports: NBA 2k19

 

Choose-Your-Own Adventure: Detroit: Become Human, Telltale

 

Voice acting is a must.

 

For the most immersive experience, you need to read a language, speak a language and hear a language.

 

If you’re just starting out, it’s especially important to hear the words aloud—not just so that you can learn correct pronunciation, but also so that you can adjust to how the language sounds. Unlike in class or rehearsed conversations, characters in video games speak fast. They won’t hold back. Short of talking with a native speaker, this is the closest you can get to communicating in the language naturally.

 

Games with multilingual voice acting tend to be big-budget, but you may be able to find some indie darlings that are at least partially voice acted.

 

Start here:

 

Action: Bioshock (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese)

 

Adventure: No Man’s Sky (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Russian)

 

Historical: Valiant Hearts (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese)

 

Keep track of unfamiliar words.

 

When you play a game in your target language, you essentially have to work twice as hard.

 

On one hand, you have to focus on playing the game. On the other hand, you also have to focus on what’s being said: If you come across any unconventional linguistic constructions or unfamiliar terms, write them down!

 

Try to work them out via context clues; you’ll remember a term better if you deduce what it means and put it into your own words. But if you can’t, run it by your learning partner or a native speaker friend. (I recommend consulting people before Google Translate; language isn’t always a one-to-one translation, and Google is unreliable.)

 

As you play, keep your word list at hand. Try not to look at it unless you have to—challenge yourself to try to remember a word that you wrote down instead of referencing its definition. You remember more than you think.

 

Grab a headset and compete online.

 

Fortnite. Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. Overwatch. These days, just about every big-budget game supports some form of multiplayer, so grab an atomic gun and jump into a bloodthirsty battle royale. Explain to your foreign-language teammates that you’re learning your target language, and pay attention to the natural patterns and colloquialisms they use when they speak.

 

If competitive combat isn’t your cup of tea, then plug into some friendly multiplayer games such as City Life RPG, a game where you walk around a city ad infinitum, or Second Life, a game where you walk around a universe ad infinitum. These games give you all the open-world adventure with none of the high-stakes combat.

 

Action: Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Overwatch

 

Adventure: World of Warcraft

 

Role-playing: City Life RPG, Second Life

 

Play word games on the go.

 

Remember in 2010 when Words With Friends was the most popular game in the App Store? It might not be at its peak, but it did launch hundreds of spinoffs in dozens of languages.

 

Word games are some of the best (and most challenging) ways to expand your vocabulary. Want to learn a lot of new terms in a hurry? Challenge your crush to a game. The pressure to impress them will transform your word bank overnight.

 

To start, check out Words With Friends, now in Spanish, French, German, Italian or Portuguese.

 

On top of that, each lesson in Rocket Languages the Rocket Reinforcement activities that enhance your vocabulary-building!

 

Not a fan of technology? Make your own analog games.

 

If electronic games aren’t your thing, go analog.

 

All you need is a pack of index cards and some colored markers. Construct your own vocabulary flashcards and turn them into a game of Memory: On half of the cards, write terms, and on the other half, write definitions. Place all of the cards face down and try to match each term to its definition from memory.

 

If you’re more competitive, play hangman with your friends. Or if you really want a challenge, try Scrabble using only words from your target language.

 

Get gaming.

 

Learning a language doesn’t have to be tedious. Whether you want to blow up some bases in Fortnite or prefer a parochial game of hangman, utilize games to master your language—and have fun while doing it.


Post by guest blogger Jamie McGhee: Jamie McGhee is a novelist, playwright and aspiring polyglot currently making her way through East Africa with a backpack.
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
jolietil October 3, 2018, 1:19 am

 
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
Dean V October 3, 2018, 6:18 pm
Cool! You can learn some Hungarian from the game Halo Reach even when the language setting is English. Some of the NPC's speak Hungarian
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
Dean V October 3, 2018, 6:18 pm
Cool! You can learn some Hungarian from the game Halo Reach even when the language setting is English. Some of the NPC's speak Hungarian
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
Matthew-H68 October 4, 2018, 10:24 pm
Thanks! Star Stable is a very mild narrative game, but you can change its language to Spanish, French, Duetch, and a couple of other languages.
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
AR--9 October 7, 2018, 4:02 am
In Rocket Italian where do I access the vocabulary building games?

Thanks.
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
Gay-Lynn-B October 14, 2018, 2:25 am
Rocket Languages used to have a game called MegaVocab. It was a great adjunct to the rest of the tools. Is it available anymore? If you are thinking of bringing it back, it would be great if the MegaVerbs had the option of concealing the infinitive of the verb and if the game pronounced the conjugated verb after it was successfully typed in. Can't get too much listening of the target language!
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
jason-oxenham-ceo October 14, 2018, 7:50 pm
Hi AR-9; Perhaps that is a little unclear from the blog post but the reference to vocab-building games should be the indicating the Rocket Reinforcement activities at the bottom of each lesson. I will get that changed! Sorry for the confusion.

Hi Gay-Lynn-B; The MegaGames/Vocab are from a long time ago! They had to be retired as the functionality was not supported as the various operating systems upgraded (e.g. Windows 10). We replaced them with the Reinforcement activities within each lesson. There are (long-term) plans to release a Verb Trainer if you like for Spanish, French and Italian. 
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
AR--9 October 14, 2018, 9:58 pm
Jason:
Thank you for the clarification. A verb trainer sounds good to me.

AR-9
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
Gay-Lynn-B October 14, 2018, 10:38 pm
Glad to hear you are contemplating a (new) verb trainer. Sorry to hear that you had to retire the old one due to technology "upgrades".  Please put German on the "to do" list if you can. 
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
Erubar October 16, 2018, 5:27 pm
I wish Crystallize had a language besides Japanese. A friend used it for Japanese, and I wish I could use it for Chinese. It's kind of like Habitica, but for learning Japanese instead of for making good habits.
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
Erubar October 16, 2018, 5:28 pm
I like to play Minecraft in Chinese. It helps a bunch.
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
radiantherapy2 October 18, 2018, 3:56 am
I don't see a list of conjugated verbs for learning in any module. I only see bits and pieces except for a few key words. Is there a place where there are lists of verbs and their conjugations to study- the regular conjugations and lists of irregular can be found here on rocket French or do I need to get supplementary books?
 
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
Matt3479 October 20, 2018, 8:48 pm
Does anyone know of any games with text or speech in Arabic?
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games
jason-oxenham-ceo October 22, 2018, 6:49 pm
Hi Radiantherapy - In Rocket French there are various Language & Culture lessons that have verb tables, however as there are of course hundreds of verbs and lots of tenses in French it would make the course unwieldy to include all of that.

In saying that we are considering a separate product that covers common verbs and tenses but that is just on the product development wishlist at this stage. 
How to Master a Language…By Playing Video Games

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