Are you looking for new and different ways to integrate your language learning aspirations with the lifestyle you want to lead?
I’ve always been a pretty hardcore PC gamer. I mean to the extent that I’ve probably spent a larger portion of my life killing pixellated men, building make believe cities and stealing gold from dragons than I have doing just about anything else. In recent years I don’t do nearly as much of that as I used to, but I’d be lying if I said that gaming wasn’t still a regular event in my life.
A large portion of the language learning community can also claim to be avid gamers and while some among you have already realized that most modern video games can have their languages switched, not everyone is aware of which games might be the best for language learning. I’ve made a short list of a few PC (and Mac) games that you can use to not only hunt monsters and rescue helpless, unrealistically well endowed princesses, but also to expand your 2nd language vocabulary into a genre that may appeal to you.
Loved by countless millions, the darling creation engine and masterpiece of Swedish gaming company Mojang (Gadget in Swedish), Minecraft has become one of the most sensational games of all time. Appealing to an extraordinarily wide range of players spanning from young children to adults of any age, this game lets you create, well, pretty much anything you can imagine.
Sounds simple, and it kind of is, but if you’re artistic, into engineering, or just like running around the woods punching trees and fighting off zombies, this game is pretty much a win for everyone involved. I’ve been playing since the beta in 2009, and all I can say is that it’s a truly timeless game that will appeal to most audiences, no matter how “hardcore” the gamer.
But how does this help with language learning? Minecraft comes fully equipped with a dazzling number of available languages – 62 of them to be exact – that range from Cornish to Armenian, from Galician to Afrikaans and even some crazy stuff like Klingon, Quenya (Tolkienian Elvish) and Pirate English. For a complete list you can go here to find out whether it supports the languages you’re looking for.
Minecraft features an extensive array of items, some arcane and some mundane, for you to familiarize yourself with and will undoubtedly serve as a solid vocabulary booster for anyone looking to expand upon their lexicon – especially in some of those harder-to-find languages.
Minecraft can be downloaded for about $26.95 from their website at minecraft.net, purchased in most stores that sell games and is also available on Playstation and Xbox and all mobile platforms.
I cannot recommend this game enough!
2. Metro 2033
Metro is a beautiful, dark, highly immersive first person shooter that takes place in the extensive underground metro system of post apocalyptic Moscow. The story is based on the novel of the same name by Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky.
And of course, what better way to tromp through a creepy, dark, mutant infested Russian subway system that in Russian? The game features a very deep, complex plot line with a host of highly engaging characters with varying personalities. The best part? You get to talk to all of them in their native languages!
The audio recordings are extremely high quality, but the content is a bit dense for learners with less than an intermediate understanding of Russian. I struggled to grasp a lot of the finer elements of the dialogue but I think ultimately that playing through Metro in Russian is a more powerful – not to mention educational – experience. The game seems as though it was made to be played in Russian – not surprising when you discover it was made by developer 4A Games out of Ukraine.
But why stop at Russian? Metro 2033 offers support for 8 other languages including English, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, Czech, Polish, and German. I personally have not played through the game using those other languages, so I cannot attest to complete audio recordings in languages other than Russian and English, but considering the high quality work that went into the game’s production, I wouldn’t be surprised to find full audio support.
Metro 2033 was also released for Xbox 360 on which I imagine the same language support is available.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim – and indeed all of the Elder Scrolls games – is one of the most popular games of the past 5 years. Skyrim is a 1st person RPG taking place in a frigid northern taiga equipped with howling wolves, drifting snow, mesmerizing auroras and more huge, bearded, sweaty, smelly, axe-happy vikings than you can shake a bottle of mead at. As the main character you take upon the role of the “Dragonborn”, a sort of chosen hero who can harness the souls of dragons to then either save the world from these monstrous beasts or use their power to level every thatch-roofed town that stands between you and a chest full of gold. (The latter is honestly more fun…)
So what then, could this high fantasy adventure offer an intrepid language explorer such as yourself?
Junk. Lots, and lots of junk!
Skyrim, and all other Bethesda (the developer) games – The older Elder Scrolls games, the Fallout series etc – are unique in the sheer amount of garbage lying around the world that they contain. Perhaps not the most riveting feature for most gamers becomes one of the more interesting and useful game devices for language learners. There is just so much crap lying around in Skyrim for you to look at, pick up, collect, move around, throw, break, loot and delicately organize that it can effectively play out as the coolest flashcard system of all time.
Cups, plates, pheasants, cooking fires, bartenders, candelebras, apples, and literally thousands of other items lying around the world give you a unique opportunity to expand your vocabulary in practical ways.
Sure, chances are you didn’t really need to know the German word for bastard sword or mass paralyze for your German class, but like I said before, the language learning opportunity here doesn’t lie in the fantasy or combat elements of the game – it lies with the countless mounds of mundane garbage that litters the world.
And lest you think that the dialogue is useless, Skyrim isn’t just talking to wizards and kings, but also a very realistic ambient atmosphere equipped with extremely vocal commoners who go about their lives sweeping the taverns, guarding the castle gates, complaining about the weather, ordering ale and other applicable conversations and monologues that actually can enhance your listening capabilities.
Just as with Metro 2033, Skyrim is available in 9 languages; English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Czech, Russian and Polish.
Skyrim is also available on Playstation and Xbox consoles.
I know, I know, for most serious gamers the idea of moving from our beloved RTS, RPG and FPS games to simulators is sort of a daunting and disgraceful concept. I mean, seriously, who wants to drive a truck around in a game?
Well, not so fast. Simulators offer a potential language learner an extremely relevant language experience because unlike the post apocalyptic warfare of Metro 2033 or the high fantasy mumbo jumbo of Skyrim, simulators are based on real stuff! When it comes to playing a game that gives you the most language learning bang for your buck it’s really going to be hard to top a nice, boring, economy or administrative/management driven sim.
An example I’ll use here is Euro Truck II. It really is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You have a truck, you deliver cargo from one European city to the next, you hire other drivers and buy more trucks and create a shipping empire that spans central Europe and the UK.
Pretty lame right? I thought so too at first, and I’m not going to sugar coat it and say that this is an incredibly engaging game or that it’s going to be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you’re looking for real world, practical vocabulary and a chance to have it applied to real life situations this, and other games like it, are some of the best games you can do it with.
Unlike Skyrim, you don’t have to pepper your Polish vocab with the names of 10 different types of sword, you can instead focus on things like real world navigation, financial terminology and things like vehicle maintenance and business management.
So before you turn up your nose at the sort of game you promised your childhood self you’d never play, consider other different reasons.
This one’s a bit more obvious. Influent is actually a language learning game. It exists for the sole purpose of teaching you a language.
In Influent you take on the role of Alex Kross, a young inventor who has created a machine that can automatically translate from and into any language (yeah, right…). In the opening cinematic his device is stolen by an unnamed individual or organization. Now Alex must rush to rebuild his device from scratch in time for its debut at a tech exhibition and of course he needs your help collecting the vocabulary to do it.
Your job is to run around Alex’s apartment clicking on everything you see and memorizing the words that correspond to the item(s) you clicked. Once memorized they go into your “deck” of flash cards and can be reviewed via mini games at any time. These games include things like a time attack in which you charge around the apartment trying to find the words as they appear on the screen before a clock runs out.
A few months ago I wrote a much more in depth review of Influent, which I highly recommend you check out here.
Influent is currently offered in German, French, Russian, Japanese, both Brazilian and European Portuguese, Korean, Swedish, Spanish, Norwegian, Italian, Finnish, Mandarin, Bulgarian, Latin and English. The base game costs about $10 and then each language package is purchased separately for an additional $5.
One of the coolest features of the game is that not only are you learning a new language, you can set the game’s overview language to any of the above languages as well. So if you’re learning both Russian and Finnish at the same time, you can purchase the Finnish module, and then set the game’s language to Russian in order to improve both languages.
Let’s face it, if you’re a gamer, you’re probably already playing a lot of these games and probably many more, and chances are that that isn’t going to stop any time soon. Integrating the language you want to learn into the things you love is one of the best ways to make sure that you keep your new languages in your head and moving forward.
Can you learn a language simply by playing video games? No, not really. This is simply another way to incorporate and diversify your learning strategies.
All of the games I mentioned here, save Minecraft, are available on Steam, a free gaming client by developer Valve that allows you to purchase and download thousands of games, network with your gamer friends, and functions as a social networking tool for gamers. Steam often places all of its games on sale, sometimes resulting in major titles being available at rates as low as 75% off.
Steam is a must-have for any PC gamer, no matter how serious their gaming needs.
Do you use video games to aid you with your language learning? Which ones would you suggest?
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