Languages, Text Parsers, and Video Games

I can speak English and Esperanto. I’ve started learning a handful of other languages, though I tend to have a hard time sticking with one. Oddly, sticking with Esperanto is easy, perhaps because I already have communities I’m part of, and uses for it, while with other languages – say, Korean – I really only get to use it at the nearby Korean grocery store.

But, I’ve decided to start learning Chinese. I decided that a couple of weeks ago, but so far I haven’t done much studying yet, just skimming pieces here and there. Do I start with reading on grammar? Do I start by studying Pinyin? Do I start by learning the building blocks of the writing system? Hm.

I’m a bit restless when it comes to sticking with a single textbook, and I want to start using the language as soon as I can, so then – do I memorize phrases and investigate how words are put together?

I began compiling a list of the verbs, nouns, and adjectives I find myself using the most in Esperanto. It’s hard to really quantify what English I use in my day-to-day life because it’s so engrained, but that’s one of the good things about being familiar with Esperanto – I have more of an explicit idea of what I’ve learned over the past three years, so it could perhaps be a blueprint of what I would need to learn for another language.

Building this list of words and common ways I end up combining them actually reminds me of writing a text parser for a text adventure (or something like the old King’s Quest games).  Actually – wouldn’t it be kind of fun to learn some basics of language through mixing and matching verbs and nouns together to interact with a virtual environment? (OK, maybe it appeals to me because I grew up with Sierra adventures…)

Though a problem with this method of “learning the patterns and extrapolating from there” would be more difficult for an irregular language, when you can’t always be sure that it will be something like “Verb-command-form [the] noun”

On a similar note – games can be a great way to give a controlled, somewhat immersive experience. If designed properly, a whole game could be in the target language, while not overwhelming the player with more nuanced parts of grammar.

If I pick up a new multiplayer game, for example, I pretty much always want to play Single Player first to get a feel for the maps, weapons, gameplay, etc. Similarly, I am going to be pretty shy when it comes to actually practicing a new language, I want a “safe sandbox” to practice in first.

And, with respect to old Sierra and LucasArts games, I know that I, personally, have heard a number of non-native-English speakers say that those games were a big part of how they learned English.

So, what might be a good way to apply language learning in a game medium? What games have done this, and done a decent job? Hmmm…

1 Response

  1. Peter 2015-03-27 / 9:58 am

    The reason I remember the word “fangs” is because I played an adventure game with parser input where you was supposed to do something with the “fangs” of a snake statue. I don’t remember what but I remember the word.

    So you can certainly learn by playing these kind of games, mostly words I think because the grammar that you type is too simple, you can even leave out some words. You also learn by reading the text presented to you, and old adventure games contains a lot of text.

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