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Import Report – Using Games as a Language Tool

by Taylor Smith

I first decided I wanted to learn Japanese when I discovered there were a whole a mess of games that were never released in English. I was lucky enough to have access to a Japanese course in high school, but it also turned out I was a lazy student, so I was struggling by the time I hit Japanese 3. My interest had started to wane, and the games I wanted to play were way above the reading level of what I was learning in class. Top it all off with a bunch of other kids whose interest in the language was about nil and you have a recipe for disaster…. Or at least not learning a language.

I say this because, learning a second language sucks without some kind of enjoyable way to apply it. Chances are, if you were (or are) part of the United States school system that you had to learn a second language as part of your curriculum. It’s not all that bad though, as a lot of pop culture and other interesting things are locked behind language barriers. There’s no real substitute to practicing a language with other people who speak it or want to learn to speak it, but you can supplement your studies pretty easily with newspapers, movies, music, and even video games. We’re going to be talking about that last one.

The first thing most people think of when they hear “learning” with “video games” is an educational game. I admit, I’m not too well-versed in the world of edutainment, but there a few games I have heard are pretty good baselines when you’re starting out. Ubisoft’s line of My ______ Coach games are okay for what they are. Think of them as a much cheaper and much less thorough versions of Rosetta Stone

This is good and all, but what about using “actual” video games to help learn a new language? It’s kind of like using any other form of media to help you study. You’re probably not learning anything, but you can certainly use games as a way to practice and retain things. I’d recommend staying away from titles with complex plots, or heavy amounts of text if you’re just starting out. There are plenty of action, puzzle, and non-RPG genre games that can help fill your niche to further your studies.

Nintendo has always been my big recommendation when it comes to this stuff. A lot of their games come with English, French, and Spanish subtitles when released State-side. Their Japanese releases often contain Furigana, which makes them easy to read for people starting out or wanting to practice their Japanese. The main problem is that investing into Nintendo is pretty expensive if you want something off the 3DS, which is where a lot of their easier to read games are. Since the 3DS is region locked it means you’re looking at a good $150 investment before even getting a game. Thankfully the DS and Switch are region-free, so now we just need some more games for the Switch.

Animal Crossing is a great import to learn with because it uses a lot of everyday terms…. It’s also terrible to learn with because of all the wordplay.

I think that one of the most important aspects of learning is to keep things fun and interesting. The best way to learn a language is to practice with people who are fluent in it. Most people will end up taking a class, or the truly dedicated will venture out to live in a place where their language of choice is spoken. This doesn’t work for everyone, but you can do just about anything with the internet. You can then supplement what you’ve learned by reading newspapers, books, magazines, or even playing games in the language you’re working on.

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