Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Language Learning Games

Learning a foreign language can be fun. Even if you do not have a chance to travel abroad now, you can play a learning game on a computer, a personal digital assistant (PDA) or even on a cell phone. If you search for “language learning” & game, you find a number of commercial offerings. A few examples are:




However, there is always room for new games that help people learn a language. Developing such a game could be a great experience and offer you many benefits:

* Help you learn the language you are trying to teach. The teacher always learns more
than the taught!
* The experience can teach you about computer programming, particularly in
handling multi-media material and game development.
* The work can make you famous.
* The work might earn you credit in a computer programming course or in a foreign-
language course.

Many games use “fill up the blanks”, unscramble a word, and other similar techniques, to teach vocabulary. Very few exploit the multi-media capabilities of a computer or even that of a cell phone.

Imagine playing a game in which you meet “virtual people” who talk to you using displays of text or even “speaking out” recorded phrases. You can record short audio files containing one or two sentences, or even a short paragraph, in spoken form. A simple multi-media program can play these short audio files when showing relevant images – cartoons or photographs. The learner can view them, listen to the spoken words and respond in a suitable manner: answering a yes or no question, or typing in a word or number. He or she can even type in phrases that mean “you are welcome”, “thank you” or something like that. Talking to virtual people can be real fun, when you add a story line. Imagine you get off the plane, convert some money, get into a taxi, check into a hotel or meet grandparents or friends. You could create characters like a helpful taxi driver, a tough-talking policeman manning the taxi boarding area, a loving grandma and so on. Throw in a pretty girl, if you like! They can all be given suitable voices, by having a number of friends act out the scenarios.

Another mode of teaching could be top show images of objects (food, water, coffee, fruits, airports, post offices, a bus, a taxi, etc.) and have the learner type in the corresponding word. You should not forget the verbs. You can use images referring to run, sit, stand, go, come etc. You could play an audio file giving the spoken word with or without such image display, and expect the learner to type in the text form of the word. There is hardly any limit to ideas that such games can use.

The good thing about programming such games for use on cell phones is that people on a plane headed to a foreign country could use their time to learn the 30 essential phrases that could make a huge difference to their trip. Cell phone manufacturers offer software development kits (SDKs) on their websites to enable programming. This work is much easier than one expects at first sight.
Further it requires little equipment beyond a PC.

You might want to read about the Open Content movement (search the web for references), which creates resources for public use and puts them out on the Internet for free.

You could do a project in this area as an assignment for a foreign language course, or as a project for a science fair. Who knows? You may even sell such a game to a cell phone company!

Learn a bit about copyrights. You cannot merely lift images from other people’s websites and sell them off as a part of your game. You cannot put your creation out for free and then try to sell it.

Profit or no profit, you might end up teaching a few thousand people the elements of a language you love. It might be your mother tongue, or even Latin or Greek. Old myths and historical stories give you very interesting story lines for Latin and Greek.

A few relevant sources of information

Have fun!

Srinivasan Ramani

No comments: