Most countries in the modern world are becoming more and more multi-cultural, and as a result it is increasingly necessary to speak a foreign tongue. Whether it be to improve your holiday experience, enable you to work and live abroad or simply to talk to migrants in your own country, by learning another language you can be sure you’ll find places to apply your knowledge.
From audio-books to mobile phone applications, there are hundreds of options for you to choose when deciding your method of language acquisition. Unfortunately many of these methods take a level of concentration and endurance not all of us have at our disposal. Whether we’re too busy or too lazy, it is often the case that we install an app, use it for a week and promptly forget about it.
Cornell University may change all this with the development of a language-learning video game called Crystallize. The premise of the game is simple: build yourself a life in a foreign country. The gamer controls an avatar exploring a virtual city where everybody speaks the target language. Through talking to the populous and completing quests, you can make friends, get a job and learn the language. Unlike traditional methods of language learning, the video game can provide visual and situational context, and quests can give you the motivation required to keep going.
The game is currently only available for those wishing to learn Japanese, but Professor Erik Andersen, who is leading the development alongside Ph.D. student Gabriel Culbertson, hopes that many different language versions will eventually be released.
The game was actually developed as part of a research study to determine how social interaction can impact language learning. 48 participants were assigned to work alongside a partner (who was in a separate room) to journey through the virtual world. Some participants were provided with guidance by their partners, whereas others collaborated with their partners to complete quests.
This second group of participants, known as the ‘high interdependence group’, ended up learning more foreign language words compared to those who were simply guided by their partners. What’s more, they also enjoyed the game more. This suggested to the researchers that working together in a collaborative manner may make language learning a much more successful and enjoyable endeavour. Crystallize emphasizes collaboration through the ability to enlisting the support and advice of other players who are also learning the target language.
The game was also disseminated to the public through Reddit, where data from 186 participants was gathered. On average, players learned over 8 words during 40 minutes of gameplay, and 71% of players said they liked the game. These statistics may not be mind blowing, but they are pretty impressive for a prototype aiming to teach players an extremely complex skill.
There are many plans for the game beyond the scope of research. These include its introduction to virtual reality platforms as well as the development of more realistic gaming environments, where the emphasis is on teaching players “not just how to say things in a foreign language, but when and why they should say them”.
To find out more about the game, be part of the research project and try the game out yourself, visit the Crystallize website. A downloadable version is currently available on Windows, Linux and OSX. You can also learn more about the research study by reading their research paper.