There are lots of language-learning apps out there—duolingo, Byki, Busuu, etc.–not to mention all the flashcard and quiz apps. But my favorite language-learning apps are these: Temple Run 2, 2048, Civilization, and FIFA 2014.
“Aren’t these games,” you ask? Yes, and they’re free, too. (Except Civilization.)
“But they don’t even have spoken words!” True, and I mute them, anyway.
So how does it work?
Simple: I listen to the target language while I play. This could involve a podcast, a radio program, a recording I’ve made, a playlist of songs, or even a video that I’m not watching, just listening to.
Why does it work?
I’m not sure. But I have some ideas:
1. Playing games like these gets me in the zone. In fact, doing so is a language-learning Happy Place of mine. When I’m in a zone, especially a Happy one, I can soak up language.
2. Because I’m in the zone, I can play a game like these for a long time. That means a long time soaking up language.
3. Because I associate the games with fun, and I listen while I play, I associate listening to the language with fun.
4. In some mysterious way, the automaticity with which I play these games seems to contribute to the automaticity with which I process language. (There’s a dissertation waiting to be written here.)
5. I usually do this when I’m too tired to really read or study, but not tired enough to sleep and not too tired to play a game. (It’s a great before-bed activity.) So I get in extra time with the language that I wouldn’t if I waited until I was feeling highly energetic or highly motivated.
6. This approach is a little bit like listening to Classical music while studying, which we’ve all heard is easy on the brain. Yes, in this comparison, Temple Run is the Classical music.
Some other notes:
a. It’s hard to justify spending a bunch of time playing an electronic game. But if you’re picking up a language at the same time, why not?
b. It can be hard to commit to spending a bunch of time listening to a language. But if you get to play a game at the same time, why not?
c. I wouldn’t try this when first getting to know a game or a language. First get to the point with the game where you can play it automatically, and first get to the point with the language where you can understand most of what you hear from a given source. This takes less time than you think: just make sure what you’re listening to is easy enough.
d. This playing-and-listening may sound offensively passive. Okay, but no more than consuming media in general is passive, and I’m not suggesting you make this your only language-learning time–or your only game-playing time!
e. This playing-and-listening may sound offensively multi-taskive. In fact, I’ve found that, provided one observes (c) above, the pairing of these activities somehow boosts focus for each.
f. I don’t play Candy Crush Saga, but my wife does, and it looks great for playing-while-listening. Angry Birds, Amazing Breaker, Subway Surfers, and a bunch of others would work well, too. If you’re into classic games, pinball, Tetris, and Snood are my favorites for playing-while-listening.
For more ideas about incorporating language-learning into other areas of your life, see On the Go, In the Language, Spare No Tupperware: Erasmus on living in the language, What Is Your Favorite Thing To Do?, and #indwelli on Twitter.