Video Games + Language Learning = An Excellent Combination

Note: Video games as in regular video games in your target language. Not language learning games like Duolingo and similar things.

Obviously, learning languages through reading books is number one for me. But I also love playing video games, and the languages I know best (French and Spanish) owe a lot to the fact that I’ve played a ton of games in translation. Games combine text with engaging action and visual storytelling, and that does a lot to ensure you remember what you’re learning. If you’re fancy, they also have that coveted audio but… I play mostly handheld consoles, so I have to get my audio elsewhere.

If you want to join in on the fun and play games in your target language, most flagship games come built-in with language options nowadays, but it’s not always that obvious. You’ll likely have to change your console language to see if the game in question supports it. As a heads up, 3rd party games tend to not have these features, but it’s always worth checking!

Here’s how video games can better those language skills!

Video Games Necessitate Comprehension

I love books and passive listening because of the low-stress language exposure you get. I’m great at ignoring what I don’t know. Of course, I’ll use context to try to figure it out, but no big deal if I come up blank. I just move on.

Video games are a great way to put a little pressure on yourself to understand what’s going on, but it’s still less pressure than a conversation exchange or real life situation. If you’re playing a text-heavy game with an intense tutorial, you’d better figure out what to do, or you’ll be stuck.

The cool thing is, when you do figure out what to do, the effort you put into decoding/process of elimination will help you remember the word or phrase. In playing games in foreign languages, there are many “Ohhhhhh” moments.

And unlike real life interactions, you can always look up a walkthrough in your native language to figure things out. It’s like using a language with training wheels on!

Tons of Repetition Means Automatic Recall

Games can get annoying when NPCs repeat the same things over and over. But now that has a use! Those short phrases you hear and read time and time again will be branded onto your brains for eternity. When speaking or understanding a new language, things happen in real time, and you don’t have the luxury of translating to yourself to figure out what’s going on. If you have these stock phrases and general patterns in your head, you can produce them fast. That means you’re one step closer to fluency!

Some of those stock phrases are weird, sure, but I’m not crazy about language learning methods that insist you learn “common” vocabulary first. The language is the language, and the more you pick up, the better you’ll be.

And you’ll know how to say PRESS START.

Play RPGs for Tons of Vocabulary in Smaller Bites

RPGs, especially the old school ones, are basically novels with a lot of pictures. That’s a really good thing for language learners. While I have never shied away from a novel in a target language, I do know that many people are intimidated by the prospect of picking up an entire book in a language they hardly know. RPGs are a good middle ground, because they have the dialogue and the storytelling, but you get that text/text+audio in little bite-sized pieces at a time (unless it’s a Final Fantasy cutscene). The language will be pretty similar to what you’ll find in books, so it’s beneficial either way!

Another plus is that many text-heavy games have more slang and casual language than your average novel. I love Animal Crossing, for instance, and the North American 3DS version includes French and Spanish translations. If you’ve ever played any iteration of Animal Crossing, you know that the characters have a cute, casual manner of speaking. I’ve picked up so much “natural” sounding language from all that dialogue, and I think it’s helped me to sound less formal and textbook-like.

And if you choose to play Animal Crossing in your target language, you’ll learn the names of more fish and bug species than you probably know in your native language.

All in all, video games make a great companion for book-based language learning. They;re also a great way to get your reading in if you’re not so thrilled at the idea of diving into a novel right away. And now we all have more of an excuse to sit inside with our media and call it learning!