Not many people know, but I can be such a geek sometimes… I enjoy nerdy stuff and playing games. Board games as well as mobile or console games. And it can be a really good way to learn some vocab in your target language! In this post, I will give you some ideas, how to use your leisure time for some passive learning.

When I was in elementary school, we had 3 english teachers in 2 years. That meant that we didn’t really have consistent english studies these years, so I didn’t really progress with it. But I loved to play, and we had The Sims (first version) at home, which was available only in english and spanish. I played in english, and since it is the model of everyday life, I learned a bunch of vocab from it – completely passive. I didn’t realise this until like a year later, when we had a task to write and talk about our daily routine – and I had all the words and phrases I needed. Even I was surprised by myself! This experience gave me motivation and a good start in learning english.

How did this happen? Can we do it with other games? Other languages?

I think it depends on the circumstances. I believe that with languages which use the same alphabet you know (I will talk about this keeping the latin alphabet in mind, since I am european), then it works. If you need to learn a completely new writing system for your target language – then it is not so easy. Why? Simply, because then you will need to concentrate on every character, every word you see, and cannot immerse yourself in the experience of the game. Contrary to this, if you have a target language with a similar alphabet that you already know, you will have the privilege to just go with the gameplay, because it will not bother you if you don’t understand every word. The text (and sounds) will be familiar for your eyes and ears, and your brain will not stop you at every second word.

There will be most likely phrases which are recurring – and if you don’t know them, and don’t understand them from the context, then just look it up once – I promise you, you will not forget it after, because you will see it regularly. This is the AHA-moment which we look for. Games are especially helpful in this process, because you have a graphical, sometimes even “human” context to what you see as a text (like with movies). And this extra visual context helps you better understand things, which you did not learn yet. With books, you have only the written text, with movies it is annoying to stop when you don’t get the meaning of something – but with games you can take your own pace and it does not destroy the experience.

Which games will help you?

RPG, storyline games are great for this, or the life-simulation ones like The Sims or my current favourite, Animal Crossing. Here you get some text, recurring vocabulary, and the words are tied to actions so it sticks better. Of course, after a while, you will see that the text will not surpass a certain level – but we do not aim for academics here. We just want absorption and some vocab building during our leisure time.

So let’s go to play and have some fun!

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