In the previous post I said that if the Serpent Scribe of Kyoto was a success, I’ll try to continue making language-learning games. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t help myself and didn’t wait for it to succeed. I’ve been working on some nice things that might become available soon.
I think it’s really an interesting experience with some lessons to be learned about memory and learning. I’ve tried several alphabets with the Serpent Scribe, and I think I can say that about 30 minutes with a game like this can bring me from knowing nothing in an average alphabet, to knowing it all. However, if I stop there, I’ll forget it all about an hour later. So the next challenge would be retaining the knowledge. This brings me back to what I asked a long time ago about mnemonics – if they can help us learn so much in such a short time, can we use them repeatedly and learn an entire language in a month?
It seems like the way to retain such information is to create associations – see the information in as many contexts as possible, not just in the simple flashcard or dictionary entry. One of my favourite examples is music – I’m often amused by how my vocabulary in languages I don’t know is affected by my favourite bands in the language – in German I can speak of death and blood, but I can’t ask what time it is. In Hungarian I can talk about flowers and birds, but not much else. In Portuguese about forests and hunters, in Indonesian about love and spirituality, and so on.
The Serpent Scribe starts working on it by providing challenges – chances to use the symbols learned in new contexts. But more work is needed.
This is why I think most structured language learning methods are useless on their own – I think the best way is to drown yourself in a huge array of different methods, each one bringing new associations to pick up new words from. But more importantly, I think you need to learn the language while doing something other than language learning – associations need to be between two things, so there has to be something else happening while you’re learning. It could be an especially frustrating level in a game, could be an awesome guitar chord in a song, or anything else. So my goal is to make games that are fun on their own, and as a side effect make you encounter loads of different words in the language you’re learning. We’ll see if I can make that happen.