This is the first in a series of planned reviews of games with potential for the language classroom accompanied by screencasted videos (see below), which I hope you will find useful in your own explorations of the potential of digital games for language learning.
Available on: PC/MAC/Linux
Official website: http://playinfluent.com/
Suitable for: tweens to adults (elementary and up)
Necessary materials: working version of the game, student access to the game for group/homework activities
A Quick Overview
As words are 'collected,' there is the chance to play 'time attack' games in which you must locate the items in your character's apartment. Successfully find an object a few times and you 'master' that word, unlocking associated adjectives and verbs as you do so. The words range from basic household items such as 'bed', 'fridge' and 'cereal' to more obscure vocabulary items like 'light switch'.
To get a feel for how the game plays and what it looks like, please check out my video showcase:
A Quick Review
+ Attractive 3D visuals with added nostalgic value of original PlayStation era graphics
+ Impressive array of languages available from French to Finnish and German to Japanese
+ Every object in the game area is 'live' meaning hundreds of words to learn
+ Hidden and difficult to reach objects add a level of challenge
+ Time attack mode is fun with options to see or hear the word (or both) and hints available as well
- The game is limited to household vocabulary
- Some vocabulary is obscure and of limited use beyond very specific contexts
- You cannot leave the guy's apartment!
- Purchasing all the languages as DLC would be quite expensive
The focus of the game developers at present seems to be more languages. Norwegian and Finnish have recently been added and Arabic and Hindi are among those apparently on the way. That's great if you can afford the DLC and are interested in learning household vocabulary in many languages but I wish they would add some new areas. It would be great if we could leave the apartment and head to the local park or the shop on the corner and learn more words. There would also be the option then for some functional language as you interact with other people.
To be fair, the game does claim to focus 'primarily on vocabulary acquisition and pronunciation' so it may seem harsh to judge it for its lack of much more than a series of words. However, elsewhere, the words 'fluency' and 'language learning' are also used and this kind of mixed message is, in my opinion, best avoided.
I think this would work great to get people used to the sounds of the language they are learning and as a way to motivate people to learn more. Of course, it will never be enough on its own to 'learn' a language but then again, what is? :-)
A Few Lesson Ideas
1. Treasure Hunt
The game has 'time attack' vocab lists but why not give your students a list of their own. They not only have to find the objects but they have to be able describe where they are. This would be great for practice of prepositions and prepositional phrases (e.g. "There is a tart in the oven" and "The baseball is in the baseball glove under the bed."
Students could also be required to take screenshots to prove and show where they had found each object (a good idea also as some objects appear more than once in different locations).
This activity could also be presented in the form of questions. Ask your students things like "What is next to the TV in the living room?" or "List three items that are in the fridge" or "There is something under the poster on the door. What is it?" - this way, your learners can go beyond the basic vocab and get into some useful comprehension and language production.
2. Describe the apartment
As your students become familiar with the game and basic sentence structures, it is naturally a good idea to push them into more comprehensive and cohesive language production. They could therefore write a description of Andrew Cross' apartment (or a room in the apartment). Going beyond a basic list of his stuff, they could be encouraged to speculate about Andrew's character and lifestyle based on the food in his kitchen, his collection of books and video games, or the state of his bedroom (you might get "I think he is very organised and tidy because his clothes are folded neatly" or "I think he disgusting - his dirty boxers are on the floor under the bed!"
3. A Day in the Life
Describe Andrew's day as he is stuck in the confines of his apartment learning various words in multiple languages. Extra credit for mentioning as many items and relevant routines as possible!
4. Extend the Story
There is a backstory to the game. In a nutshell, Andrew Cross has invented a device capable of scanning real world objects and giving the user a translation of that item in another language. However, his creation has been stolen and he is out to prove that by... er... re-inventing the device and using it to learn words...
(See this video for more details:)
- How was the device stolen? By whom? And why?
- Does Andrew ever succeed in proving the invention was his? Why/why not?
- Who is the person in the photos with Andrew? Write the story of their relationship.
To get more out of it than a few words (or few hundred words to be precise) would take either a major update (in the form of new environments to explore) from the developer or the guidance and added grammatical/creative guidance of a teacher.
Still, it must be said that it is fun. I found myself frustrated by words I couldn't recall in time attack mode causing me to try harder to get them right the next time. I may not need to bring up l'interrupteur in any French conversation attempts in the near future but it is not a word I will be forgetting in a hurry!
And don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more ELT Sandbox Showcase videos in the future!