Learn A Language The Lazy Way With Converse! The Origin Story…

I want to gamify the experience of learning languages. Apps like Babbel and Duolingo go some of the distance towards achieving this, now that any smartphone user can begin to learn a language from scratch. However, if I am enjoying playing a video-game, I will play it for many hours without the feeling that it is repetitive or hard work, and this differs greatly from my experience with these two apps.

I studied French BA at university, achieving good grades through hard work and perseverance. But I always thought that technology could provide a helping hand, providing a shortcut to learning. I have since completed a Masters in Computer Science, and worked professionally as a software engineer specialising in mobile apps over the past year. This technical expertise along with the desire to shake up the status quo have been the driving factors behind exploring improvements in the experience of learning languages.

Learn A Language, Lazily!

Using the medium of casual mobile gaming to teach complex grammar rules seems like a stretch too far for my limited amount of spare time, and potentially not a fun way to spend casual gaming time. However, supporting the process of vocabulary acquisition is the low-hanging fruit in teaching languages: vocabulary can be easily quantified and tested, meaning that real progress can be measured. It would mean that you can lie in bed playing a game and learn vocabulary faster than if you were studying hard in the library – not through hard work, but through the smart choice of learning technique. The concept of vocabulary exists in all languages (to my knowledge!), meaning that any app dealing with teaching vocabulary can be massively scaled across languages.

Evidence Based Support

Learning vocabulary is also a great aid to other learning approaches when striving to learn a language, since you can effectively read two-thirds of literature after learning only one thousand words (according to this paper, and this study).

I argue that you can go much further than making the pretty language learning quiz games and flashcard apps that have flooded the apps stores: we can make an interactive game that resembles a video-game, integrating within itself the learning material in the form of mini-games, and bring fun back into the equation.

Reasons commonly cited for not learning languages are alleviated when language learning is provided through mobile game playing:

  • “I don’t have time to learn a language” – the game would replace time playing other casual games, time that Candy Crush fans appear to find easily!
  • “I can’t afford it” – the game would hugely reduce the cost to learn a language, since both a freemium business model providing free content can be used in tandem with the overheads of an incredibly lightweight development team (of one!)
  • “I’ve got no language gene” – players would begin to learn words in the target language without realising, since they would be exposed to them in the course of natural gameplay

As a result of my belief in the idea, it was during a weekend hackathon that I produced the first iteration of this language learning concept, leading to the mobile game Converse to be born (available on Google Play).

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Screenshots from the first iteration of Converse: the main platform game, the decision mini-game, and the spelling mini-game.

The Future

Several months later, I realised that it would not cut it to simply place learning mini-games into a platform game. Instead, the game should integrate the language learning directly into the game. From the ashes of the hectic 48-hour proof of concept, I have decided to take the development of the game further; aiming to focus three months of spare time making the fully fledged mobile game. As my first major personal project, I will inevitably be learning along my journey of developing and publishing a cross-platform mobile game developed in Unity – and I hope to share as much about this process via my website and on YouTube as tutorials!

Thanks for reading, and watch this space!


Keywords: Learn A Language, Converse, Unity, Mobile, Game, Android

rowanstringer

I am a software engineer with two years of industry experience, developing commercial systems for the retail industry. I have worked with a diverse range of programming languages ranging from C++, C# and Java, to scripting languages Python, Bash, JavaScript, Razor MVC and Powershell. I’ve worked on a variety of applications for mobile, servers and embedded devices. In my spare time, I create and play video games, learn foreign languages and breed honey bees.

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