How Language Learning And Video Games Are Similar

avatarMille Larsen
3 mins read

In 2005, I bought my first iPod. It was the first to use the new click wheel. I didn't know that, though, and the iPod didn't come with any instructions. I had used it for two days before finally, by some random chance, I dragged my finger along that wheel and heard the click, and I realized this device does more than I thought.

It worked fine without me knowing everything, but it worked even better when I discovered the additional feature. And I was never confused by a bunch of difficult instructions. This is an excellent example of a concept known as video game mechanics.

For decades, the most popular video games have been sold with few or no instructions. You have a basic story line and a stated goal, but you have to figure out all of the details to reach that goal on your own. And perhaps you've noticed that the video game industry is one of the fastest growing industries of all.

This same concept applies to language learning. In fact, it's one of those things about language learning that most people seem to get wrong.

When you pick up a video game, you understand how games and game systems work. You have an idea that the direction pad or joystick will control movement, and the buttons will initiate actions. You don't know exactly how these things will work until you try, and often they don't do what you expected, but you do have a general idea and the confidence to try.

Likewise, each language has nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Numbers, prepositions, etc. You may not know the exact grammar, but you have an idea of what's involved. So just like the video game, you should have the confidence to try. Yet many people don't.

Sure, a video game is for fun — it even has the word game built into it — whereas a language is a tool, used for serious things. But there's no reason why learning a language can't also be fun!

When you first play a new game, you shoot walls looking for secret prizes, and you punch and kick in different order looking for combos. At first you try everything. Later, you have an idea of which things seem to work, and which don't.

We can, and should, do that with language, too. Put down the books and the CDs. Quit with the software. Stop trying so hard with the instructions. You'll be just fine with some game mechanics.

That is, in summary, exactly the point of my experiment this year in Turkish. I am confident that I will learn this language fluently, in one year, by discovery. And in the process, I hope that I will turn the whole idea of language learning upside-down for all of you.