A new tool for German language learners and... computer games?

There's a lot of people all around the world who learn German. 17% of the registered users on EasyPronunciation.com indicated in their profile that they are interested in the German language. So German phonetic translator was always on my to-do list. Fortunately, now I have enough experience with PHP and phonetic translators for other languages to approach this task efficiently.

The first step was to create a tool that would automatically indicate the stress position in German words. But before that I wanted to do something very important – improve my German. The question was – how?

I had some experience with German back in 2000. I was never serious about it, it was more like fun. I liked the language, but I never attended any courses or took lessons with a private teacher. I was just listening to the tapes, reading a lot of easy books. At some point my passive knowledge (listening and reading) was at intermediate level. But then Japanese came into my life and replaced German.

So when a month ago I decided to create the German IPA translator, there was a label on the German language in my brain with one word – "forgotten". :)

I have a pretty big collection of German learning materials, including video courses and a dozen of German movies with German subtitles, but this time I wanted to try something new, and my choice fell on... point-and-click adventure games.

The last time I played computer games, I was about 16, but I still think the adventure games were a very important factor why I love English so much. And although the visual aspect is important in my experience as a gamer, the vital part of the game for me is the voice acting. Just listen to this voice:

By the way it was Roy Conrad from the game Full Throttle. Speaking of voices... I think they could become a good motivation factor for someone who learns a foreign language. They certainly are for me! Listen now to the voice of Féodor Atkine, a famous French actor and voice-artist:

Don't you want to start learning French now? I would give anything to have a voice like that!

But let's get back to games. Although I still think that videos with real actors are the best material to learn a foreign language by yourself, computer games have one important advantage over movies – they are interactive. In movies it is often difficult to figure out the word's meaning without looking up a dictionary. It takes a lot of time and not all of us are that patient.

In point-and-click adventure games, however, you can click on an object on the screen, and the main character will tell you what it is or make a funny comment. You can speak with other characters, choose from several dialogue options what you want to tell them. You can immerse yourself completely in the world of your new game language. It's a fun way to learn new words! But of course, not all games can be good learning materials. In my opinion the games should meet the following criteria:

  • The game should have a lot of dialogues. Some adventure games are mostly puzzle-based with almost no talking at all. That's not what you want!
  • The game should be created in the country which language you learn. In other words, it should be the original and not the translated version of the game. Although some translations may be good, from time to time you still can read people's complaints about the quality of the translation. On the other hand sometimes it can be fun to replay a game in another language. Since you already know all dialogues, it will be much easier.
  • All the characters should speak without any accent.
  • The game should have an option to display text for all dialogues that can be turned on and off. This way you can play the second time with the text on (or "off" – to practice your listening comprehension).
  • You should understand at least 70% of what is being said.
  • No horror games. We don't want to connect the feeling of fear or disgust with the learning process. We need strong positive emotions.
  • Be careful with the vocabulary – some games may be set on other planets or in some fantasy world. So you will probably learn the word "gremlin" before the word "Monday". :)

If you want to know what game I chose to improve my German, it's The Book of Unwritten Tales on gog.com. I decided to support the idea of software that is free of digital rights management (DRM). The game is interesting, funny and, again, I love the voice of the main characters:

Ivo (voiced by Marion von Stengel):

and Nate (voiced by Dietmar Wunder):

Let's get back to reality... After gaining some confidence with German, I created the first version of the tool that marks stress position in German words. The tool even supports multiple pronunciations (homographs). For now the conversion of some complex word forms, such as "mitgebracht" or "anzurufen", is not yet implemented. I hope to fix that in the future.

You would help me a lot, if you share this tool with your friends! And of course, you are more than welcome to leave a comment to this article. What game helped you improve the language you are learning right now?

Tags: German, German phonetics, German pronunciation, stress, language learning, computer games