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Learning a Foreign Language with The Sims 310

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the no-habla-espaniol dept.
JavaTHut writes "The Journal Language Learning and Technology has a new article describing how The Sims can be modified to teach a foreign language. With this and other efforts at U.S.C. and M.I.T., could simulated immersion within video games become an effective way of acquiring a foreign language? Also of interest in the article are suggestions for using spatialized translation layers in foreign language songs and a Firefox extension for learning foreign vocabulary words."
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Learning a Foreign Language with The Sims

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  • Lazy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    How lazy have we become that if it doesn't come from the TV or from a video game it just isn't worth doing?
    • by StressGuy (472374) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:43AM (#11253247)
      I've always wanted to learn a second language and I've tried when I was younger. However, growing up in a small town in the mid-west, I'd have to travel hundreds of miles to find someone who spoke the language natively. So sure, I could memorize words, syntax, etc., but, without the ability to use that knowledge on a regular basis, the memory fades.
      .
      To me, this sounds like a way to make it possible for people that don't have regular opportunities to use the language they are trying to learn a new way to get there from here.

      The only caveat I can think of is that relative anonymity seems to bring out the a-hole in a lot of us. That is to say, there might be a lot of jerks entering the sim that would try to ruin it for the rest of us just for the amusement of doing so. I guess the sim-world will probably need a cover charge to keep out the riff-raff.

      • I've always wanted to learn a second language and I've tried when I was younger. However, growing up in a small town in the mid-west, I'd have to travel hundreds of miles to find someone who spoke the language natively. So sure, I could memorize words, syntax, etc., but, without the ability to use that knowledge on a regular basis, the memory fades.

        It's called reading. Or listening to music as an aid.

        I learned english that way when I was a kid. Reading D&D manuals and listening to the radio.

        • "It's called reading. Or listening to music as an aid."

          And now you're talking to english speaking people, thus proving the gpp's point.
          • And now you're talking to english speaking people, thus proving the gpp's point.

            Dude, I was speaking english years before I even *heard* of the internet, much less slashdot.

          • by Wybaar (762692)
            Nitpick: SoTuA is _writing_ in English, not _speaking_ English. There are some situations where it is easy to tell what someone is saying but it would be difficult to tell what they meant if they wrote it, and vice versa.

            For instance, the words "two", "to", and "too" all sound the same when spoken and you would need to figure out from context which I meant. Similarly, "which" and "witch" sound the same. However, written down you can easily differentiate them.

            On the other hand, sometimes two words are
        • i've always wanted to learn other languages, like swedish or german. I've tried traditional methods, but I think you underestimate how difficult it is to get access to consistent sources of the places you've suggested.

          English media and reading is so much more prevelant than languages like Swedish and German. If you are learning english, it's so so much easier to access that language than other languages.
        • I learned english that way when I was a kid. Reading D&D manuals

          "Excusing me, sir... I am... lost? I would like to... how you say... make saving throw?"
        • Yes, but did reading D&D manuals give you the joy of trapping your educational source on the inside of your house's moat, or setting them on fire and watching them scream in a foreign language?
      • If you never get a chance to speak it, don't waste your time learning it. Conserve brain cells. Ignore Europeans whose only pride comes from the fact that they have a skill you don't have (and don't need).
    • Re:Lazy (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RazzleFrog (537054)
      It has nothing to do with lazy. TV and video games happen to be a very effective means of educating. My nephew knows a lot more Spanish than I do because of Dora the Explorer. I am not suggesting that TV and games replace school but if used properly it can be a great enhancement to education.
  • dig dig.
  • by shamowfski (808477) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:17AM (#11253075)
    I re-installed the original Sims probably 5 times before I realized that they were speaking their own language and not some german/spanish mix. I kept turning it up real loud trying to figure out what the fork they were saying.
  • by JavaTHut (9877) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:18AM (#11253082) Homepage
    For anyone who would prefer to listen to the article, there's an audio version availible at:

    http://www.langwidge.com/llt/not_studying.mp3
  • by Slider451 (514881) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (154redils)> on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:21AM (#11253102)
    Today's Sim gaming experience brought to you by the number ocho.
  • by agraupe (769778) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:22AM (#11253109) Journal
    I'll admit that I am intrigued. This problem does suffer the flaw that, if it is played like normal, the player doesn't really need to know what is said, and will therefore probably ignore it. I believe the whole point of immersion is to make the person *need* to know it, and to provide an environment in which they can do so. If they can make it work, I'll pay for it. I'm going to wait and see how this develops.
    • This problem does suffer the flaw that, if it is played like normal, the player doesn't really need to know what is said, and will therefore probably ignore it. I believe the whole point of immersion is to make the person *need* to know it, and to provide an environment in which they can do so.

      I agree. The reason immersion motivates is that you have to communicate and you can't use the language you have. Are there games that are more dependant on actually being able to communicate? Fun games, that is
    • I also think it's a good idea because languages are learned best at an early age, to make children get a natural understanding of the language and culture behind it. And putting it in a game like The Sims will also put more focus on something like learning how to speak the language, which is actually being neglected at some schools. Reading and writing is another matter.

      It would really be intriguing to be able to actually hear what the sims are saying and understand it, but I think it'll become boring lis

  • Grammar? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OECD (639690) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:23AM (#11253111) Journal
    Have computers gotten better at analyzing grammar? I remember this being a bit of a sticking point, but that was ten years ago. If so, this sounds like an excellent idea.
    • Not that I know of. Now google should be able to do it. You can find out a lot about how a word is used, in which contexts, different spelling etc. by web searches, so why shouldn't computers?

      No, wait, it's probably already happened. Google labs made an AI, it went out of control, and now it makes cryptic posts on slashdot in between its sinister secret manipulations of world politics by means of keyword weighting.

      Ph34R th3 G00G!
  • when I was a kid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WormholeFiend (674934) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:23AM (#11253117)
    I unknowingly prepared myself to learn English by watching American cartoons.

    When they started teaching us English as a second language in primary school, I was way ahead of every other kid, and the English teacher got me to help out the other kids.
    • by pommiekiwifruit (570416) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:32AM (#11253179)

      Learn English from Beatles songs.
      Learn French from Asterix comics.
      Learn Italian from music scores.
      Learn Japanese from Arcade games.
      Learn German from pr0n videos.
    • Re:when I was a kid (Score:5, Informative)

      by pe1rxq (141710) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:40AM (#11253228) Homepage Journal
      I learned a lot from subtitled TV....
      Pretty much anything aimed not at children is subtitled in the Netherlands.
      Its great to have the original audio together with the translation.

      Another great way once you know the basics is watching the BBC with teletext page 888 on. (subtitles for the deaf) You also learn some spelling and sometimes its actually clearer than some guy talking with a terrible accent.

      Although re-synched can also be great if it is not your own language... I learned to understand german pretty well by watching an our of StarTrek each day.

      Jeroen
      • Yeah, but the problem is:

        As an English person in Britain, what am I supposed to do... when I'm planning on learning Dutch? (this is a serious question btw).

        I can't even download Dutch TV, since it's all subtitled!!

        On a totally irrelevant sidenote, you'd be amazed at how useful just a little familiarity with Dutch was to me today... we got an email from someone hoping to buy one of our domains from us. The someone in question was claiming to be the administrative contact of the .com variety of the domain
  • by FreshMeat-BWG (541411) <bengoodwyn@noSPam.me.com> on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:26AM (#11253131) Homepage
    Change your operating system's language to the language you are interested in learning. I did this on my Windows XP machine and changed it to Spanish. Since I knew just about what all of the buttons and messages normally say, I had enough context to begin figuring out what everything else meant.

    This probably wouldn't work too well with languages with different character sets where you couldn't even begin to guess how to pronounce the words, but English -> Spanish worked quite well.

  • It could work... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jmcmunn (307798) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:26AM (#11253132)

    But they would have to change the content of the Sims to make it useful. There's only so much I can do in a foreign country when all I can say is "take out the garbage", "Go to work", and "Eat some food". The game play would have to be changed to allow me to actually do something aside from mundane chores over, and over and over again.

    In theory, I think this could work. Remember the Speak and Spell from back in the 80's? I had one, and loved playing with it and making it say bad words (when my mom wasn't watching) while I was doing the exercises that came with the thing. Foreign language video games seems a logical progression from the days of old.
  • by jcostantino (585892) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:27AM (#11253138) Homepage
    So were all of the people who downloaded early release copies of Halo 2 in French actually learning instead of just stealing? Sacre blu!!
    • Apparently you didn't learn much. It is "Sacre bleu". (should be an accent mark over the e in sacre but I can't be bothered)
      • The text below the comment box should be changed to:

        (Use the Preview Button! Check those URLs! Have someone proofread your work because some internet pedant will surely point out a spelling mistake!)

  • by nekosej (302666) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:31AM (#11253164)
    In small European countries which don't benefit from having games translated into the local language, the children play them in English, and as a result, pick up quite a bit of written language. I've seen this in the Czech Republic, and found it amazing that a ten year old could understand so much. That said, it does little for spoken language.
    • by NardofDoom (821951) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:36AM (#11253202)
      I spent a week living with a family in Denmark. All three of their kids knew enough english to have a conversation with me. Even the five year-old who was taught english in pre-school and exposed to English-language movies, TV shows and books.

      The 10 and 13 year-olds could also speak German and French. Needless to say I felt like a stupid/ethnocentric American the whole week.

      • Basically, middle-class Europeans speak at least English and, depending on the country, one more language. It is definitely a new phenomenon, I remember being amazed as a kid at people speaking English AND French, nowadays no eyebrow is raised at, for example, my speaking fluent Greek, English, Portuguese and French...
      • The 10 and 13 year-olds could also speak German and French. Needless to say I felt like a stupid/ethnocentric American the whole week.

        In large parts of America, children speak both English and Spanish. It's learned/taught as a matter of necessity, not luxury... the same as in Europe.

      • by Naikrovek (667) <jjohnson@nospam.psg.com> on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @11:47AM (#11253833)
        that's because, compared to many other countries, we ARE stupid and ethnocentric.

        I told a colleague at work that I was planning on learning French. He ERUPTED at me and told me how useless anything French was... He hates France because they wouldn't help us in Iraq. They wouldn't help because they had a pretty good feeling that there weren't any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they turned out to be right. Apparently being correct is good reason to hate a country... I don't see the logic but oh well.

        Reminds me of the book of Jeremiah in the bible. Jeremiah was a prophet, he told people what was coming, they didn't listen, and when he turned out to be correct, they killed him. I guess people hate the phrase "I told ya so."
        • French can be Useful (Score:3, Interesting)

          by SeanDuggan (732224)
          I told a colleague at work that I was planning on learning French. He ERUPTED at me and told me how useless anything French was...
          While the number of people speaking French as a primary language aren't really all that huge, I understand that the number of people speaking French as a second language is second only to those speaking English as a second language. If this is true (I've had it quoted at me a few times, but I've never found a cite), I suspect it's a lingering effect from the days when French wa
        • Hey, I have an idea. Let's slam America! All the cool kids are doing it.

          I speak Spanish, French, Portuguese and Japanese. Without a doubt, French is the least useful second language I know.

          What's the likelihood of someone who doesn't speak your language knowing French but NOT English? Except in some parts of Africa or Haiti - pretty low. And I can't understand Haitian creole anyway.

          Now, if you speak French to actual French people, they'll appreciate it, even if they do speak English.

          Oh, and there's a re
      • Warning: US centric post

        Part of the problem is the fact that we teach foreign languages too late in the education cycle -- high school and junior high. If we really want to teach children to be multilingual, we need to start in the elementary years when their minds are more adept at learning language. By the time kids are in high school, this learning advantage is gone, and they have to learn languages the hard way.

        Once you learn one other language, it becomes much easier to pick up additional languages

    • When I was growing up, most of my English vocabulary came from Civilopedia.
    • My native language is not English. I have fond memories of being around 10 years old, playing King's Quest, picking up the needed phrases slowly and having a lot of fun along the way. Then along came a host of other Sierra games, which were also bundles of fun. The magic kind of went away for me, though, when they abandoned the venerable graphics/text-adventure hybrid interface in favor of a point-and-click one.

      I like to think that being hooked on these games at such an early age provided a good starting p

  • I've heard a lot of people say that the pseudo language in The Sims sounds a lot like Portugese. Is that right in any respect?
  • by Progman3K (515744) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:35AM (#11253200)
    I already know all the 'leet-speak I'm interested in.
  • IMHO, currently people are relying on computer technology for their learnings and entertainment too much. As for learning a foreign language, isn't going to that country and talking to the 3-dimentional people the best way to learn? I know some people would maintain that not everyone has the opportunity to travel, but my point is that people shouldn't automatically resort to computers when it comes to learning and entertainment. There are other better options.
  • by Anarrin (834398) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:42AM (#11253244)

    I don't think the Sims could provide a sufficient language portion that would allow anyone to get by. Most Sims events occur within the house, when any foreign language use would be required mostly outside of it in public places, which the Sims wouldn't cover.

    In addition to that, the Sims would not really provide any kind of advancement since the progression in the storyline does not imply progression in the complexity of the language. As a result the gamer would dive right into the same language level as he will be playing from that point on. Language is difficult to learn when there is no sense of accomplishment and progression which can't exist in a paceless learning.

    Lastly, the Sims is quite an addictive game (speaking from experience) and encouraging that from an educational standpoint is kind of like encouraging smoking because its cool while disregarding its health implications (a slight exageration but you get the point).

    • What you (and everyone else who posted the same thing) don't seem to grasp is that the author doesn't claim that The Sims is a magic bullet for language learning. Rather, he explictly states that he used it in conjunction with several other fun ways to integrate language learning into everyday life -- things like his random vocabulary browser "throbber," and loading a Pimsleur course onto his cell phone.

      And all of this was to supplement -- not replace -- classroom learning. The Sims was intended to rein

    • As a teaching tool to break up the monotony of textbooks and recorded audio, it sounds pretty good. A good teacher should give a sense of accomplishment and progression, not a computer program. The problem this addresses is how to practice language skills, in which case repetition and consistancy is a feature, not a bug.
    • It could also be a tool for maintenance of skills in a language. Proficiency deteriorates with disuse. I noticed it with both my German and Chinese skills.
  • by justinstreufert (459931) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @10:52AM (#11253318) Homepage
    I'm trying to learn Japanese, and I'm doing something similar to what this guy describes in the second half of the article. After learning the kana (Japan's phonetic "alphabets"), I switched my iPod into Japanese.

    Of course I can get around most menus without reading at all, since I knew where everything was by heart. However if I go into Browse or Settings, I have to translate. :) Unfortunately it doesn't give me much more than phonetic reading practice, since most of the words used on the iPod are actually on loan from English. Example: "purei-risuto" (Japanese fudges out the U's, making it sort of "pray-rist"). HMM, I wonder what that could possibly be....

    Setting my computer's main language to Japanese could be next... but I think that will be a way bigger challenge.

    Indicentally, I am also using the Pimsleur course this guy recommends. I'm on level 1 lesson 21, and so far it has been great. My friends' eyes bug out when I start speaking Japanese to them. Now if only I had some Japanese friends to practice on...:P

    Justin
    • Indicentally, I am also using the Pimsleur course this guy recommends. I'm on level 1 lesson 21, and so far it has been great.

      Pimsleur is the best!

      I studied conversational Russian 5 years ago before making 2 trips to the Former Soviet Union (Moscow-1999, Kiev-2000).

      I was by no means fluent, but was able to function for weeks on my own, with the help of a good English/Russian dictionary...

    • Of course, if you have an iPod, you could just buy iLingo which is a portable phrase book for the iPod. It gives many phrases and apparantly will speak them for you as well.

      My wife bought an iPod purely because of this application!
  • First, and most important, the only way to learn to speak a foreign language is by speaking it with a speaker who is more proficient than you are. So really if a Sims game were used in this fashion, it is teaching reading and nothing else; that's a good goal in itself, but don't pretend it's the same as "learning a foreign language." The authors themselves discuss using the game primarily as vocabulary acquisition. It's really just a tool in language learning. They mention speech recognition but in the end
  • by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Tuesday January 04, 2005 @11:08AM (#11253427)

    While this "concept" might be new to alot of Americans, alot of Europeans, Asians and whoever have used this to aqcuire English and maybe another language.

    For instance, every child in Belgium is accostumed to read subtitles with some cartoons. (lately it seems they started dubbing cartoons for the younger children though. I remember being 8 watching He-man or Ji-Joe with subs.) Cause we don't "dub" (I personally find it really annoying in German dubbed movies, it just doesn't feel right.) And think about all the "imported" series, games, movies, and what not. They are all subtitled or even aren't (games and such). So teens overhere have a very good understanding about English (unless they are just into RAP and R&B music :P) cause they pick it up while being entertained.

    My German knowledge mostly came from watching German childrens programs, and later German books or even comics as well.

    I think it's super to be educated while playing, without ruining the fun of the game; Pick something up while you're entertaining yourself, it's not like you were going to pick up a book and study a language instead. But it seems supercool to go into a foreign country, and notice you actually understand some things and eventually will be able to communicate in a language not your own, as a result of playing a game you like which was going to be "dead time" anyhow.

    They could expand this further, beyond just "language".

    • > For instance, every child in Belgium is
      > accostumed to read subtitles with some cartoons.

      What's proposed in the article is a little different in that it's not just playing the game in the other language, but creating a hybrid of both languages with each chosen for specific areas of the game (following incidental learning guidelines created for annotating reading passages). That being said, the success of foreign language learning via popular culture in Europe versus the horrible failiure of U.S. fo
    • With the coming of dvd's, this trick for learning a language now also is available for anyone who likes. Play your favorite movie, choose language that you want to learn and choose the subtitles you need (at first I use subtitles my own language, after that in the language I am trying to learn, to improve spelling).
  • They already tried it before:

    "All your base are belong to us"

    Based on that, I don't think it worked very well.
  • He's got a throbber replacement [langwidge.com] to display flash cards while you surf. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to make a toolbar double height in Firefox.
  • I'm trying to learn Spanish at the old age of 42. Its incredibly hard as I realized lately I lost alot of brain cells when I was in my 20's. I'm using "Total Immersion Spanish" right now, and I am making glacial progress.
  • i wonder what it is they're normally speaking, because i learned a lot of that, whatever it is-

    zuma zumma su sah?
    munna munna zu zah?
    sa sa mananu zah!
    ha ha ha ha ha!


    unfortunately, i have a speech impediment- i haven't been able to summon little floaty bubbles with icons in them next to my head...
  • ...but the real question is can it teach me to understand this headline [slashdot.org]?
  • Let's get real. If this worked, my girlfriend would be speaking fluent simlish. As it is, she only knows enough to say "My crayon is large and red."

  • I recently came across this article [kuro5hin.org] at Kuro5hin about a guy (the author) that took to learning to read, write, and speak French fluently in one year. The author has a background in computer programming, and so his perspectives are probably easy to understand for a lot of Slashdot readers. While there's a good deal of the article that focuses on French in particular, a lot of his techniques can be applied to any language. I'd like to use them to learn Spanish, myself. I recommend this read if you're inte
  • These kinds of activities have been part of multimedia language courses for a long time. Some commercial computer-based language courses even include speech recognition and give you feedback.

    However, while language learning by interacting in a game world may be more fun and keep students more motivated, it is unproven that it is actually faster than structured exercises. In fact, experience with existing language learning techniques suggests that it may well take more time to learn a language through int
  • Anyone can understand English so long as you speak loudly and slowly enough. Time and time again, American tourists have proven this the world over.

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