Tag Archives: Reading

Finding Online Games for Foreign Language Learning

Any Google search shows that there is a plethora of online games out there, all the way from sophisticated Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) to very basic games like concentration. Many of these games are not primarily intended for education. If teachers plan and implement them carefully though, these games can motivate students and help them learn perhaps without even realizing it.

One area within education that is growing in scholarship about the use of games is foreign language education. There is still much to be done in this area, but there are a range of initiatives and projects to analyze games for their educational potential and place them into curriculum. One example is the Games2Teach project at the University of Arizona, which is a project of UA’s Title VI Language Resource Center, the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language, and Literacy (CERCLL). This site analyzes a number of games and is highly recommended.

This blog post will examine a few different online games that are available in languages in addition to English. The list of such games is too long to do justice to here, but I will focus on games that are available in Hebrew or other Less Commonly Taught Languages. Here are a few:

1. eRepublik

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ERepublik is currently available in 30 languages, including Hebrew. In this MMOG, you can do a number of things: Fight battles against other countries to protect your country or expand its borders, build a company and control economics, run within politics, and even run a newspaper. You do this by first choosing a country to live in. This game has some graphics, but it is largely text-based. Thus it can be helpful for developing reading, and domain-specific vocabulary for military, politics, business, etc. You can also chat with fellow players, which can give you encounters with native speakers. This game is free.

2. Planetarium Football Star

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Planetarium Football Star is another MMOG based around football, or soccer. This game is available in Hebrew and 34 other languages, and allows players to join clubs, set up training regimes, interview, and shop, among other things. You can also become a sports manager, reporter or sports agent.; in addition, you can chat with your teammates. Thus his site can provide some good sports vocabulary for a sport that is huge throughout the world. This game is also free, and text-based.

3. Travian

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Travian is a strategy MMOG that is situated within classical times, and emphasizes resource development and militarism. The game itself has been compared to Settlers of Catan in many respects, and may be too complicated for the casual gamer. It is available in over 40 languages (including Hebrew, of course) and is text-based with a lot of graphics. The basic version of the game is free, although it seems like gameplay is a bit hampered without paying for coins.

These are only a few of the many games available online in several languages. In the future I plan on creating a web page with a list of links to these games, so that people can choose a game that matches their interests if they so desire.

There are also several basic games that you can find in other languages. Although these games have little to them and usually have no narration, they are good for reading and vocabulary acquisition. Here are a few sites with such games in Hebrew: http://fun.walla.co.il/?w=/2278, http://games.yo-yoo.co.il/?cat=22, http://www.games4play.co.il/, http://www.la-am.com/Heb/hebrew_games.shtml, and http://www.gmx.co.il/games/tag/515.html, to name a few.

One of the best ways to find online games available in a certain language is to perform a Google Search within the relevant country and target language domain. For example, here is a Google search for online games in Hebrew within the Israel domain of Google. Some of these results will take you to games in English with merely the titles translated, but if you take the time to search through the results you can find a number of useful games. Do you have experience with other online games that are useful for language learning, or happen to know of any with narration in the target language?


Creating Foreign Language Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Stories

Gamebooks, sometimes informally called Choose You Own Adventure (CYOA) stories due to the popular series, allow readers to interact with stories by letting them guide the storyline through their choices. For example, you could be reading about an alien who is getting away onto his spaceship. From here, you could decide to either pursue the alien or let him escape. Either choice has its own set of consequences, and can alter the rest of the story line.

These stories are often considered motivating, and can lead readers to read a story multiple times to explore different possible storylines and endings. Traditionally, writing these stories and printing them could be complicated; luckily, several web tools have made this process a lot easier. Some of these tools include ChooseYourStory, CYOCYOA, inklewriter, and Twine. Each of these tools has its own pros and cons.

One idea for language learning is to design gamebooks in your students’ target language. There could be several reasons for this, such as to teach targeted vocabulary, illustrate culture, promote extensive reading, etc. If you chose to, you could follow up with students to make sure they completed the story by having them give a summary of it. You could also have them read the story again while making different choices, and then report the impact that their choices had on the outcome. Just as an example regarding culture, you could have a story about meeting natives from the target country. In one main version of the story, the student could be rude or less than sensitive to the natives; in the other version the student could be understanding and interculturally competent. These two main storylines could then be used to illustrate the effects of your actions during study abroad.

The remainder of this blog post will explore the web tool Twine a little more in depth. This tool can be downloaded onto Mac or PC computers, and presents a very straightforward interface for designing gamebooks.

Here is a screenshot of Twine, during the story-making process:

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As you can see, you can enter the story that you want within boxes, and create links within the boxes to sequential boxes. Arrows let you know where the story is going, and if you have any broken links. Specific instructions about using Twine can be found in the Twine and Twee site documentation, or the blog here is also helpful.

I created an html file out of this Twine CYOA story, which you can read here to see how everything comes together.

Also, note that if you are creating a story using Twine for a right-to-left language such as Hebrew or Arabic, you can use html tags within the story to view these scripts properly (ex.<code><HTML><p DIR=”RTL” align=”right”>האיש ההוא!!!</p></HTML></code>, leaving out the code tags)

This tool can be very easy at a certain level, but complicated on another level, so definitely look up additional helps if needed. As you may have guessed, you can also use Twine to create games if you have the technical know-how. Let me know if you have any comments or questions!

Displaying Foreign Language Songs and Lyrics Together

One possible way to learn more of a foreign language or culture is to listen to songs in that target language. Some language teachers play songs in classrooms with accompanying lyrics; this is also a great idea for personal language study. This blog post will present one tool for setting lyrics to display with music, for those who use iTunes. This tool, called Cover Version, is a plug-in for iTunes that can display song lyrics during song play using the iTunes visualizer. Here is a screenshot of the tool in action (you can click on the image to enlarge it):

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This is a song in Hebrew that I own in iTunes, and this tool allows me to play the song and view the lyrics simultaneously (note that this picture is customized to my settings—you can also display the cover art with the lyrics, change the font, etc). I will go over the steps required to use this plug-in:

  1. If you do not already have iTunes and are interested in downloading it, you can get it for free at http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/. Make sure you specify whether you want iTunes for Mac or Windows by clicking ‘Get iTunes for Macintosh/Windows’.
  2. Go to the web site for the plug-in Cover Version to download it, at http://www.imagomat.de/coverversion/. There are instructions for downloading it on both Windows and Mac. In addition, you will get a ‘ReadMe’ file with the download that contains the same instructions. You can check to make sure the download worked by opening iTunes and going to View > Visualizer, and making sure Cover Version shows up as one of the options.
  3. With Cover Version downloaded, you now just need to add lyrics to songs on iTunes. This can be time consuming if you have a lot of songs to add lyrics to, but it is worth it since the lyrics will always display with these songs. There are many online sites to find lyrics. As an example, I will go to the site http://shironet.mako.co.il/, which is probably the best site for lyrics in Hebrew. On this site I can look up the song from the screenshot above, “ממעמקים”. This song shows up as the first result, and I can open the song and copy the lyrics.
  4. Now that the lyrics are copied, open up iTunes and select the song corresponding to the lyrics you just copied. You can open up the info for this track by right clicking the song and choosing “Get Info”, or going to File > Get Info. In the dialogue box that opens, choose “Lyrics” from the menu bar at the top. Finally, paste the song lyrics into the “Lyrics” text field. You will then end up with something like this:

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Now just hit “OK” to add the lyrics, and that is it! Now whenever you play this song, you can open the visualizer by either going to View > Show Visualizer or using a shortcut on your keyboard (command + T for Mac, or control + T for PC). Remember that you can change the preferences for how these lyrics are displayed in the visualizer. Instructions on changing these preferences can be found on the Cover Version download site.

This is just one way to display lyrics during song play, so that they are easily viewable from your computer or an overhead projector. Do you know of any other such tools, perhaps with different strengths? Do you know of any such tools with karaoke-like functionality? If so, comment below!