Monday, November 20, 2017

How to Learn Languages with Super Mario

Since I love both games and languages, I've often tried to bring the two together. When I was teaching English, I always ensured that my classes played as many games as possible. In this article, I'm going to talk about how games influenced how I planned my lessons and how Chinese poetry influenced these games.

Kishōtenketsu


Let's start with Kishōtenketsu. This is a type of narrative structure mainly used in Chinese poetry which includes four parts: Introduction (ki), development (shō), twist (ten), and conclusion (ketsu).

In the first part, you introduce the characters, setting, and any other important information. This information is developed in the second part without introducing any major changes. Something unexpected happens in the third part of the narrative before the conclusion wraps everything up with the ending or resolution to the story.

Super Mario 3D World


Super Mario 3D World | Nintendo

Kishōtenketsu's narrative structure was highly influential when it came to level design in Super Mario 3D Land, which was released in 2013 on the Wii U.

The game's director Koichi Hayashida stated how he'd used Kishōtenketsu to influence how levels were designed in the game. Every time a level included something a player had never seen before, they'd need to learn how the mechanic worked. However, Hayashida didn't want to explicitly tell the player what they needed to do with boring text boxes and tutorials, he wanted them to learn what to do. Games are supposed to be fun, after all.

In short, a level introduces a new mechanic to the player. The player then gets to play around with the mechanic in a risk-free environment. After all, you don't want to punish a player for doing something wrong when they don't yet know how to do it!

Once the player is familiar with the mechanic, they're given a chance to prove they understand it with a challenging twist before finally given a chance to reach the flag and generally show off their new skills.

If you'd like to see how this applied to the game, I'd recommend watching this video on it:


Language Lessons


When I heard this, I was inspired by the method they used to teach players and thought I could apply it to how I taught my classes. There were two main rules that I applied to the lessons based on this design philosophy: focus lessons on one concept and always follow the four steps.

The first rule ensures that students have a clear goal that they can be tested on at the end of the lesson. Never introduce multiple grammar points in a single lesson! You can still use grammar points and aspects from previous lessons, though.

The second rule means that students are introduced to a new concept, can then play around with it (without any risks), are tested on the concept, and then given an opportunity to show off what they've learnt before they go home.

Here's an example of how a lesson would go:

1: Introduction: Quickly establish what the focus of the lesson is going to be. While you can explicitly tell the students what it is, I preferred giving students an example and letting them identify the focus of the lesson themselves.

2: Development: This is when the students are given an activity to practice the new grammar point. I often enjoyed doing this with pair work where students are free to make mistakes in a safe environment and don't feel pressured about getting it wrong.

3: Twist: Now's the time to test the students. This doesn't mean that you actually have to give them a test, though. As I said earlier, I loved playing games in class which can be just as effective at challenging students to think about the objective as well as verifying whether or not they've assimilated the new knowledge.

4: Conclusion: As the class finished, things became more relaxed. This was our "flag" moment. I'd give the students opportunities to use what they'd learnt in the lesson just before they left the class. This was great because it would boost their confidence and have them leaving with the objective they'd just achieved fresh in their minds.

I guess all that time spent playing Mario wasn't completely wasted!

Monday, November 13, 2017

5 Reasons You Have to Learn French!

While I've never stopped loving the French language, a recent trip back to Paris has has made me somehow love the language even more. If you're thinking about learning to speak French, here are my 5 reasons why choosing to study French is a decision that you'll never regret.

1: It's a Beautiful Language


While this isn't the reason that French is known as a Romance language, it definitely should be! Searching for "the most beautiful languages in the world" will very show you pages and pages of results in which French tends to come out on top.

Furthermore, the French language is made to sound beautiful. When you ask French speakers why there are certain grammatical rules and exceptions, they'll often tell that it's because it would sound "ugly" otherwise. They're seemingly obsessed with ensuring that their language remains number one!

2: It's a Popular Language around the World


French is only the 18th most spoken language in terms of native speakers but it jumps up to 10th place when you account for total speakers. This means that by learning the language, you're opening up a whole world of francophones to speak to in Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

Additionally, there's a wealth of French-language cinema, music, and literature for every budding francophone to sink their teeth into. You'll never be bored on rainy days with French!

3: It's a Popular Official Language


While learning to speak the world's 10th most popular language mightn't appeal to you, you should never underestimate how widely French is actually spoken. French remains relevant in the modern age thanks to just how many groups and organisations with French as an official language. The French just love setting up clubs!

In addition international union organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, every sporting federation seems to have French as an official language. If their name begins with an "F" like FIFA (football), FIBA (basketball), FIA (motorsports), FIDE (chess), expect to see French as an official language!

If you decide to learn French, you'll be creating opportunities to work at so many different companies and organisations!

4: It's a Language that's Widely Taught


Since French is still one of the world's most popular second languages, there are classes almost  everywhere. In the UK, for example, it's still the most popular language at GCSE. However, fewer and fewer students are opting to study it. This means that if you're from the UK and you decide to learn French, you'll be joining an increasingly exclusive club!

Furthermore, there are French language resources almost everywhere! It's not hard to find websites and books for learning French and there are plenty of places where you can get classes, too!


5: It's an Important Language

While some people may disagree, there are plenty of indicators that the French language is still important and will remain to be for the foreseeable future. The British Council sees French at the 3rd most important language for Britain's future (after Spanish and Arabic). Learning French could do wonders for your career, too!

What do you think? Do you have any other reasons you should learn French or do you think there's another language we should be learning? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Our 5 Favourite Ways to Learn Languages Outside of the Classroom

Lessons can be a great way to learn a language. However, if you're like me, you may struggle in traditional learning environments such as a classroom. This doesn't mean that you should just give up on learning a language altogether. There are plenty of ways to learn a language outside of a traditional classroom environment and in this article we'll have a look at a few of our favourite methods.

1: Self-Study


Even if you struggle to learn in a classroom, you can still use all of the resources you'd find in one. You could always sit down with a grammar guide and go over the rules of your new language without the pressure or stress some students can feel when surrounded by other students. You might respond better to using the resources in the comfort of your own home or in a cafe you like.

2: Apps, Websites, and Games


If you're looking for a different way to learn languages, apps, websites, and games are an interesting approach. While it's unlikely that you'll become fluent just by using these types of resources, they can be useful for learning the basics and gaining enough language skills to start conversing with real people.

3: Language Exchanges


Language exchanges are when two people that speak different languages meet up to help each other learn a foreign language. A native English speaker who'd like to learn French could meet up with a native French speaker who wants to learn English, for example.

You can go for lunch, a coffee, or even a beer (if you're old enough!) and spend half your time speaking the language you want to learn and the other half speaking the language your partner wants to learn.

4: Private Tuition


You can hire a private language tutor to help you learn a new language. There are many students who struggle while learning in a normal classroom alongside other students but excel when given one-on-one tuition.

You're much less likely to feel silly asking a question when you're the only student in the class. A private tutor can also customise every lesson to your needs and will work with your strengths and weaknesses in order to get the most out of your potential.

5: Immersion


Our final and favourite method for learning a language is probably the most obvious one. If you're constantly surrounded by people speaking the language you want to learn, you'll inevitably pick it up. Rather than studying for a few hours a week in a classroom, you can turn every minute of every day into an opportunity to improve your language skills.

Do you have any suggestions for learning a language outside of the classroom? We'd love to hear them! Tell us your favourite methods in the comments below!