Learning Languages with Video Games!

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One of the first things I do when I start playing a game is to check the language options. I am genuinely curious how many languages developers/publishers chose to localize to, as well as which languages. (I also love testing my language skills by playing games in other languages, usually French, Spanish, or Swedish when available.)

It is usually difficult to find ample language options in games, particularly for voiceover.

Acquiring New Language Skills

Even though I haven’t studied Portuguese, I played WoW on a Portuguese server for a while and ended up picking up a fair number of words by questing with others. I typed to them in Spanish (using my rather limited Spanish language knowledge at the time), and they typed back in Portuguese. Although some words are similar, Spanish and Portuguese are very much two separate languages.

It actually didn’t take long before I was able to use some Portuguese words while playing WoW. It was a whole different way of experiencing the game, and a whole lot of fun!

How to Change the Language

It can be surprisingly tricky to find the language options for different games. In your Steam library, you may have to right click the game in your library and then select a language option, rather than being able to change the language in-game.

Even for consoles, it is possible (for some games) that you will need to turn your console’s language into the language you want to play the game in, as a select number of games don’t have a language menu option available. 

Before we move onto our list of games that are good to learn from, I want to take the time to cover UI/menus and why it can be complicated for even intermediate language learners to understand games that automatically change menu languages as well.

Complex vs. Simple Menus

Pillars of Eternity      vs.      Broken Age

In the majority of games, changing subtitle options also changes the menu text. This can make it particularly challenging to play a game in a language you aren’t already familiar with.

…And I don’t mean you’re familiar with words commonly used in modern day France or Germany

…I mean that, in order to understand most game menus, you need to understand genre and game-specific words.

This may include words like:

  • “Screen resolution,” “magic system,” “poison status,” “durability,” and “weapon repair kit”

…plus detailed descriptions of items, such as:

  • “Used for repairing steel and iron weapons”

  • “Increases relationship points with peasants and farmhands.”

This is a particular challenge in playing RPGs in other languages, especially in games where pop ups are frequent and in-game menus are extensive. It can be extremely challenging to navigate when you don’t have advanced language knowledge (or very specific vocab!).

Let’s dive into the list of games that are good to play in other languages!

5 Games to Increase Your Language Skills!

1. Broken Age

Double Fine

Subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian

Voiceovers: German

Good for the following skill levels: Intermediate and higher

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • Dialogue selections don’t impact gameplay.

You have time to read each dialogue option carefully (if you wish), and after you select an option, the character repeats the selected option in English. It is an excellent way to test your language skills and learn new words!

Plus, dialogue selections don’t impact gameplay, so (as far as we’ve seen), you won’t unintentionally select an option you didn’t mean to choose.

  • Limited in-game UI.

Since the inventory menu is image-based in Broken Age, the only menu you might have to read is the option menu, with languages and the ability to save and exit the game. This requires relatively minimal language knowledge. As long as you know the word for “Subtitles,” you can easily navigate back to the English option and change any settings before continuing on with the game.

My experience playing Broken Age in other languages:

This is a game I now thoroughly enjoy playing in French because I am able to practice my comprehension and learn new vocab. Because the game has such limited UI, I am still able to enjoy the game without being a complete master in French.

I could see where it wouldn’t be as enjoyable to play with only basic knowledge of a language, but for increasing intermediate language skills, it’s a great learning tool!

Although German isn’t one of the languages I’ve studied, I gave the voiceovers a shot. If you wanted to level up your German language skills, the voiceover option is a fantastic way! You can change the voiceover and subtitle language separately, so you can have spoken German and German subtitles, English subtitles, or any other subtitle language option.

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  2. Alan Wake

Remedy Entertainment 

Subtitles: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese (traditional), Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian

Voiceovers: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese

Good for the following skill levels: Intermediate and higher

 

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • It is possible to enjoy Alan Wake with intermediate-advanced language skills.

Even if you play with voiceovers in another language, the storyline and dialogue is relatively easier to understand than in most other games with voiceovers.

It isn’t an overly complicated storyline to follow if you don’t understand a cutscene entirely, (and if you want to understand a cutscene more completely, you can look it up on YouTube to catch what you missed). As always, it helps if you have some familiarity with the storyline already (i.e. this is your second playthrough).

You’ll notice that further down in this list, I marked another game with voiceovers as more appropriate for advanced language learners – Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This is because Deus Ex has a lot more happening at once story-wise than Alan Wake (due to multiple storylines, background dialogue from NPCs, more intense reading comprehension, in addition to complicated UI/menus).

Have a different opinion about Alan Wake and Deus Ex in other languages? Leave a comment below, or tweet us @LAIGlobalGame!

What makes this game complicated to play in other languages?

  • As with many other games, all in-game instructions are in the target language.

You may have to double check key mappings if you aren’t familiar with how to play the game. Since it had been a while since I played Alan Wake, I had to look up what the key “maj” was in French. (It turns out “maj” is sometimes used for “Shift.”)

My experience playing Alan Wake in other languages:

This is a game I can see myself playing multiple times in different languages in languages where I have intermediate comprehension. My knowledge in Japanese isn’t high enough yet to enjoy the voiceovers with the subtitles (since the voiceovers and subtitles seem to be a package deal), but it is enjoyable to play in languages where I do have intermediate language knowledge.

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3. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

The Chinese Room 

Subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese (Iberian and Brazilian), Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, Russian

Voiceovers: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Russian

Good for the following skill levels: Intermediate and higher

If you think it’s rare to find games with voiceover language options, it’s extremely rare to find an indie game with voiceover options, and the voiceovers in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are done extremely well!

I tweeted The Chinese Room about it, and they credited their publisher, Sony, with providing language options for players:

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • You can change the voiceover and subtitle options separately, plus it uses an icon-based UI system!

I ended up trying voiceovers in French and subtitles in Swedish (German subtitles shown in the below image). What I didn’t catch in one language, I was able to pick up from the other. The UI is limited (and in-game posters, etc. are still in English), so you can understand the full game by changing either the voiceovers or subtitles to a different language and retaining the other in English. 

This is a game I could see myself going back to simply for the language learning value!

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4. The Last of Us Remastered

Naughty Dog

Subtitles (European game version): French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, Greek, Turkish

Voiceovers (European game version): French, Italian, German, Spanish

Good for the following skill levels: Any

 What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • You don’t need to be a language wizard to enjoy this game.

This is one of the only games I’ve seen so far where players can separately change subtitle language, menu language, AND voiceover language. Major props to Naughty Dog for allowing users to change each of these language options separately!

What makes this game complicated to play in other languages?

If you decide to play through the game with all text in the target language, it can be challenging to say the least.

There are a lot of letters scattered throughout the game, and they can be rather long and dense (filled with words beyond a regular language learner’s intermediate vocab), but if you’re willing to spend a little extra time, it is a rewarding game to play in another language. (You can always switch the text back to English if needed, although it does take some time to restart the game.)

Before playing The Last of Us with Swedish subtitles, I had no idea how to say words like “infected” or “explosive,” but even made up words like “clicker” (“clickare” in Swedish) were easy to follow. A lot of the new vocab you pick up in games isn’t necessarily the most useful for everyday life, but you certainly learn a lot of useful vocab along the way too.

Crafting can also be complicated to understand the first time you see it in another language. I don’t think language teachers are likely to teach students words like blade, binding, rag, or explosive. Fortunately, the text for the crafting system is rather limited (and includes icons), so it doesn’t take too long to pick up.

My experience playing The Last of Us in other languages:

Since it’s harder to find games that include Scandinavian languages (the majority of Scandinavians prefer to play games in English), I thoroughly enjoy the fact that Naughty Dog offers both Uncharted and The Last of Us in Swedish (at least, in European versions of the games).

I don’t have the most advanced knowledge of Swedish, but I was able to get the gist of most in-game letters on my second playthrough of The Last of Us. Some, I could even read in their entirety. There were some though, where the words baffled me.

I asked a Swede why the word “dagar” (days) became “dar” in one of the letters (“dar” was a word I’d never seen or heard before). It turns out some of the text uses shortened versions of words people use only when speaking, not writing.

It’s a little like how people bunch words together in English when speaking. Instead of distinctly saying each word, “What do you want?” it can become “Whaddya want?” (A dictionary is unlikely to have spoken slang or shorthand (i.e. “whaddya”), so it can be an extra challenge as a second language learner.)

I had a lot of fun playing through The Last of Us again with Swedish subtitles. As I mentioned, the UI can be a major hurdle, but if you’re patient with a dictionary, have a bilingual friend to play with, or can find the same text online in English, it can be a great way to pick up new pieces of a language fast!

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Voiceover Options++

The following game will test your spoken language knowledge, as well as written. It can be rather difficult to find games that have a lot of voiceover options, as it is more common for games to have subtitle options only or limited voiceover options.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Eidos Montréal

Subtitles: French, Italian, German, Spanish

Voiceovers: French, Italian, German, Spanish

Good for the following skill levels: Advanced

UI note: If you change the game into a language you don’t know and try to get back to the menu option to change, it can be challenging to say the least. There are a couple layers of menus you need to go through to find the language selection option.

What makes this game good for learning languages?

  • This game will really test your knowledge!

As far as I can tell, there is no way to separate voiceover language from subtitle language. If you change the game into Italian, your Italian should be at a pretty advanced level already in order to fully appreciate Deus Ex.

That being said, it is less common to find games with localized voiceovers in so many languages. If you played through Deux Ex at least once already (so you are familiar with the story and won’t miss anything!) and have an intermediate skill level in French, Italian, German, or Spanish, you can really up your language skills by playing through it again in one of these languages.

My experience playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution in other languages:

I haven’t played Deus Ex all the way through in another language yet, but this is one game I plan on returning to multiple times to boost my language skills!

Thanks for Reading!

We’re a nearly 25 year old game localization and publishing company here at LAI Global Game Services, and we are passionate about giving gamers the option to enjoy video games in their own languages.

With people now playing games all over the world, it is becoming more commonplace to offer games in a variety of languages, and we are glad to be a part of helping to make games more accessible to a global audience!

Have a different opinion about playing these games in other languages or have other games to recommend? Leave a comment below, or tweet us @LAIGlobalGame!

All language option information (subtitles and voiceovers) gathered Fall 2016. Broken Age, Alan Wake, and Deus Ex were tested using Steam. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and The Last of Us Remastered were tested using the European PlayStation console versions.

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