Native English speakers Scott Young and Vat Jaiswal did something fearless, uncomfortable, and insane. They did something you or I would probably never do, but their crazy stunt paid off.
But first, a little background.
Some time before their crazy experiment, Scott lived in France for a year, and for the entire year, he studied French. By the end of his time of his time in France, Scott could hold a conversation in French. Not bad. Nothing ground-breaking, but it’s an accomplishment. This, however, was nothing compared to what he would do with his friend, Vat.
The Insane Experiment
The insane experiment happened when Scott and Vat moved to Spain for 3 months, then to Brazil for 3 months, then to China for 3 months, and then to Korea for 3 months. Even though it took Scott a year to learn one language, the two of them were determined to learn 4 new languages in one year, and that’s exactly what they did. They decided early on that they would follow one rule: No English. They were allowed to read English to look up translations, but they resolved not to speak any English to each other or anyone else.
Why It Worked
They approached the task with the right attitude: accepting the fact that they might look dumb at first. They got used to making mistakes. They powered through the awkward early stages of language learning, but soon awkward moments gave way to a rewarding experience.
As beginners, the “no English” rule forced them to repeat the few basic vocabulary words they knew over and over. This process is called “overlearning”, and it enables you to retrieve memories or knowledge reflexively, without thinking.
The “no English” rule also took away a crutch. The brain naturally remembers important information and it naturally forgets irrelevant information (with two obvious exceptions: old movie quotes and songs you hate). This is why people don’t remember phone numbers that are stored in their cell phone. It is also why if you use GPS, you will not learn your way around town. If you know that you can fall back on a crutch, you will not learn to walk without one. If Scott and Vat had been allowed speak English, then learning a new language would not have been very important.
Scott says using the “no English” rule for three months was more effective than traditional studying for a whole year. I find this very easy to believe.
They explain their experience in greater detail in their TEDx talk.*
How This Relates to Stranded on Babel
You may not be able to take the time to travel the world, as they did, but the learning principles are still relevant to anyone trying to master another language, and they are especially relevant to us, the employees of WordUp, as we integrate these principles into the game design of Stranded on Babel.
As Scott and Vat explained, it is important that language learners are allowed to make mistakes. In Stranded on Babel, the gameplay is mostly conversational and light-hearted. It is not a cutthroat competition. Players will have a list of friends. They will know their friends’ personality types and language proficiency levels. They will not be strangers. We plan to foster a safe community of gamers who understand each other and allow each other to make mistakes.
The gameplay of Stranded on Babel will encourage overlearning by including open-ended questions. This forces you to construct sentences, so you will use the commonest words repeatedly. Most of the existing language games tend to be like flashcards, where you try to learn as many different words as you can, but do not learn to speak smoothly.
We also take away the option of speaking in one’s native tongue. Our video chat feature will utilize lingua franca pairing. This means that players of different native languages will be connected to practice the same target language. For example, an Italian might be paired with a Brazilian so they can speak to each other in English. This ensures that players will focus on their target language, without relying on a crutch.
In the end, you might not be able to have the amazing experience that Vat and Scott had, but if you want to learn a language on your computer, we might be able to help you 🙂
-Trevor Clive, Creative Director
*For any video longer than 10 minutes, I like to click the cog wheel at the bottom right of the video frame, then click “speed”, then click “2”. They are both quite articulate, so you can still understand them at 2x speed.