Try as I might, every time I’ve attempted to learn another language, nothing quite sticks more than a few hours. Perhaps today’s release of Lingotopia, formerly featured at Rezzed’s Leftfield Collection will give me a foot up with its more pragmatic, problem-solving approach to language. Lost in a strange and mostly-abstract land knowing none of the language (Mandarin, French, German, Japanese, Russian & Spanish are available), you learn random vocabulary from the town’s inhabitants, while being quizzed on what words in larger sentences could mean.
While I’m likely to hit a brick wall eventually, my few minutes with Lingotopia so far have taught me that I remember more Japanese vocabulary than I thought – probably the result of years of subtitled anime. While Lingotopia makes no attempt to teach grammar and sentence structure, it does teach language as a lost traveller might pick it up – through fumbling your way through conversations, largely based on context. You’re constantly quizzed to fill your dictionary, with some questions using pictograms as hints to type in an answer, while others are multiple-choice.
The key languages of Lingotopia (including English) are all fully voiced and available in both romanised or native script. There are also partial community translations of a great many other languages, including Norwegian, Romanian, Vietnamese and Danish. It works both ways, too, partially. You can set your native language to any of the main seven, and choose to learn English. I’d love to hear from a non-native English speaker for their opinion on how well it works in ‘reverse’.
The interface of the game is a little clumsy (especially navigating the world), and the abstract nature of the environment sometimes makes it unclear what’s scenery and what’s a person to talk to, but I’m intrigued by Lingotopia’s structure. Flawed as it may be, and as poor a judge of an educational tool’s worth as I am, in the little bit I’ve played of it so far Lingotopia made me feel oddly capable of learning a new language.