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I speak four languages — here’s how video games helped me do it

GROWING up, I always wanted to learn another language. But coming from a low income household in the UK, that wasn’t an easy task.

Neither of my parents graduated high school, let alone went to University, and speaking other languages was far from their to-do list.


Many games from Japan never make it to the West.Credit: Possessed Photography via Unsplash

We didn’t have the money for fancy holidays abroad, and there wasn’t enough to invest in language classes.

Before free apps like Duolingo and Memrise were a thing, and the internet was only just becoming popular, there wasn’t much in the way of self-study.

Today, I speak four languages fluently. Aside from my native English, I can speak and read German, Japanese and French.

One of the key factors in my success with languages was video games. This is how they could help you too.

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There is a myth that learning languages young is the only way to go, or that some people are just naturally talented.

I started learning my first foreign language, German, in high school, like most British children, and I found it extremely difficult.

The words just wouldn’t stick, and the grammar was certainly beyond me. 

My scores in school weren’t impressive, and German was usually my lowest mark.

However, I loved video games from a young age and always tried to play as much as I could, whenever possible.

Germany was and still is a gaming hot spot, with thousands of people heavily invested in games.

On school trips I would purchase games, and even though they were in German, I would try my hardest to play them.

Many online walkthroughs for games had been written by keen German players, and I struggled through them fueled by my desire to play.

The turning point for German came when I met a German guy online playing games who would later become my boyfriend.

The relationship didn’t last, but the six months of practice speaking, reading, writing to him in German on a daily basis was certainly a boost to my skills.

I studied German at University, and afterwards set my sights on moving abroad to learn another language.

In the end, I decided to live in Japan. I had never even travelled to Asia before, and Japan is the world’s biggest producer of video games.

Nintendo and Sony both come from Japan, and many games made there never make their way to the West.

While I picked up how to speak Japanese during my day to day life, reading and writing the literal thousands of Japanese characters, called ‘kanji’, seemed impossible.

I love Pokémon, and children’s games in Japan are written in simple Japanese using easy words and sentences.

Learning to read Japanese, I began playing the Pokémon games I knew and loved, understanding the story mostly because I’d played them so many times before.

As my confidence grew, I decided to play more difficult games, and eventually signed up to take the Japanese fluency exam.

Looking at the paper, I knew I would need a lot of work on my reading skills, and began playing a visual novel, Digimon Cyber Sleuth Hacker’s Memory, in my spare time.

While I didn’t understand all the words, the most common ones started to stick, and I passed the reading section of the notoriously tough exam with perfect marks.

Even while in Japan, I was heavily engaged in the gaming community, and used to create fan translations of games that came out for my friends back home.

Eventually, I moved back to the UK, and I began working in games.

Both my German and Japanese skills were highly-regarded in the industry, as I could grab and translate news stories from these countries myself.

As not many people in the UK are bilingual, I could often get gaming news from these two popular gaming industries first.

However, there was still one more language that felt essential to those wanting to know everything about gaming: French.

Canada – and more precisely its French region, Québec – is home to a number of key game developers.

Companies like Ubisoft come from here, and many of their exclusive interviews are held entirely in French.

Not only this, but France also has its own growing industry, including companies like Quantic Dream.

As a fan of games like Heavy Rain, and Detroit: Become Human, I began reading about their director David Cage, in French.

I wanted to practice my skills and ended up writing a biography on him entirely in French using quotes he’d given in interviews.

Over time, I have read a lot of gaming articles in the language and slowly built up fluency by translating information from them.

Language learning is all about repetition and practice.

You are far more likely to keep using a language if you use it when taking part in something you love. For me, that is video games.

Whether you’re a gamer, movie buff, or even a celebrity fanatic, if you keep up with that hobby on a global scale, you will find yourself immersed in other languages.

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If you have never found success when trying to learn a language before, try looking for things connected to your favourite hobby.

You could end up fluent before you know it.

Written by Georgina Young on behalf of GLHF.

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