Learning a language, one of the most important factors determining if we succeed or not is how much time we spend. Trying to accumulate as much time as possible, we run into several problems. We might have jobs, families and hobbies that take up our time, but even if we don’t, spending more than a few hours every day on diligent, focused studying is hard to keep up in the long run. What we need are ways to study which doesn’t really count as studying in the traditional sense of the word, but which yet allows us to get used to and improve our language skills. Computer games might not be strictly necessary for most people, but it’s still something many language learners spend quite a lot of time doing. This article is for you.
Assuming that you’re already spending a lot of time studying Chinese, there are still plenty of things you can do to learn more. Most people have large chunks of time where they could learn Chinese, but they don’t, either because they haven’t thought about it or because they don’t know how. Time quality (studying the right thing at the right time) is an essential concept here, and means that there are different types of time that can and should be used for different things. In short, you might not be able to practise speaking ability while working, but having Chinese music on might still be possible. I have written more about how to diversify you learning in this article.
Hobbies, like computer games and sports, are excellent ways of learning a language. These are things that people tend to do regardless, so why not take the opportunity to learn some Chinese along the way? Looking back at my childhood when I learnt English through playing computer games, as well as more recent attempts to learn Chinese the same way, I find five main advantages:
- It’s fun – I put this at the top because it’s the most important factor. Learning languages should be fun and this makes computer games an excellent way of learning. Naturally, the benefits will vary according to what kind of game we’re talking about, but reviewing vocabulary has never been this fun (some in-game words occur very frequently).
- It’s instrumental – When playing computer games in a foreign language, we don’t simply learn because we want to learn, we have another purpose: we want to beat the game (or our opponents). This means that we need to use the language to succeed and reach the next level, a great motivational boost.
- It’s social – Depending on what games you play (preferably some major game like Starcraft or Diablo), you will find that many native speakers are hugely interested in these games as well. This is an opportunity to interact with other people, not only while playing the game, but also elsewhere online and in real life.
- It’s interesting – Playing a game, we typically want to know more about it or how to improve our game play. Popular games like Starcraft and Diablo spawn thousands of websites dedicated to the games, some of which will be in Chinese. This gives you lots of reading material which you are truly interested in reading. Participating in online discussions might require a relatively advanced level, but reading is easier.
- It’s about more than gaming – Some people might wonder if it’s really useful to know how to say Dark Templar, Infestor, Demon Hunter or Witch Doctor in Chinese, but this question misses the point. These words might be commonly occurring in these games, but the language use is much richer than that. These are the words uninitiated people will notice, but the main bulk of language use is still fairly normal.
Blizzard is well-known for creating high-quality games and Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 are no exceptions, at least not if we look at how ambitious the company is. Starcraft 2 comes fully localised in a number of languages, including both simplified and traditional Chinese. This isn’t a quick fix someone made in an afternoon to sell more copies in China, it’s a complete localisation, including voice acting, remade graphics and so on. I haven’t yet tried the Chinese version of Diablo 3, but the localisation of Starcraft 2 is well made and has taught me much Chinese.
In the case of Diablo 3, Blizzard has officially announced that the traditional characters version is available from the launch last week. However, downloading it might require you to register for a Taiwanese account first, something I haven’t done personally. People who live in Taiwan obviously don’t have this problem. Mainland China is trickier, and Blizzard didn’t include simplified Chinese in the list of supported languages, but there is still a simplified version out there. I have asked around and it seems like the game can be bought retail in China, but that the simplified character version is not available online. If anyone has more information about this, please let me know.
I have written an article specifically about playing StarCraft in Chinese, read it here.
For Starcraft 2, both a simplified and traditional version have been available for a long time and work very well indeed. The problem is that Blizzard doesn’t really like language learners or expats, which means that you can’t just buy your game in Europe or America and then switch language to Chinese. In fact, it might even be hard to buy the game in Chinese from outside China. Fortunately, you don’t need to do that.
Since Starcraft 2 is not exactly new, this isn’t a problem, because people have created patches were you can use a Chinese version of the game and just copy the things you need from your legally purchased version of the game, thus allowing you to play in Chinese and still play on servers in America, Europe or anywhere else. You can find such a tool here. I have used this myself successfully many times (I updated the game this morning, in fact), but please don’t ask me support questions since all I did was follow the instructions on the page I linked to and I don’t know more than you do.
In an upcoming article, I will talk more about Starcraft 2 and how it can be used to learn Chinese, including game play, watching professional competitions with Chinese commentators and much more. Stay tuned!
The world of gaming is definitely growing more international. Major games will be fully localised into Chinese, simply because the Chinese market is growing. This means that the problems involved in getting a Chinese version of the games we love should decrease over time. For the immediate future, we can still trust fans to create tools which allow us to play the games in the languages we want to learn, even if such tools might take a while to develop.
Perhaps you won’t be able to find you’re favourite game in Chinese. If you can’t, you might have to make a small sacrifice, changing to another game which does exist in Chinese. Considering the extra language learning opportunities, I definitely think it’s worth it. Playing games should not be a substitute for other kinds of studying, but if you play computer games anyway, why not do it in Chinese?
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I've been learning and teaching Chinese for more than a decade. My goal is to help you find a way of learning that works for you. Sign up to my newsletter for a 7-day crash course in how to learn, as well as weekly ideas for how to improve your learning!