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Friday, April 19, 2013

How to Learn a Foreign Language

Just now heard someone talking in what sounded like a foreign language. It may have just been strongly accented English, but it was odd enough that I could not understand it. It was not a real person talking though, it was a video game someone was playing.
    In Neal Stephenson's REAMDE, playing a video game is one of the main occupation of some of the characters, and using a particular video game to transfer real money around the world was an essential plot device. Also in this book, Zula (one of the main characters) spends a great deal of time as a guest of some not-very-nice people, and by continued exposure to them she is able to pick up enough of their language to know what they are talking about, at least generally.
    My wife has just acquired a smart phone (A.K.A. magic elf box, thank you Tam) that has a voice to text capability, and it actually seems to produce reasonably accurate transcriptions.
    Put this all together and you get a video game in a foreign language, where learning the language allows you to communicate with other players. If it was a real language native speakers would have an unfair advantage, unless you could find a language that was spoken only by people who don't have computers, if there are any such people anywhere anymore. The Amish, maybe.
    You could use an artificial language. There's Esperanto, which seems to have been a continuous failure for eons, but maybe this is just what it needs. There's Klingon, but all the grunting and guttering involved might put people off, not to mention, eeww, Trekkies. Seems I heard that someone came up with another easy-to-learn language recently. That might be the ticket.
    What if you spent so much time playing this game that you forgot how to speak your native tongue? That would be weird. Then you could only talk to people in your game world.


Ole Phat Stu said...

Well you could try Latin. After all, noone knows how it was really spoken. Nowadays we just have the received pronunciation of the Vatican.

Alley ah yak tar zunnt.

Bill Chapman said...

I thought someone would comment on your view that "Esperanto ... seems to have been a continuous failure for eons". Since no one else has commented, I will. I see things very differently. I see Esperanto as a remarkable success story. It has survived wars and revolutions and economic crises and continues to attract people. Esperanto works! I've used it in speech and writing in about fifteen countries over recent years. I recommend it to anyone, as a way of making friendly local contacts in other countries.

Charles Pergiel said...

Well, I'll be durned, Esperanto isn't dead, though you are the first person I have encountered who claims to know it. Curious.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting idea.

Before Ronald Reagan the Army fought war games with a fictional Aggressor that spoke Esperanto.