Language learning without studying? This may be possible if you, like me, are a fan of gaming. By gaming, though, I don’t mean standing alone, peering intently at a screen with fingers flying furiously over a console. Rather, I’m talking about sitting down together with other people in front of a board, playing pieces, cards and dice.
I am currently practicing German. I’ve been living in Berlin for the past few years, but my German is still so poor that I often hesitate to converse much with my neighbors. I could speak to them anyway, but they would have to slow down their speech, repeat themselves, and perhaps even teach me an expression or two. In short, I would be a burden. And since I am not paying them or otherwise giving them something in return for their trouble, I would probably be an unwelcome burden. “Oh that guy again,” I can imagine them saying. “What a chore it is trying to communicate with him.”
Games change this dynamic.
To be sure, my German skills when gaming are as bad as ever. The difference is that I give something back to my conversation partner when I sit down to play a game. That something is simply me, myself. Sometimes it is enough just to be a warm body — this is one of those times. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes, but it also takes two (at least) to play Risk, Taboo, Codenames, Dobble, Set, Mysterium, Civilization and Dixit. The same is true of age-old traditional games such as chess and shogi, go, poker, bridge and even tic-tac-toe.
As I progressed from beginner to intermediate German, I visited many a game hall where I found partners eagerly awaiting my arrival. Well, it wasn’t necessarily me they were waiting for, but the point is that I would do. They needed my presence. I wasn’t a burden, even if I was the least fluent person in the room.
So, if you know the numbers and colors, and direction words like forward, backward, left and right, I encourage you to find some game enthusiasts near you who are playing in the language you need to learn. Sure, you will be at a disadvantage and will lose a bit. You’ll probably lose a lot, actually. But this will endear you to the others, who want the joy of victory. And while it is not pleasant to lose, remember why you are there: to learn a language without studying. And without paying a teacher or being an unwelcome burden. It’s winning by losing, and if you’re lucky, sometimes by winning. (Tony László)