Now you can learn vocabulary, grammar, and spelling in languages from Afrikaans to Zazaki (a language spoken in eastern Turkey – we had to look it up, too) thanks to e-learning specialist Craig Gibson. He’s put together an amazing set of resources that provide the basic tools you need to learn to read, speak, and write in these languages, from useful vocabulary words to explanations of verb conjugation to phrases that will help you communicate if you plan on traveling to another country. Because these lessons are set up in the form of online games, learning a new language is a fun process for children and adults alike.
SP: You’ve done all the work to create these games to help other people learn new languages. In the process of researching and designing your website, did you end up learning these languages, too?
CG: Ive inputted numerous languages over several years, so little of the content remains in my memory. I did recently surprise a Finnish man (and myself) with a few words of Finnish. Whenever I make game prototypes I begin with Japanese, which I’ve been learning over the last couple of years. This helps me remember some Japanese words, which are always slipping out of my memory.
SP: A lot of the resources and games have audio files, so that people can hear how words and phrases are pronounced correctly. That’s an invaluable addition to your site. How did you find the native speakers to help you make these recordings?
CG: When I started the site I hired various language teachers and tutors to provide the audio. Some audio was recorded on location – for example I recorded Tibetan and Hindi in India. Several people have volunteered on Digital Dialects as well. At this moment I’m working with a Pacific languages institution, and they are voluntarily providing me with the vocabulary and audio for Tongan, Samoan and Niuean sections (forthcoming).
SP: You include Esperanto in your language learning list, even though it’s not the official language of any country. Who speaks Esperanto, and why should we learn it?
CG: The vision of Esperanto was to create a (semi-)universal international language, which of course hasn’t happened. Still there seems to be many thousands of speakers, perhaps due to Esperanto’s humanist and internationalist ethic. There are certainly some real language fanatics out there, and it seems to me that Esperanto is something of a social thing amongst these types of people. Esperanto is designed to be easy to learn and it’s apparently a good base for learning other languages.
SP: How can people best use your site to improve their spelling skills in the language they’ve chosen?
CG: Some sections on the website have games specifically for spelling the vocabulary provided in other games. A lot of the materials on Digital Dialects provide both native scripts and transliterations so that students can compare the two.
SP: Most of the site is set up for English speakers who want to learn another language, but there is a Japanese version of the site, and several languages also have instructions in French. What are your next plans for the website?
CG: I will surely get the site translated into Spanish sometime soon. At the moment my focus is on working with language tutors to create more grammar materials for Spanish and Japanese. I’m also currently working on new sections for indigenous South American languages (Quechua, Aymara, Guarani), and will be recording for these shortly.