As any linguist will tell you, the most effective way to learn a new language is an ever-present risk of being catapulted out of a window or splatted by a trap should you utter an incorrect infinitive. It’s how feral babies learn languages in the wild.
Kotoba Miners is an online university in Minecraft that’s prescribes to this brutal teaching method. The virtual tutor is currently running a Japanese language course, one in which players must learn to communicate or die.
It’s a perfectly serious series of lessons run by English teacher James York, who began researching language learning in virtual worlds shortly after joining a Japanese World of Warcraft guild. The Kotoba Miners Minecraft server started out life as a local, LAN-based world for York’s Japanese students to learn English, but has now become the opposite, with English speakers turning up to learn Japanese.
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The server hosts a campus of university buildings, around which players have the opportunity to practise their spoken Japanese, something York says is missing from many other online teaching methods. Also different: some of the university buildings will murder you if your Japanese isn’t up to scratch. York calls it “learning by dying”, and has implemented classes that require one player to read instructions to another player in order to safely navigate a trap-riddled maze.
“Simply put,” York told Tofugu, “games offer feedback loops that show/punish you when you do something wrong. And people are more likely to take risks and get things wrong when playing a game than they are in a classroom.”
You can find out more about Kotoba Miners on their site,where a new run of courses for European students is due to start in June.