Why language is like a puzzle to be solved
If you have read my blog before you’ll know that I am a games designer – who also loves to learn languages. I enjoy games and the challenges they pose. I can get quite lost in crosswords, Sudoku and chess – sometimes for hours. I think my love of games is why I also like learning languages. In many ways learning a language is like a giant Sudoku puzzle in the sense that there are three phases. At first you make fast progress. In the middle progress becomes very slow and, then finally, if you persevere, it becomes easy again! This has been my experience in learning Italian…and the fact that it gets easy again should give hope to all language learners currently stuck in the sticky middle!
The Flying Start
When you first start learning a language you can get off the blocks very fast. Often you find words that are common to both languages, you learn simple greetings and are introduced to simple sentence structures. In a short time you can make a lot of progress – and it all seems quite easy…just like the start of a Sudoku puzzle when there are obvious numbers to enter.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. In both Sudoku and language learning, the road in front of you turns from being a smooth and flat to being a muddy uphill track with loose scree on the slopes to send you backwards. This is when the going gets tough.
The Difficult Middle Game
In languages you will inevitably come up against difficult and unfamiliar grammatical issues, idioms and tricky words. Piecing the language together becomes arduous with strange beasts like gender, gerund, the imperative, reflexive verbs and much more complex terms. However, do not fear! I am here to tell you now, that in both Sudoku and language learning, you need to stick in there – because it does get better and the rewards will come! At some point you will start connecting all the loose ends and it becomes much easier. If we return to our road metaphor – we will reach the brow of the hill and can start see the downhill slope on on the other side. Your learning will pick up speed again. Oh Sunny Day!
Filling in the Gaps
If you are a Sudoku player you will know that the end game is very easy. You are simply filling in the gaps and connecting your knowledge up. It is the same with learning a language (on a much bigger scale!). You have learned the infrastructure of the language and are now inserting into your framework missing information. The knowledge you have already learned helps cement in the new knowledge. Indeed you find you can now read books in a foreign language and suddenly realise you have just read a whole page without having to look up the meaning of a word. You have now almost mastered a whole new language.
A Language Learning Game to help when the going gets tough
KLOO, the language learning game I designed, can help language learners just as they are hitting the tough middle part of learning. It recently won ToyTalk Best Board or Card Game of the Year but more importantly it was designed for and approved by my own children! They knew all the salutations and simple statements in Italian, but were then finding it very difficult to wade through the sticky middle bit. So I devised KLOO with scraps of paper and we played around the kitchen table. I wanted them to be able to make tens of thousands of useful sentences in a foreign language (see the video below) as well as be able to build their vocabulary painlessly as they play (see second video). Most importantly I wanted to make language learning fun – just as it got more difficult – by turning language into a game!
If you are looking to improve your French, Spanish or Italian – take a look at KLOO!
- The Secret Sudoku for Kids Sudoku For Kids – 120 Printable Sudoku (news522.wordpress.com)
- Learning French like a Parrot can seriously slow you down (languagepie.wordpress.com)