Learning a second language as an adult takes a lot of work and determination. From flashcards to instructional CDs, the world of linguistic education has yet to catch up to us fully here in 2016. Sure, there are apps and computer programs that can aid you through your journey, but ultimately these are just virtualizations of less effective—and outdated—learning techniques.
What if we could avoid the headaches of our forefathers? Well, Minecraft may just be the metaphorical Rosetta Stone we’ve been looking for (and not the software version you buy at Barnes & Noble).
First launched the better part of a decade ago, Minecraft’s ostensibly simplistic set of blocks and pixelated designs has dug—or rather, mined—its way into our hearts. Akin to the LEGOs we grew up with, these virtual cubes harvested from a seemingly endless world of resources allow for almost complete reign over what we choose to build and create. From constructing a charming little mud-house in the forest and leading the agrarian lifestyle everyone dreams of, to building a working virtual Gameboy Color inside the game, the possibilities are astounding. And for me, Minecraft has been a valuable study tool.
Minecraft has gained a legion of dedicated followers the world over and expanded into something beyond a simple game about building and surviving. It has been translated into almost every conceivable language under the sun—Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, and even a made up Pirate Speak (if ye be so inclined) are just a handful of the 70 plus options available in the settings menu.
Players like me have begun to take notice of the potential academic worth in this world of cubes. Devotees and developers are creating a variety of educational resources within the game that don’t damage its entertainment value, and as a result, it’s found its way into schools across the nation. I mean, where was this when I was a kid?
Although Minecraft wasn’t in classrooms when I was a student, I have found this game to be a treasured addition to the tools I use to study Arabic as an adult. I realized that by simply changing the game’s language to the one I was studying, I could tap into one of the most powerful and simple learning techniques: immersion.
Similar to the way we learned when we were carpet crawlers, this long-researched technique of education is just starting to gain the headway it deserves in the academic community. By surrounding yourself with familiar objects and situations—like the game’s many tools and weapons—you’re able forge associations between what you know the object to be, and the correct terms for it in the language you’re studying. Lately I find myself able to remember Arabic terms for everyday objects, and I’ve even caught myself reflexively using the new foreign words almost as effortlessly as the language I was raised speaking.
Big players in the tech world have seen the vast potential Minecraft has to offer in the realm of education. Microsoft purchased the game and its developer Mojang, along with some prominent developers of fan-made content aimed to improve the educational function, in 2014. Their intention is to expand Minecraft not only as a source for entertainment, but also as a tool for academia. They are even going so far as to develop an entirely new version of the title aimed specifically for scholastic use, and expect to have a free trial available this summer.
Minecraft is already in use throughout classrooms in excess of forty nations to help teach on topics like language, math, art, and beginner engineering, and those numbers are expected to grow in the coming year. But even so, fan-made additions to the game can only take it so far.
There are a plethora of improvements that we can hope Minecraft: Education Edition will include to supplement the previously existing content and help people of all ages learn in a new way. Some have suggested ideas such as a toggle-able voiceover function to help teach pronunciation, or additional game modes and objects to teach an increased variety of vocabulary and subjects. The possibilities for improvement in this passionate virtual community are potentially limitless.
Although Minecraft is ready to turn seven this year—a geezer by today’s gaming standards—it can hardly stay out of the spotlight for long. Even though it’s hard to say whether or not Minecraft itself will be the tool that teaches future generations, it is definitely a major step in the evolution of education together with gaming and technology.
In using Minecraft to help teach myself vocabulary in a foreign language, I have seen firsthand the potential this game has to educate the next generation. Gaming connects people and communities of all creeds, cultures, and languages around the world; why shouldn’t it be what we use to learn and communicate with one another too?
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