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Tune up your ears!

March 17, 2014

GreatLanguagGame-logoI love listening to people speak other languages and trying to identify the language. The problem is that I never know if I am right or not. That’s why I love this game called The Great Language Game.

Created by Lars Yencken, the game provides a series of short audio snippets from SBS Australia in one of 70 different languages, and choices to identify each language. It starts with two choices, then three, then four, and so on. You keep guessing until you make three mistakes. The game then provides the snippets you misidentified so you can listen and learn what they sound like.

On my first try, I got a score of 650 (making it up to deciding between five different choices), despite being unfamiliar with many of the languages and basically guessing the answer. Some languages I can easily identify (Italian, Mandarin, Arabic, etc), or eliminate as distractors (I know what Portuguese and Tagalog sound like, but not Amharic.)  I could often guess when an unfamiliar choice had sounds in common with a language I know is from the same region or linguistic family (Ukrainian sounds a bit like Russian).  Additionally, my study of phonology helped me identify some sounds. Sometimes I just had a gut feeling about which language it was, even though I am not familiar with it (Samoan??), but I can’t explain why I chose the correct answer.

Implications for L2 Listening

Aside from saving me from embarrassing my family by running after strangers in the street to ask what language they speak, this game is a great tool for teachers to develop language awareness. I find that my insight into the listening and pronunciation development of my students is much better when I know at least a little bit about their language. It is easier to identify sounds or words that they might have trouble hearing, or pinpoint the cause of pronunciation issues. It also helps me to appreciate the diversity of human language, and remember that “difficulty” of a sound is all in the ear of the beholder.

From → Languages, Perception

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