Thursday, July 5, 2012

Kickstart your language skills with SanJiten

SanjigenJiten wants to help folks like you and me learn Japanese, but do they really know what they're up against?

I won't go into the lengthy and rather pathetic tale of my futile efforts to learn Japanese. Let's just say that my brain is not now, nor has it ever been, well-suited to learning languages. And Japanese, to put it quite bluntly, kicked my butt. Taking conventional language classes was something of a nightmare, and even supplementing that with language tapes did little to help. Nor did my the rather less studied approach of watching a lot of films and anime do much to loosen my stubborn tongue. But I still like to imagine that some day, I'll be able to utter more than an enthusiastic "ohayou gozaimasu!" Maybe one day I'll be able to actually carry on some kind of primitive conversation. That day may possibly come sooner than I expected.

Ohayou gozaimasu!  See, that really is all I know.
On Kickstarter right now, developer Rob Howland is raising funds for his game, SanjigenJiten (or SanJiten for short), an "interactive 3D Language Learning Video Game." Howland has spent the last two years doing research at the Entertainment Computing Laboratory of the University of Tsukuba, learning about what makes games fun and how those mechanics can be transformed into exciting new learning tools. SanJiten will be the fruit of some of that research. It is a game designed to help players learn languages like Japanese by interacting with a 3D world filled with everyday items and a bevvy of new vocabulary. To say that the game looks promising for hopeless gaijin like me is a bit of an understatement.

A promo trailer and gameplay video are available on SanJiten's Kickstarter site, and there's also a playable demo version of the game up on the game's main website, While I found the current demo to be a little bit overwhelming in terms of the information presented to players first starting out, I dare say that the demo still seems to be a promising mix of seek-and-find exploration and vocabulary lesson. I will be excited to see how the game comes together with further development.

Anyone who's ever struggled with learning a language can appreciate just how helpful it is to expose yourself to as many different learning tools and methods as possible, and SanJiten looks like it could make for a very exciting new contribution to language learning. SanJiten's Kickstarter campaign will end on July 26th.  Even if you don't want to invest any cash right now, you are still encouraged to play the free demo and offer the developers feedback. Details and links to a player feedback survey are included on their Kickstarter page.

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