Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Legend of Zelda can... help you pass the US Citizenship test?

Since the popularization of home consoles, many long-haired academic types have studied the positive effects that video games can have on the average, well-adjusted human being.

A few studies have examined how games can help us find our ideal selves, and plenty have examined the link between games and increased hand-eye coordination (Wii Tennis is now all but approved to train surgeons), but what about a game's ability to teach a foreign language?

Any avid gamer who's dabbled in the realm of Japanese roleplaying games has likely picked up some rudimentary Japanese phrases, yet it's rare to hear about gamers learning English from a video game.

That's exactly what happened with 23-year-old Hector Romo of Mexico, who passed the US Citizenship test this week and is currently studying to become a doctor.  GoSanAngelo reports that Romo taught himself English using "a translation dictionary" and by playing The Legend of Zelda.

Far be it from me to poke fun at a dedicated young man's (successful) independent linguistic studies, but I'm not quite sure The Legend of Zelda is the best place to go to learn English...

Not exactly the sort of phrase we want to teach new citizens, is it?

Given his age, it's unlikely that Romo played the original Legend of Zelda, but the chance is always out there and is more than a little frightening. If he did indeed play the original 8-bit Zelda and passed his citizenship test, we should probably fast-track him to an Ivy League school or two.

Curiously, this isn't the first time that a game from The Legend of Zelda franchise has been used as a touchstone for self-guided linguistic study.  As the quality of the translations continue to approve, it seems likely that more modern Zelda games (or, y'know, any video game) can be used to help interested parties learn a bit about a language.

... or at least help aid in their understanding of it.  It's unlikely that games will ever impart true fluency as they lack the proper structure.  I've played through my share of Japanese visual novels and have thus far only managed to pick up "Onii-san", "Tasukete", and - curiously -"Senbonzakura".

Not exactly the sort of stuff you can work into your every day conversations, but useful if I ever need to ask my non-existant older brother to rescue me from a thousand cherry trees.