Ever since the Internet came along, language learning has become so much fun. (Well… so much more fun, we should say!) Online games and interactive tools are now a mainstay for millennial language learners across the board, and that should come as no surprise: they’re simple, quick, and allow the digital generation to pick up new words and phrases in the way they’re often most accustomed to — on a screen.
DigitalDialects is one site that provides language learning games, and the platform offers materials in over 70 different languages. There are basic and advanced levels for each language, and games are designed to help students with simple vocabulary, verb conjugations, and spelling. The most popular languages, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese, have significantly more games and levels available than some of the lesser-studied languages on the list, but overall the offerings are broader than those on most apps and sites, and all resources are entirely free.
I spent some time testing out the games for French and German, the two languages I’m studying at the moment. While there’s certainly nothing revolutionary about the DigitalDialects games, there were a few particularly valuable features for a beginning learner. First and foremost, the audio feature: in both the French and German sections, as well as for most of the other languages I checked out, nearly every game has an audio component. As would be expected, many of the game formats revolve around matching words from the foreign language with their English counterparts, but the incorporation of audio capabilities makes the DigitalDialects games more than just a mindless process of drawing a line from one word to another on a worksheet. Instead, by hearing the audio clips, I felt myself growing more comfortable with the sounds of the language over time, and was more compelled to repeat the phrases aloud as I played to get some speaking practice in.
Several of the games I tried also gave me the option of learning each item in the specific vocabulary list before beginning the game itself. For instance, I chose to review the fruits and vegetables list in French prior to playing the matching game: I was presented with a brief audio-visual pairing of the word “pomme” with a graphic of a cartoonized apple in a fruit bowl, and so on and so forth for each word on the list. After the review, all the fruits and vegetables were shown to me in one bowl, and I was prompted to choose the correct one as I heard its name called in French. When I matched one correctly, that vegetable or fruit would float out of the bowl and off the screen, and the next one would be prompted. If I got an answer wrong, the screen would flash back to the empty bowl from the introductory lesson and show me only the correct fruit or veggie and its proper name before bringing me back to the game and asking me to identify that item again.
Now, do any of these games boast top quality graphics? By no means. (More accurately, the dancing tomatoes and bananas recall some of the very first computer games I ever played, back in the early 2000s… check out the images to the right and you’ll see what I mean!) But, hey, this is a free site, after all. Besides, the basic visual process itself is really all I needed in order to facilitate a mental connection between the word and its meaning. And as an added bonus, the introductory lessons were short and sweet enough that they didn’t warrant my impatiently skipping ahead to the game itself… which in turn meant that I guessed less and knew more answers the first time around anyway.
Rating: 3/5. Overall, the DigitalDialects site gets points for its broad language offerings and audio features, but the interface is a bit clunky, and less popular languages have notably limited selections of lessons and games.