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Thursday, June 8 • 1:30pm - Saturday, June 10 • 3:00pm
Language Learning Gamified

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“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” has become one of the most popular topics in education lately. While serving on various DEI committees at different levels, I notice that the conversations tend to generalize people’s experiences and thus minimize the individuality of the scenarios. For instance, for the current generation of students, it is necessary to use the correct pronouns that they prefer. However, we also need to be patient with students whose mother tongues do not have gendered pronouns, in another word, have the same word for he, she and they. We also need to take into consideration the languages that only have masculine and feminine genders. In some languages like Spanish, it is simple to use “e” (neutral) instead of “o” (masculine) and “a” (feminine). In other languages like Arabic and Hebrew, where the verbs conjugate differently based on gender, it is more complicated.

I cannot offer a straightforward solution to this complicated issue. However, I could invite people to be more empathetic to people different from them.

The project evolves into a series of board games in various languages that use non-Latin alphabets, that can be played by people who have zero prior experience with these languages.

Each writing system requires the reader to see different details, which influences the inherent perspectives of the speakers of the language. In English, the top half of the letterforms is more crucial to readability than the bottom half of the letterforms. Therefore, English readers mostly read the top of each sentence. In Hindi, however, the top is only used for certain vowels. In Thai, a vowel can appear in front of a consonant, after a consonant, before and after a consonant, above a consonant, and before and above and after a consonant. The readers’ eyes go in circles in order to identify a word. Because of this, by having people play games in different languages, we can help them understand how different our points of view are.

In order to design games that the players enjoy, I visited board game cafes to go through their collections. I joined board game groups to play games with them and interviewed them regarding their experiences with different games. During the process, I took notes of what rules can also be applied to my game design. It is also essential that the learning process of my games should not take more than five minutes, for accessibility matters.

The production of the game pieces involves a laserjet printer, an inkjet printer, a Cricut machine, and a laser cutter. The prototype might be given to the testers without any design element on the cards. I tried my best to find testers who did not speak the language and testers who were native speakers. If the participants enjoyed the game, I would finish the surface design and find a higher-quality material for the production. If the participants did not find the game interesting, I would discard the rules and come up with a brand-new one for them to play.

The final product is a set of board games. Each allows between 2 players and 6 at each round. The experience is the same despite the number of players. When there is only 1 player, the pieces can function as flashcards for memorizing letters and words. Each game takes about 15–30 minutes to play. The goal is to make it engaging but accessible to new players.

Each game was designed based on the unique characteristics of the language. For example, Japanese has only five vowels and a matching game would work well. For beginners who are still learning hiragana and katakana (the Japanese letters), the rule is to discard a card that either matches the vowel or the consonants in the card that the previous player discards. If the player has no card matching either the consonant or the vowel, and no special card (wild, switch, stop, etc), they have to draw a card from the draw pile. The winner is the first player who gets rid of all cards in hand. While playing the cards, the players can become familiar with the letters with English transliteration. For intermediate learners and advanced learners, the rule is to discard a card with the sound that can make a word with the card discarded by the previous player, and name the word. The players can build their vocabulary through playing.

Each Arabic letter appear differently based on its position inside a word, thus helping the players identify the same letters is important. In the Arabic game, each letter appears four times on four cards based on their forms in different positions: initial, middle, final, and isolated. Each position is labeled with different patterns on the borders. The game starts with each player with 5 cards in hand, and 4 rows in the center of the play area. Each row has one card to start the row. The rest go to the draw pile. Each player takes turns to place a card in any row, but cannot place a card adjacent to cards that have the same pattern. After placing, the player immediately draws a card, to keep 5 cards in hand at all times until there is no card in the draw pile. If the card placed shares the identical letter with another card, the player can immediately collect the two cards and any cards in between. The winner is the one with the most cards collected. The game helps people understand the Arabic writing system and differentiate different letters.
All the games help people practice looking at different details of the letterforms, to understand the diverse perspective rooted in languages and cultures.

For HASTAC, I would like the games to be displayed and available for anyone to play. Ideally, there will be a table with chairs for each card/board game accepted. The instruction for the game will be taped to the table.


Sherry Muyuan He

Assistant Profesor, City College of New York

Thursday June 8, 2023 1:30pm - Saturday June 10, 2023 3:00pm EDT
Student Union 191 Grand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11205, USA