Influent - A Fun Supplement to Language Learning
by Joseph Rowe
Do you want to learn a language? Have you been putting it off because you haven't found the right method yet? Influent provides a fun alternative to memorizing lists of vocabulary.
I am nearly done with my bachelors in linguistics and, on top of that, am an avid language learner. I have studied Japanese to an intermediate level, and have experience with other languages like Swedish, German, Spanish, Italian, Finnish, and Vietnamese--to varying degrees. I studied these languages in high school and college classrooms, online classrooms, and completely on my own. I have used textbooks, grammars, Instant Immersion, and Rosetta Stone, among many other methods.
In short: I am experienced with language learning materials. I feel like Influent is a great language learning supplement, but is not close to being in-depth enough to use on its own. Nevertheless, it is worth adding to your language learning regiment for the following reasons.
The goal for Influent was to provide a way for gamers to have fun while learning languages. This approach provides the perfect atmosphere for a gamer to really get into the first laps of learning a language.
The visual presentation is cute. The 2D graphics in the menu, loading screen, and opening cinematic are charming. The 3D graphics are not amazing by any means, but they are stylized enough to keep you entertained as you build up vocabulary in the list.
There are a ton of awesome easter eggs that will keep gamers laughing as they pick up new vocabulary. My favorites were the "For Your Health" vitamins that were recommended by Dr. Steven Brule, the poster for the video game Space Vole (Star Fox), the novel Shadow Moses by Naomi Hunter, and the NES console in the closet.
Influent is based around you collecting nouns all around your apartment, which has a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom. You will learn words like apple, computer, video game console, bed, toilet, and sink in your target language.
As you collect these nouns and fill out lists, you can test your memory of the vocabulary you picked up by doing either a Time Attack, where you go throughout the apartment and identify what you added to your list, or by doing a Fly By mode, where you pilot a jet and shoot at the vocabulary items to identify them.
This mode is fairly flexible. You can do it with text, with audio, or with both. This is good for when you want to practice either reading or listening specifically.
As you complete these tests, you can unlock adjectives and verbs for certain words you find. This will add some depth to the vocabulary pool you have for your target language.
An example for the kind of vocabulary you pick up would be game for the noun. You can unlock the verb play for game or the adjective fun to describe the game.
Influent will teach you vocabulary without really teaching you grammar. There are only about 500 words for each language; this is a great starting place, but by no means will this bring you into even an intermediate level on its own, unless it's heavily updated. It's clear, though, that this was not the intention of the creators--so do not go in expecting to reach fluency without any further study.
Influent offers different versions of a language's orthography, like kanji, hiragana, or romaji for Japanese, but it cannot teach you it. This is adequate for students who are already studying kanji or already know cyrillic, but it would be tough for a student who isn't familiar with the language's orthography to switch from the Latin alphabet to a different writing system without any proper instruction.
As previously stated, Influent will work well as a starting point. You will want to pick up a textbook, grammar book, and some other supplements if you truly want to learn a language effectively.
Influent functions a lot like an Spaced Repetition System, like the program Anki. SRS are more or less virtual flash cards. The difference is that this makes something that is very robotic into something lively and fun.
I played Influent piece by piece over the course of a few days to test the method and see if the words would stick. I was pleasantly surprised by how much easier it is to learn with a virtual representation of the object as opposed to a flash card or an SRS card.
I truly hope that Influent is just the starting step for video game based language learning. Whether it is done by Rob Howland and his team or if the idea is picked up by someone else, it really feels like this approach to language learning has a ton of potential to make the experience fun and easy to manage.
If it would be possible for Influent to be set up so that players could have more places to explore, like cities, universities, etc. with multiplayer support for native speakers to practice the language with the learner, I think it would encourage a lot of language learners who are turned off by sterile classrooms to actually learn the language.
It would also be great to see a game like Influent with a built-in, easy to read grammar. Something that would explain the difference between -en and -ett words in Swedish, -i and na adjectives in Japanese, and the complex case system for Finnish if/when that language is released.
I felt like I picked up vocabulary faster with Influent than my normal flash card method. I think it would be interesting to see university studies comparing self-study methods, classroom methods, and Influent's method of learning vocabulary to test each approach's effectiveness.
I really love Influent. I love the idea and I love the execution. It has a ton of limits to its application, but it's good to see someone actually making a game specifically meant for learning languages.
Influent gets a 9 out of 10 for having awesome visuals/audio, being fun to play, its price when compared to other pre-made language learning flash cards, and being the first in its field to take this approach. If the team behind Influent continues to flesh out the game, I am prepared to throw all the money ever at it. Especially if they can manage to make kanji memorization fun.