As a proud gamer with a passion for linguistics, games that make language learning their focal point have always intrigued me. In my experience, many do little more than utilize the same flashcards, drills, and quizzes that one might see in a classroom. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, those methods are trusted for a reason! Sometimes, though, you need a little variety. When I first heard about Lingotopia, it seemed to have real potential to change the game, so to speak. After all, many gamers have played games in their target language in an attempt to expand their learning potential– a game with language learning built-in could be a dream come true!
Lingotopia was developed and published by indie developer Lingo Ludo in 2019 and seeks to replicate the experience of being in a new city where you don’t speak the language of those around you. One can choose to experience the game in any of its official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Russian, or Spanish. Alternatively, there are a wide range of fan translations for other languages. For languages that don’t utilize a Latin script, Lingotopia offers a handy toggle that can aid in comprehension for people entirely new to a language.
Lingotopia’s gameplay is very straightforward. You meander through the endearingly polygonal town listening to conversations around you and talking with locals in hopes of understanding even one or two words. You are equipped with a dictionary and learn more words through your interactions with characters or through clicking on your surroundings. During your time playing Lingotopia, you’ll encounter hundreds of words in your target language!
You even have an endlessly helpful companion to help you navigate the town. I, unfortunately, ignored her for my first ill-fated attempt at traversing the game in Russian and can safely say after that experience that the game is drastically more enjoyable and smooth when you give your guide the opportunity to help. She will lead you to interactive characters and will help you progress in the storyline if you find yourself stuck! She is also the character that will pop up when you click on objects to learn new words.
I played Lingotopia first in Russian, a language that I have little to no knowledge of, and then a second time in Japanese, a language that I’m comfortable conversing in, but not fluent in quite yet. My experiences were, as one could probably expect, different in each language.
While playing in Russian, I focused more on learning and comprehending anything. I felt like a fish out of water, and even after I discovered my companion, it was still a struggle to navigate conversations. Having said that, I could see growth in my knowledge and comprehension. While I don’t feel like I learned much in terms of grammar or sentence structure, I left my Russian Lingotopia session feeling like I could at least utilize a few words and responses.
When I turned my attention to Japanese, I was able to more deeply appreciate the overarching story, and grow more attached to the varied, quirky characters inhabiting the town. Because of my previous knowledge, I found myself floundering less and I appreciated more of the nuances in the game. I also found Lingotopia offered a fun, new way to review and practice outside of typical immersion activities.
Lingotopia is, however, not without its flaws. The game does not excel at teaching grammar, and its immersive approach could be daunting to beginners. Some aspects of gameplay are also a tad clunky and make it difficult to fully feel immersed, which clashes with, well, the entire point of the game. I’m holding out hope that some fixes will be applied in later patches of the game. Language learners may appreciate Lingotopia, but I fear that gamers without an interest in languages may not.
Overall, I would consider Lingotopia to be a fun supplementary tool to other language learning methods. Whether you’re experiencing a language for the first time, or using the game as a tool to review, it offers a fresh way to learn. Lingotopia attempts to appeal to language learners as well as gamers, and in doing so, it has carved out its own niche when it comes to both games and language learning tools. However, if you’re more into traditional learning methods, or if you’re a tried and true gamer looking for smooth mechanics or replay potential, it might be worth passing on this one.
Lingotopia is currently available on PC.