Gaming

CU-Boulder Researchers Create Language Learning App

Two doctoral students in linguistics at the University of Colorado Boulder have created a gesture-based language learning game for the iPad and iPhone.

The game, called Nano Nano, is currently available for Spanish language learning. Players cruise around in a virtual car with a character named Beta and help her rescue words that have been stolen by Nanobots. For example, when Beta and the player encounter a blank stop sign, they select the correct Spanish word from a bank of terms and slide it back on the sign.

Instead of using flash cards and drills to teach language, Nano Nano uses motion combined with amusing graphics and music. Players use gestures to simulate motions such as grabbing, eating and swiping a credit card by pulling their mobile device toward them, putting it up to their mouth or air-swiping their device. The game's creators designed the game to capitalize on the overlap of linguistic and motor cognition in the brain.

"A lot of research demonstrates that because language and gesture are so closely intertwined on a neurological level, gesture can help people acquire language more quickly and easily," said Kevin Gould, a co-creator of Nano Nano and doctoral student in linguistics at CU-Boulder, in a prepared statement.

Gould said he believes the game is also inherently more motivating for language learners because it's fun, unlike "tedious exercises and anxiety-filled quizzes and tests."

Gould and the game's co-creator, Steve Duman, received a $150,000 Small Business and Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation for the project. They said they hope to develop another version of the game for Android devices and plan eventually to offer it in other languages, such as Mandarin, French, German, Portuguese and Japanese.

The game is available for download through the Apple App Store. Further information about Nano Nano can be found on the Inherent Games site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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