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Learn to speak Japanese by playing Minecraft

Kotoba Miners aims to teach through play.

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James York, an English teacher and PhD student researching language learning in virtual worlds, is teaching Japanese online by using Minecraft.

The class, which he calls Kotoba Miners, takes place on a dedicated Minecraft server which contains several structures built for different learning activities.

Different buildings off of “University Road” contain different exercises that encourage students to read and and speak Japanese together. For example, in the “Ice Palace,” players must communicate in order navigate a series of pressure plates correctly. If they take a wrong step a trap will activate and kill the player.

York told Tofugu in an interview that he became interested in learning languages in virtual communities when he joined a Japanese World of Warcraft guild in 2006. He started the Minecraft server as a tool to teach English to Japanese students by getting them to interact with English speakers, but when the class ended and the Japanese students left, the English speakers stayed and wanted to learn Japanese.

“I experimented with a number of virtual worlds and games as part of my research,” York told Tofugu. “I rejected MMOs for lack of control over content and their often extremely specialized discourse (e.g. ‘Prot Warrior LFG SFK pst’). I also rejected a lot of social worlds (i.e. Second Life) for their painful aesthetics, controls and distance between user and content-creator. Minecraft is simple. Controls, aesthetics, and gameplay. This means that you spend less time learning how to navigate the game and more time learning and focusing on language.”

You can find out more about the class and how to join on Kotoba Miners’ official site.

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