Turn an adventure game into speaking fluency practice

Class in the forest

Our text adventure games, on the surface, are reading and listening activities. Yet, these same games can be easily transformed into speaking fluency exercises.

The games games have a default mode of practice, namely you read the game narrative, listen to the voice recordings, and look up words you don't know.

But this doesn't help you improve your speaking fluency. In fact, nothing that WordSwing currently offers directly helps you practice speaking. But that doesn't mean you can't turn the table and make your own speaking fluency practice out of our text adventure games.

Here's one such methodology:

  1. Play through a couple choices in the game, looking up any words you don't know in the built-in dictionary and listening to the audio.
  2. Stop when you have a comfortable amount of text on the screen, perhaps after 5-10 items of text have been added to the game conversation window.
  3. Go back and see if you can read through a line of text without looking up any words. If you can't, listen to the audio and try again. If you forgot what a word means, look it up again.
  4. Speak the line out loud. Pretend you are an oral storyteller. This will require you to speak it smoothly and in a compelling and engaging way. Speak it out loud at least three times. Each time, try and increase the fluency of your speech, but be sure not to sacrifice your tones too much.
  5. Continue to the next line when you're ready, and repeat this exercise for each line in the batch.

Upshots of this style of practice

Obviously there's a lot more to speech fluency than is embodied in this exercise. You need to have the vocabulary at your fingertips, be able to formulate your thoughts into sentences, and speak them out smoothly and clearly.

The value of this exercise lies in isolating just the last part: speaking smoothly and clearly. This allows you to ignore mastering a sufficiently large vocabulary to have a conversation; instead you just need to learn the words in the exercise sentences. And you don't need to know how to form error free sentences; you are provided with a good one to work with.

This leaves all of your attention at the disposal of practicing your speaking, freeing up brain power to focus on tones, and cadence, getting the sounds to flow smoothly off your lips.

Another major advantage is you can do this activity entirely privately. If you're not that comfortable having conversations with others in Chinese, you might not actually get that much speaking practice.

But why not just read aloud to oneself? Why go to all the effort to practice the same sentence many times?

The answer is simply that your progress would be too imperceptible. If you had some trouble pronouncing a certain phrase, say it had an awkward tone transition or phoneme combination, it might be a long time before you encounter that again. By then you might make the same mistake again or not improve. But by practicing the same sentence several times in a row, you can observe very clearly your improvement in speech fluency throughout the few repetitions.

You can identify problem spots and work to solve them. Very soon you will see the dividends of this deliberate practice on your unscripted speaking efforts. The gains from this entirely artificial exercise will carry over into natural speaking.

Let's give it a go

Now, I'll embarrass myself by trying to do this with the first two sentences in the game, Wandering Cat.

Here's the sentence:

你正在家中看书。你妈妈正在一边看手机,一边喝茶。这时,门铃响了。

nǐ zhèngzài jiā zhōng kàn shū. nǐ māma zhèngzài yībiān kàn shǒujī, yībiān hē chá. zhè shí, ménlíng xiǎng le.

And here's me embarrassing myself:

And here is the second sentence:

一定是你舅舅来了。我忘了跟你说了,他之前说过要来。

yīdìng shì nǐ jiùjiu lái le. wǒ wàng le gēn nǐ shuō le, tā zhīqián shuō guò yào lái.

Which I try here:

(keep in mind that yībiān is pronounced yìbiān with the appropriate tone sandhi change and yīdìng becomes yídìng)

Conclusion

By isolating just the task of speaking a sentence with fluency, you can make rapid gains for isolated sentences. But very quickly these fluency gains will begin overflowing into your everyday, unconstrained use of Chinese.

I'm sure you've noticed by now, that this activity is not particular to our text adventure games. All it requires is line-by-line audio. Many of our other activities like our comics and dialogs can also be repositories from which to mine practice sentences.

If you like this practice idea, you can even use WordSwing's study habits to try and make a routine of it.

Text Adventure Game: Wandering Cat

Silhouette of cat
(photo by Sai Mr.)

Our latest text adventure game is now available

In this game, you are 奇奇 (qíqí) a school-age girl who lives with her mother. Your mysterious uncle shows up and asks you to watch after his cat for a few days. But after an unexpected encounter with a fortune teller, you realize there is a lot more at stake to this task than you thought.

This adventure is titled, 小女孩寻猫记 (xiǎo nǚhái xún māo jì). This roughly translates as "Diary of a girl searching for her cat", though we have used a shorter English title, Wandering Cat.

Let's go play!

This game differs a bit from our previous games

We recently surveyed WordSwing students about their experiences and attitudes toward our text adventures. We got a huge amount of insightful and helpful feedback. Thank you!

One of the themes was that the games had many dead ends (sometimes literally), and these felt a bit punitive to the reader. Another theme was that the games involved lots of backtracking and replaying the same scenes to get through. While repetition can be a great form of language practice, we also want to be sure it's not drudgery, and so we have written this game in a slightly different style.

We have built this game with a more linear narrative structure and less free choice, though there are two main puzzles embedded in the game.

The opinions in the surveys were quite diverse, and so with this game we hope to diversify our game lineup with one that is a bit different. Going forward we'll continue to experiment with different game styles so that there is something for everyone, including your future self. After all, what is best for your Chinese practice today, might not be best a few months from now, after you've made some more progress.

In the near future, we'll share more about the surveys, as there's too much for this post.

How difficult is this game?

This game is certainly easier structurally than many of our other games. Language-wise, the difficulty falls somewhere between Escape and Zoo.

There are 578 distinct Chinese characters. This is not a very big number, considering the full game narrative is over 9,000 characters long.

To think about how the game relates to HSK levels, we can perform the following analysis:

  1. Assign HSK levels to characters based on the HSK level the character is first used.
  2. Examine the full text of our adventure game and consider two aspects:
    1. What fraction of the text is is composed of each HSK level?
    2. What fraction of all the HSK characters at each level appear in the game?

This character-wise analysis gives us the following picture:

HSK plot

The first orange bar suggests that 60% of the game text is composed of the 173 characters in HSK 1. And the first blue bar shows that the game contains 80% of those 173 HSK 1 characters.

But perhaps this is what you might expect from the observation that the bulk of text is made up of common characters, and HSK 1 is a bunch of common characters.

However, based on the frequency distribution of Chinese text in typical text, you would expect only 82% of the text to be characters introduced in HSK levels 1-4, while in our game, 95% of the text is introduced in HSK 1-4 (you get 95% if you stack the first 4 orange bars together).

Instead of 1 in 6 characters being outside HSK 1-4, in our game, only 1 in 20 characters are outside HSK 1-4.

This is the very definition of a graded reader, and it's part of what makes our text adventure games more accessible than most of the Chinese you might encounter in the wild.

Plus it's packaged in an engaging game with an interesting story, and you need to pay attention to make it through.

Let's go play!

Enjoy!

Kevin & Olle

Pepper & Carrot: Episode 1

Pepper & Carrot cover
(art by David Revoy)

Episode 1 is here!

Today we're releasing narrative to go with Episode 1 of Pepper & Carrot, complete with audio. Although we started off with episode 5, going forward, we'll go through them in numerical order, aiming to release one per week.

If you're not familiar with this comic, Pepper & Carrot is an open source web comic produced by David Revoy and collaborators. We have added narrative in Chinese to accompany the original artwork. This enables you to practice your Chinese with the help of the rich visual context of the world of Pepper and Carrot. You can read more in our earlier blog post, Pepper & Carrot: Visual Context for Chinese Practice.

This episode is free until we release the next episode (at which point that will be free). And as always, our back catalogue is available to our much appreciated WordSwing backers.

Go read!

We have also published word lists to go along with episode 1 and episode 5.

Enjoy!

Our text adventure, 火灾, now has audio

Stairwell
(photo by kyser sose)

Our text adventure game, 火灾, aka Burning Building, now has audio to go with it. If you've played it before, you might want to try it in audio only mode, or just listen along while you read. Or if you haven't tried it yet, now is as good a time as any.

Try it out!

For more about this game, check out our earlier blog post about the game. Also, our next game is nearly done, just finishing up the audio, which we'll release at the same time as the game.

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