Gamification is always a great way to make learning a little more fun – but in recent times, it tends to favor those with mobile devices. What about those of us spending too much money on Steam sales to buy an iPad?
For us, there’s Influent.
Influent is a newly-released language learning game on Steam meant to help you learn new vocabulary in Spanish, French, Japanese, German, Bulgarian, Swedish, Korean, Latin, Mandarin Chinese, or English. It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and costs about 10 dollars (5 dollars more for each extra language you want).
Update! Russian/Italian/Portuguese DLC + New Interface Languages
The fine folks at Three Flip Studios have seen fit to release several new features for Influent, the main one being a brand new language pack! Now you can learn all 400+ words in Influent in the native tongue of Mother Russia. An Italian language pack is now available as well, along with Portuguese!
They’ve also added several new interface languages — German, French, Swedish, and Russian. If you’re a native speaker of any of those languages, or you’re learning them and want some extra immersion, use this update to have all of the menus and options displayed in the language of your choosing.
Also, apparently you can press ‘F’ in-game to alternate between showing articles for nouns in French, German, and Swedish. I’m not sure how new this is, but it’s certainly new to me.
If you needed any of these things to give you an extra boost, check out the rest of my review below and give Influent a shot!
P.S. I somehow neglected to mention how wonderfully relaxing the music is in this game, so I’m going to mention it now — it’s wonderful.
Now, moving on.
How does it work?
In Influent, you play as a guy named Andrew Cross, and you wander around a small apartment learning new words. Which words you learn are completely up to you – you can simply click on any object in the environment to see and hear its equivalent in your target language. Since it’s all about learning to name the things around you, it’s actually pretty similar to my OVA method, minus the spaced-repetition with Anki.
Once you’ve found a word you’d like to remember, press the spacebar to add it to your vocabulary list. It’s worth noting that your vocabulary is segmented into smaller lists of 10 words each, so if you’d like to create themed vocabulary lists to test with later, you’ll want to place related words together so they can be studied at the same time.
When you double click an object, another display will show up to show the word, along with any available synonyms. If you have a preference for which synonym you use, click the arrow next to it to bring it to the top of the list and make it the default word choice.
You’ll also notice that certain words have little tabs near the top-right corner – these will show you adjectives and verbs related to the object, but they’re not available by default. You’ll need to use stars to unlock them, which you can get by completing various challenges (found in the ‘To Do’ tab at the top) and doing well on your vocabulary tests.
Alright, I’ve made some vocabulary lists. Now what?
Influent has two games available for practicing the vocabulary you’ve found. The first is Time Attack, which I love. The second is Fly By, which I am terrible at.
Both games let you practice 10 words at a time from your collection – you can either select one of your mini vocabulary lists, or have the game choose 10 words randomly from everything you’ve added.
The premise of the games is simple: you’re given a word from the list, and then you need to find and click it. If you’re playing Fly By, you’ll fly around and shoot the object with lasers.
This is where it can get tricky if you’re playing Fly By. When I played, I found the controls to be pretty poor for the plane. I’m sure you could mess with the mouse sensitivity in the options and make it better, but I kept crashing into everything. I’ve chosen to just avoid that feature and play Time Attack instead – no pilot’s license for this guy.
No matter which game you prefer, I actually love the premise of having to find the word you’re given. This makes it so that you can’t just mindlessly give the word’s equivalent in your native tongue and be done with it. You have to think: What does cama look like? Where would I find it?
I find this to be a great way to get a word’s meaning into your head. After all, when you hear someone speaking another language, you don’t want to be wasting time translating every word to your native language – you just want to understand!
If you’re playing in a language like Japanese where there are multiple writing systems available, you’ll have to choose which one you want to use when you create your game save. Unfortunately, I can’t find any way to change it once a save has been started, but maybe this will be changed in the future. For now, make sure you pick a system you can read, because Influent is not designed to teach you a writing system – only vocabulary.
Overall, Influent is a great tool for learning household words. These particular words surround you on a daily basis, so you can practice plenty of the 400+ words you’ll find in Influent as soon as you exit the game, making it instantly useful to your everyday life.
Don’t buy Influent thinking it’ll teach you a language all by itself, but in combination with other systems like Duolingo, MindSnacks, and most importantly, real human beings, you’ll be well on your way to speaking a new language.