The Great Language Game

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Not long ago I wrote about recognizing the written text of different languages (remember that great comic by┬áMalachi Ray Rempen?). I’ve got another challenge for you today–identifying a spoken language.

Can I assume I’m not the only one who tries to do this? When I hear people around me conversing in a different language, I’m curious. Opportunities to work on such a puzzle seem increasingly frequent–not just at airports or tourist spots, but also at the grocery store or the library parking lot.

When hanging around in a nonchalant manner, trying to overhear enough to make a guess, there are two problems: first, there’s the slight risk that you’ll come across as a little creepy, and second, there’s no feedback. You don’t have a chance to find out if you guessed the language right, unless you’re willing to march up and ask.

As Ninja is so fond of saying, the internet is awesome! I have an online option that involves no creepiness risk, and tells you if you guessed right. To start out, The Great Language Game gives you a short spoken passage and asks you to say which of four languages you think it is.

logoMy experience so far? It varies wildly. Sometimes I’m doing fine–if the recording gives me a major European language I tend to do pretty well. Other times I’ve got at least a chance–for instance, I remember that Afrikaans is related to Dutch, so that’s a possible hint. When close isn’t close enough, I may guess Thai, but the language is actually Javanese. Occasionally I’m abashed by the languages I mix up, but there are times I don’t even recognize the name of one of the options. Ossetic, anyone? How about Telugu?

The nice thing is that after you’ve made enough mistakes to end the round (that would be three), the game presents you with the languages you misidentified, an option to listen again, and info about the main country where it is spoken, the region, and a link to learn more. Over time the number of languages you choose among is increased, which adds to the challenge.

Lars Yencken, the game’s creator, invites people who’d like their native tongue added to find an online sample and then get in touch. I don’t know how many languages are currently included in the game, but it’s a much larger set than “languages whose names I know.”

The Great Language Game–give it a try!

[Images: snipview.com, greatlanguagegame.com]

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