I Really Wanted to Like House of Languages.
Mobile Jam House of Languages aims to be a better way to learn languages using Virtual Reality as a medium. Language learning is an area that I feel has boundless potential in the VR space, but some of the same challenges are present as in traditional language learning software. House of Languages has a long way to go if they want to truly create a way to effectively learn a language in VR.
I have spent over 4 years living in Japan, and all together about 7 years studying Japanese. Having used most traditional language learning software, I’ve found most of them do not do a good job of truly teaching you how to learn a language. I was hoping that with VR, there would be some fundamentally different ways developers could create to better utilize the medium to more effectively learn a language. While House of Languages is by far the most polished out of the Mobile VR Jam submissions of this type, what I have seen so far is nothing more than a game of “find the object”, albeit a very good looking one.
In House of Languages, you are placed in various rooms with an adorable little bear (or racoon?), who tasks you with finding each of the different household items that appear as icons in your field of view. Spanish, English, and German were the languages available in this submission. I tried a little Spanish back in school, so I decided to give that one a go. Immediately I thought I had chosen the wrong option, as the bear started talking to me in Spanish and I had no idea what he was saying. That would be fine if there was some context to figure it out, but no such context existed. Upon later trying the English version, it turns out the bear was saying “Help me to find the objects”. I thought he was welcoming me to the game.
I believe that the first object presented to me was an armchair. I saw a tiny armchair icon and then looked for it. When I gazed at the armchair, I heard a voice say “armchair” in Spanish. I then tapped the touchpad to advance to the next object. Rinse and repeat until I finished, selected the bear, and moved to the next scene. I quickly figured out I could ignore everything and just match the picture with the item to advance.
I had no idea if I was saying the term correctly, as there is nothing analyzing your speech in House of Languages. Even if you memorized the words for each object, you could be reinforcing the wrong way of saying them, which is really bad for learning any language. There were some objects such as the “yellow towel” in the bathroom area that were extremely confusing. Until I ran through the English version, I thought that the Spanish word for yellow towel was the way to refer to towels in general. In another scene they have a picture or painting on the wall and are teaching you to say the word “frame” for it. Now I think frame means picture in Spanish.
I really like how the developers are trying to stick to a method of learning that encourages complete immersion and leaves out the user’s native language, but a lot of work needs to be done to ensure that it is made very clear what the item is that the player is looking at.
I spent about 30 minutes running through the Spanish version multiple times, and I could not retain more than a single word. If the goal of House of Languages is to provide a very basic level of exposure to a new language then it does an adequate job, but I cannot find anything in it that effectively uses Virtual Reality to enhance the way we learn languages. As it stands now, it is just a pretty game of find and seek. Based off of reading the submission description it seems that future goals for the project just involve expanding the locations, amount of words, and languages included. The focus instead should be changing the core way House of Languages works, as it is completely not effective in learning a language.
This is a work in progress and the developer has been very open to feedback in the forums. I would like to note that while a huge amount of changes need to be done for the core functionality, the potential is there for this title to evolve into something quite spectacular. Even though the current version has a lot of work needed, I will be placing votes for it as given proper funding it could be something huge.
VR Pill will be keeping an extra close eye on House of Languages and how it develops. You can check out House of Languages at their submission page.