Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Learning another language for geeks and gamers

Learning a second language is something I think everyone should do. Which is all nice and good to say, but I have to be honest and admit that I suck at learning languages.

It isn't that I can't learn a language or that it it too hard, I just get bored with it. I barely made it through 4 semesters of Spanish in college, mostly because I didn't want to study. I sincerely want to learn a new language, but I just have a hard time staying focused on it. Currently I'm working on Irish and playing around with German, but much like the 2 years of Spanish I had to take during my undergrad, my heart just isn't in it. The desire it there, just not the focus. However, I may have found a way around this little hurtle.

Being a geek I just can't help but feel drawn to the fictional languages that I encounter in movies, TV shows and books in a way that I'm not with real world languages. I'd love to speak Elvish, Orc, Na'vi, Romulan, or any number of other geeky languages. Unfortunately, you can't take Klingon or Tengwar at any of the colleges in my area. Lucky for me we have the Internet.

During my studies of Irish and German I stumbled upon a great site called Omniglot that contains information about every language I've ever heard of, as well as many more I never knew existed. One day, while perusing the alphabetical list of languages, I discovered that the site also has information about fictional languages. 

 Klingon, Romulan, Atlantean, Tengwar, and, my favorite, Kryptonian are just a few of the fictional languages on the site. Not only does the site have information, including alphabets, for these languages, but also links to other sites with more detailed information.There are even areas that give advice and useful tips for learning languages.

The best tip I've seen so far is to learn a language that you actually want to learn. Which would explain why I'm doing much better with Irish than I ever did with Spanish. I simply have never wanted learn Spanish at any time in my life. I only picked it to fulfill my degree requirements because German wasn't available at that time. Plus my advisor convinced me that it would be more useful than German. Shows what they know because I still can't (under)stand Spanish. 

If you are not wanting to actually learn a language but just find some writing to use in your game you can just use the fictional or magical script sections. There are more than enough authentic scripts here to use in any type of game you run.

Once I found all of these fictional languages on Omniglot, it got me curious about what other resources there are for these types of languages. So I began searching for others.

Besides the ones listed on the Omniglot site, I also stumbled upon a site for learning the Na'vi language heard in the movie Avatar. Learn Na'vi is an amazingly well done site for such a new fictional language. There are literally hundreds of pages of pdfs that can be downloaded, including workbooks and dictionaries to help you learn the language. If you are having trouble learning the language you can just jump on the forums for help. If you have a printer that can do double sided printing I highly recommend printing the pdfs from this site out in booklet form. It makes them much easier to carry with you, while still allowing you to read them easily. Otherwise you are going to be using at least one ream of paper.

If you are like me and prefer to both hear and see the language you are attempting to learn, then you may want to check out the Project Ngaynume podcast. I just found this site and have not had the opportunity to actually listen to the show, so I can't give it a definite thumbs up yet. I will update this post or do another one once I have had a chance to review the show to let you know if it is worth your time. Or you could just check it out for yourself and save us both the time. 

For us Superman fans, Kryptonian, is a language that you probably have wanted to learn for quite a while. If so you should really check out All of the information is on site, with no downloads, but it is still a very informative and well done site.

If you find a language on Omniglot that you want to learn, you should also check out or other booksellers for dictionaries and workbooks. Of course the only ones you are likely to find are for the more popular languages like Klingon and some form of Tolkien's Elven language(s). I got an Elvish Dictionary for $4, which is the total cost with S&H. That's not a bad deal.

Every fan of the Harry Potter books/movies that I know has tried to speak Parseltongue at some point. When my daughter was a few years younger she would hiss at me in her own make-believe parseltongue language. Yes, I did encourage the behavior and yes I sometimes(always) answered back in my own version of the language. Something I think most Harry Potter fans have done at some point.

While not as detailed as the other language sites, The Parselmouth is still a fun little site. Since the language is mostly just a spoken language (snakes don't have hands after all), there are no pdfs to download. Instead you type in the word or phrase you want to say and the site makes an audio translation for you to play. You also have the option to download the parseltongue version of your word/phrase to store on your computer or like me you can use it as a ringtone. I'm not claiming that the parseltongue found on this site is any more "legit" than the hissing my daughter and I did, but it should still appeal to most Potter fans. (Note: for those of you running the current Paizo Adventure Path: Serpent's Skull, this site could provide some really good audio props for your game.)

For you Legion of Superhero fans, and who isn't, there is also a site to learn the Interlac alphabet used in the comics.  It is just a one to one substitution cipher for the English language alphabet, but still could be useful if you are running a LSH game.

Whether you are waiting for the Great Cthulhu to return and wipe out all those non-believers, running a CoC game or a Pathfinder game in the Darklands you may find it useful to learn a little Aklo.

Atlantean is another language you may find useful. Especially if you are running a Rifts campaign.

If you are a Wheel of Time fan like me, you may want to check out these sites to help you learn the Old Tongue. The Complete Old Tongue, Dictionary of the Old Tongue and the Wheel of Time Wiki are some sites I think you will definitely like.

If you are addicted to the Sims,  you may want to learn Simmish to better understand what your people are babbling about.

For those of you that are more inclined to stick with the Tolkien languages you will probably want to check out the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship, Parma Eldalamberon, The Elvish Pronunciation Guide,  the Eldarin Wiki, Duke Universities Elvish Language page, The Council of Elrond, Ardalambion, Fellowship of the Word-smiths or the Elvish Dictionaries. May may also want to check out this site  with various Quenya lessons, or this site with what seems to be some interesting info about Tengwar, or perhaps even this one which seems to have numerous pdfs you can download. Those are just a few of the sites I found for learning the various Elvish and Tolkien languages.

I'm always looking and finding even more sites that focus on learning fictional languages and I will post them as I find them. I'm planning to try my hand at learning Na'vi, Kryptonian or some form of Elvish, so I'll definitely be keeping my eyes open for sites related to those languages. If you happen to know of some really good sites or just want to offer some useful advice about learning a language  feel free to share in the comments.