Replacing Gaming Time with Lifetime Language Learning

By: Joshua Francom

In the past, I’d been a passable intermediate-level Spanish speaker. This was gained from four years in high school and up to 203 level in college. The next level I needed to grow my skill was to begin full-immersion studies either by taking classes exclusively taught in Spanish, or by going to a Spanish speaking country. My formal studies ended around 2011, when life changes forced me out of school. The loss of my skill in Spanish became one of my greatest regrets.

My relationship with Spanish was an odd one. I never felt the need to have a goal in mind for speaking Spanish fluently; I’m not sure why I stuck with it so long. I’d always enjoyed learning about history, political systems, and social studies (for lack of a better term). That being said, the need to travel was never in my blood, nor did I have a particular interest in one culture over another. I also never believed I’d have the money to travel, and I rarely considered the future to begin with. If I had to guess, I may have thought that lacking two years of foreign language studies on my transcript would disqualify myself for college. This is despite having no plans for attending a university. I was on the path towards fluency, regardless of my intent.

Letting my skill fall to disuse by 2019, I struggled to have conversations about even simple topics. The vocabulary was there, but the grammar and conjugation were lost and forgotten. I still remembered some basic idiomatic expressions, but I was definitely not speaking at even a kindergarten level. If dropped off in a country like Ecuador, I could communicate the basics, but it would not be pretty. Communicating in anything other than the present tense was practically a battle; it could not be done with any sense of expediency.

Maybe it was a sense of self-disgust which led me to downloading the app called Duolingo. I needed some way of gaining my ability back after years of considering it. Money for college is hard to come by, time is even harder.

Duo, the mascot of Duolingo. Don’t let the friendly exterior fool you. My family is still missing.

This is where the point of my article begins, and why it relates to gaming at all. I had to find some time in my day, and I found it by reducing my time with video games. I love video games, but lately my will to play them for long periods of time has left me. This has resulted in time being scheduled for video game playing, but instead of playing a video game, I boot up the YouTube app and binge. I then look back on my time and mourn its passing. Other times, I seem to not decide on which game to play; I get choice paralysis because I have a huge backlog to choose from.

Clearly, this isn’t a situation I’d prefer to be in. I like gaming, I just can’t bring myself to actually do it with life happening. I have YouTube videos to edit, a podcast to speak on, a girlfriend to keep happy, a day job to work, articles to write, and a website to run (the one you are currently on). I don’t say this to complain, just to add context to the point. Obviously, something has to give. Since, my video game time has been mismanaged, it just makes sense to take from that time.

Now, video game time is important. It is my primary way to relax. I can’t just replace video game time wholesale with Spanish studies because that’s hours of time to designate. Even during my most active schooling periods, only an hour was designated each day for Spanish. Being in the United States, running across Spanish speakers is rare in my personal life. This means that I’ll largely be teaching myself Spanish alone, with very few people to have conversations with. I would get bored denoting too much time doing anything. Remember, I was getting bored playing video games for too long as well.

Admittedly, when I first started using Duolingo, I wasn’t thinking about any of this. I just spent as much time as I could trying to get my skill back. As time went on, it became clear I needed to find some way to structure my time to keep from going overboard. Fifteen days into my studies, I started considering these things.

The struggle is real.

Out of necessity, I came up with a guideline: I will do my Duolingo lessons before playing video games. Once I get tired of my daily studies, I’ll give myself the go-ahead to play video games. I also decided to try to do my lessons earlier in the day so that I wouldn’t feel rushed to do them in the afternoon. The good thing about this is that if I feel like doing more, sometimes I can do two lessons in a day (morning/afternoon).

This system is working out for me, and I’ve found that my video game time hasn’t actually suffered considering I had a non-functional system before. By the time I finish my lessons, I know what I’m going to do with my time after.

I’ve even considered looking for video games which have a Spanish translation to help with this time. A search has been started for a Spanish language version of a Pokémon game for the Game Boy Advance line or earlier, but I’ve not yet found any. I could search for Spanish translation patches for use in ROMs, but the piracy aspect makes me consider otherwise. Instead of using these patches in emulation programs, I could use them on my Retron 5, since I’d actually have to own the game to use it there. The thing worth considering is whether I trust the site I’m downloading the patches from.

The Classics.

The easiest thing would be to just find actual cartridges of official translations. This is easier said than done. Searching Amazon’s Mexico page yields just English language cartridges for Pokémon. Same thing on Amazon’s Spain page. If this sounds weird, it is because I’m limiting my search to the Game BoyGame Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance titles. The reason for this is because there is less going on in those titles, and I’ve replayed them in English several times. Playing the Spanish language versions would be an easier affair since I have familiarity with them.

Another aspect of my search lead me to asking, Kelsey Spencer of the Pink Gorilla game store, whether any have come through her store. For those who don’t know, Pink Gorilla is a game store in Seattle, Washington. Kelsey was recently at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE 2019), and was part of the Metal Jesus Rocks panel which I attended as a fan. To my joy, she told me they pass through the store fairly often. I live in Portland, so a trip to Seattle is a quick trip, but it’s not one I could just take up without some planning.

I also asked every other vendor selling retro games if they knew where I could find the macguffin I’d been searching for. This yielded no results, which is why I felt compelled to ask Kelsey about it at the panel.

A few days after the PRGE, a fellow coworker told me she was going to Seattle on vacation soon. Further, one of her planned trips was a visit to Pink Gorilla. Unfortunately on her visit, she did not find any Spanish language Pokémon games. I’ll simply need to plan a trip myself some time.

I hate to leave this article in a state without resolution to a problem. But this article, much like my Spanish studies and my search for a Spanish language Pokémon game, may never end or reach its goal.

This is not a paid promotion for Duolingo.

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