I know this may sound weird, but hear me out. I believe visual novels (excluding eroges) are the best language learning, actually improving medium available, and here the reasons…
Best way to learn a language is being exposed to that language as much as possible. The most common way to do that is reading books, watching tv movies, living in a country that target language is spoken etc…
As a 3 yo otome player let me share my experiences and how they effect my Japanese learning. And as a foreign language teaching major uni student hear my reasonings.
I shared this on reddit and I had really nice replies, and one or two mean comments. Otome community on reddit gave me good insights about this issue and because of that I am grateful to them.
While reading this please consider playing them in target language after having some proficiency or whatever… As an efl learner they help me with english as well but thats another story…
- Written and spoken forms at the same time
First of all visual novels lets player see the written form of language and hear it thanks to their interface.
Learning Kanji is a big problem for me, I can read katakana and hiragana without any problems but kanji is different story. Whenever I come across an unknown kanji I usually try to draw it or find it through its radicals in online dictionaries and this is time consuming and frustrating. While playing those games because I hear it, I can easily write the unknown kanji in hiragana and search it.
- Visuality and Context
Sometimes thanks to cgi or character sprites a reader can understand whats going on easily. Visuality and context helps player to understand words or chunks ore clearly. Characters face expresions tells a lot too.
- Being a player, using more senses
Let’s compare it with other media forms such as movies and tv series, audience is usally passive in those, she only sits and watches. But in games, generally more senses are used. In other words gamers are more active in comparison to other media consumers.
Visual novels as a game style does not require many senses in comparison to other game styles such as role playing games. But they still require more activity than watching tv, such as in order to proceed gamer should push some buttons.
- Goes the same pace with the player, message speed and auto mode settings
The title is self explanatory but let me say this player can choose how fast the text appears or can choose or change the speed of automode in order to better gaming experience.
While watching movies in the target language, I act lazily and do not look for the unknown words. I think I rely on my general idea of movie a lot. But while playing those games I proceed when I am sure that I understand the given text well, after searching every unknown word. If you do that in movies or dramas or books it becomes frustrating and leaves a bad taste. But in visual novels it feels less frustrating because player is the one who choose to proceed or not, it goes with the speed of the player.
- Backlog option
Thanks to backlog option a player can listen a certain part of a dialogue as many times as she wishes or even can jump to that scene. I use this a lot while playing them.
- Story goes in dialogues
The story heavily goes on dialogues, this helps player to understand some speech patterns in target language, such as how sentences usually ends and some colloqioul speech.
- Sometimes they include tips, encyclopedia sections
The title is self explanatory. This helps reader to understand the story better. Explain some key concepts. This is especially beneficial if the story is histoical, and kanjis are archaic. Remeber the hakuouki shoguanate orders meme.
If other reasons fails, this reason stays still. Visual novels, especially otome games are great adventure. I like playing them because as a medium they let player experience different endings and different points of view. If they are written well they are very enjoyable. And the localized part of otomes are very small part of whole unfortunately.
- Used Language
I do not know how to explain this, but the languages in other games(especially JRPG’s) has fantastic elements in them. They have many terms or words that we do not encounter in daily speech. For example, a detailed web page for the languages used in FF. When I first play FFX, I did not understand anything the characters said, what is blitzball, spira, sin, fayth, Yevon, Maester, Aeon etc… It felt like I went to a fantastic realm, and that’s what Final Fantasy is all about… Let’s get back to our main topic. It is not daily speech.
Also most of the speech appears in other JRPG’s are mostly magic or attack names.
Also I tried to find some existing research on this and I couldn’t find anything, I’ll search more later on. There are researchs about playing games and how they effect language learning but not specifically for the visual novels. I believe the reasons behind that are:
- Visual novels are not as popular as other game types.
- Their main market in East Asia, especially Japan, China, Korea… Not popular in West, becomes popular in recent years though. Maybe there are researchs in the languages are spoken in that area.
- Most of them are mature content, but in recent years they become more diverse in content.
Sorry for mistakes. That’s all for today.