Dracula Avontuur: Learning a Language by Context   9 comments

This has been about Dutch, but I’m going to start with Russian.

Suppose I asked you what the word класс means. Perhaps you could make a guess (knack?) and perhaps you could even guess correctly, but unless you already know the Cyrillic alphabet, it’s still just a guess.

Now, take a look at this book cover…

…and this one.

Using the above book covers as a guide, can you tell what класс means now?

I learned Cyrillic this way about 15 years ago via a series of pictures which started with words you could figure out from English knowledge, eventually moving through the entire alphabet. (I can’t find the webpage that did this anymore — I doubt it’s still extant — but it was brilliant.)

Ever since then I’ve wondered about the possibility of learning a language almost entirely like a puzzle, with the slow accumulation of content. Playing Dracula in Dutch feels a little like that; obviously, I’m looking up words I don’t know, but occasionally I luck into a sentence where I can figure out 80%, and the remaining 20% get added to my mental bank.

For example, upon entering Dracula’s Castle, the first sentence is parsable:

Je bent nu in een immense hal van het kasteel.

From the same description:

De zware deur naar buiten is open.

Trying to “sluit deur” (close door):

De kasteeldeur is met geen mogelijkheid te bewegen.

Looking at the room again, I noticed the door was still open, so I assumed the above message conveyed something along the lines of the “zware deur” being too large or heavy to close.

Later, I found a “zware gesloten kist” and tried to take it:

Die is absoluut niet te tillen.

With knowing that “zware” was heavy/big I was able to guess what was going on here and what “te tillen” meant, especially with the “absoluut niet” (absolutely not) phrase in there.

While I have made it farther in the castle, progress in general still feels minor, so I’ll report back on the actual events of the game next time.

Posted September 2, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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9 responses to “Dracula Avontuur: Learning a Language by Context

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  1. My semi-educated guess, without looking anything up and using only the two given book covers, is that класс means “class.” Based on the thinking:

    1. “That first book is clearly about tennis, and the most prominent word on the cover is six letters matching tennis’s letter pattern (and starting with “te”) – so I’ll guess that с in Cyrillic is the equivalent of ‘s’ in English.”

    2. “That second book shows a telephone keypad on the left, and the second and third words on the cover look like they could be ‘telephon(something)’ and ‘electron(something)’ – so I’ll guess that Cyrillic к is equivalent to ‘c’ and Cyrillic л is equivalent to ‘l’ in English.”

    Of course, what remains unclear to me is whether класс means “the place where students go to learn,” or if it means “grace and suavity,” or if it means “the proletariat or the bourgeoisie, for example” – or some combination(s) thereof. Or, indeed, if my semi-educated guess is correct at all.

  2. Would you like to play some interactive fiction in Russian, which also has an English translation? I can recommend some :)

  3. This is quite amusing. This remember me how I played Rod Pike’s Dracula when I was an infant. XD

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