We’ve talked countless times about how to learn Japanese. Heck, we’ve even brought you lists of essential applications and resources to help you in your quest to master the language. But we’ve always maintained that the best way to learn Japanese, or any language for that matter, is to make practical use of it and make it relevant to your own life.

And what better way to use your newly acquired Japanese than making friends all over the world while avoiding being crushed to death by spiked ceilings or knocked into a bottomless pit?

Japan-based educator and PhD student James York knows a thing or two about learning a language. As well as having passed the toughest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, he’s also an assistant professor at a Japanese university where he teaches English. With years of experience under his belt, James knows that learning a language can be tough, but also that the best way to pick it up is to experience it for “real” and not just stare at textbooks.

Of course, we’re not all fortunate enough to be able to spend six months chilling in Japan, soaking up the lingo and writing kanji characters with a giant paintbrush. But what most of us do have access to (unless you’re reading these words through the power of your mind alone, in which case you clearly have no need of such devices) is a computer.

Through the internet, we can acquire more information than was ever possible even a couple of decades ago. We can watch videos, chat, shop, share information, ask questions and give advice.

We also can play video games.

▼ Your next Japanese class. You don’t even have to wear pants.


Using Minecraft, the ludicrously successful sandbox game that fosters an environment of exploration, creativity and communication, James has built a virtual campus of sorts, called Kotoba Miners, which is filled with classrooms that present increasingly difficult Japanese lessons.

Enter a classroom and you’ll come face-to-face with the block-headed avatars of other players; other learners. There are simple recap activities and the like that can be done alone, but the game requires players to actively communicate – using their real voices – with other language learners. Japanese is of course the one shared language in the classroom and native speakers often frequent the servers so there’s literally no excuse for not being able to practice your Japanese skills or use what you have to learn more.

There are even practical assignments in Kotoba Miners which require players to go out into the virtual world to complete tasks – tasks which are given to them in Japanese and introduce new grammar and vocabulary. By completing these activities – some of which are potentially perilous to one’s avatar – players are cementing concepts and new words into their minds. When you’re told to mitsukete (find) enough objects, for example, you quickly remember not just the names of the things you had to locate, but the verb for “find” itself and how it’s conjugated in a number of contexts. It is an entirely organic learning process. And it’s fun, too.

Here’s James on the thinking behind the innovative learning resource:

Learning in a virtual world is much like learning in the real-world. Unlike a textbook, it is possible to interact with the environment and players which give instant feedback. Experiential learning is ‘learning by doing’. A textbook can teach you about how to order an egg bagel, coffee with soy-milk, and blueberry muffin, but it cannot give you the experience of actually doing it. And it is this ‘experience’ that your brain needs to retain the knowledge.

All of our classes are based on practical, real-world activities that build on one another from week to week. Start by describing the colour of other students clothes, talk about your family and friends, progress onto group role-plays, and end in a 100% Japanese only environment speaking with Japanese natives.

See? And you thought Minecraft was only useful for replicating moments from Disney movies.

Our friends over at Tofugu sat down with James for a chat about his creation, so be sure to check out their interview here if you’d like to learn more. The rest of you, it’s time to mine some knowledge!

Source: Kotoba Miners h/t Gamespot
Images: Kotoba Miners