LINGO: Where words are a matter of life and death

Learning a language is very much like playing a game: you need to be strategic, know how to identify what’s important and what’s not so essential. You must assess probability and take risks. Sometimes you must make do with little (your word bank, your range of structures) but you must also try to be accurate. You also need to be open to the unexpected and use different sources of information (not just verbal, but also visual, musical, etc) not to mention a large dose of intuition. There are grammar rules for you to work out, but otherwise, like a computer game, imagination and resourcefulness are key, not forgetting a willingness to have a go and occasionally to get it wrong.

LINGO: Where words are a matter of life and death

Play through the scenario below in which you are unexpectedly dropped in a land whose language you need to learn as quickly as possible. Then, once you’ve played through the game and learned some basic principles in this language, have a go at the questions below! Questions 1-5 are a review of the game, and questions 6-12 build on what you learned in these questions.

You are unexpectedly dropped in a land whose language you need to learn as quickly as possible or you won’t be able to access any resources in it and your life will be endangered. You meet a (reassuringly) peaceful-looking inhabitant.

1. He immediately launches into the following speech:

Garram! Brabo ari kala Plam, (vigorously pointing to himself). Kala brabo bari? (gently pointing at you?)

What is he trying to say:

  • Welcome to Plam. Have you got any luggage?
  • I love Plam. Do you too?
  • My name is Plam. What’s your name?

2. Can you answer him?

3. Someone else turns up and they greet each other enthusiastically.

Garram Sala!, he says to the newcomer.

Garram Plam!, she replies.

He turns to you and says, pointing to her:

Mari brabo kala Sala.

Does this mean:

  • I wish I’d not had a second cup of Sala.
  • Next stop Sala.
  • Her name is Sala.

4. He then says to her, showing a vat of boiling liquid.

Sala, kilas’ pito?

Vloum eminam, pristam! Kilam pito primstick!, she replies, and she seizes her glass with gusto.

Does this mean:

  • Sala, would you like a drink? – Yes, please, thank you!
  • Sala, would you like a swim? – I’d love to, but I’m in a rush!
  • Sala, are you interested in thermodynamics? – Certainly, let’s get going!

5. He turns to you and says: X, kilas’ pito?

What’s your most likely answer, given you’re keen to establish a good relationship?

  • Vloum eminam, pristam!
  • Vlam eminam, pristam!
  • Pristam, kilas’ pito.

From this conversation, you have learnt quite a lot of words of different kinds.

6. Can you identify two verbs, and give their meanings?

7. Can you identify two nouns?

8. Can you find three ways of indicating possession (my, your, his/her)?

9. What’s the most likely meaning of primstick in question 4?

10. How do you say “to drink” in this language?

11. What are the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person singular endings of verbs?

12. If “home” = heimo, “in” = o, how would you say: “I want to go to my country”?

The following links are useful if you want to continue to explore languages through games:


Marie Elven teaches written French language to all undergraduates taking French at St John’s. Her special interest lies in teaching Prose (translation from English into French), an exercise which provides multiple opportunities to explore aspects of language. She is a strong believer in the integrated study of language and literature, a belief which is central to her approach to language teaching.