Learning languages through play

Connecting language, culture, and blocks!

Many people around the world use Minecraft: Education Edition to learn things, from lessons in digital responsibility, to environmental sustainability, to meeting blocky versions of social impact leaders that can teach you about global citizenship. But did you know that you can use Minecraft: Education Edition to explore different cultures and even learn languages, too? 

Seeing as May is AAPIHM: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we thought we’d explore Ngā Motu (The Islands) and learn about the indigenous language, culture, and people of Aotearoa (New Zealand). Whetu Paitai, the creator of the Ngā Motu module and founder of Piki Studios, says the idea came from his desire to pass on the cultural knowledge he’d grown up with to his own children. “I saw the opportunity to create an immersive world – although this time it wasn’t the Minecraft universe, it was the Māori universe.” 

Arriving at two small islands not far off the mainland of Aotearoa, you get to explore a traditional Māori settlement called a Pā, and discover how they were arranged, what they looked like, and what kinds of activities happened on a typical day. Find out how food was grown, stored, and cooked and learn all about the lives of the early Māori, from the types of water vessels they used to traverse the Pacific Ocean, to why they had separate structures for sleeping and eating. You can even begin to learn Te Reo Māori in the module, the Māori language! “All indigenous cultures are wrapped up with many facets,” says Whetu Paitai, “and all of those things together are what make that indigenous culture what it is. Te Reo Māori is [one of three] national languages of New Zealand and it’s usually the starting point for a lot of people for learning about [Māori culture].” 

In the Ngā Motu module, you can learn Te Reo Māori by discovering new words in conversation with characters, attending in-game pronunciation lessons (with some very rewarding fireworks when you get it right!) and by repeating simple conversational phrases used throughout. "Any time is good to learn a language," says David Hulll, an assistant professor of Chinese at Washington College in the United States, although he agrees that it can be difficult to fit it in as an adult. "It's hard to sit down and practice writing characters when you could be playing video games.”  

Who is going to tell David the good news that learning languages in Minecraft ticks both boxes? This module teaches you how to present a weather report in Japanese, you can even travel to a snowy biome to report on the blizzards or build an elaborate weather studio for extra credit! (Disclaimer: you might not get extra credit. But at least you'll have fun.) Another module, approved by Cambridge Assessment, teaches English speaking, listening, writing, and reading by taking you on an epic quest packed with characters to meet, worlds to explore, and puzzles to crack! 

“I think when we’re talking about games and learning, [we’re talking about them] like they’re two really separate things,” says Whetu Paitai, “and I think one of the big philosophies that underpins a lot of indigenous cultures, especially ones that are based around oral history, is that things like games and learning are not two different worlds, they’re the same thing. Something like Minecraft isn’t just a game, it can also be one big learning platform.” 

Through immersive and interactive learning, students are able to share "stories, experiences, and recognition of the accomplishments of others within their cultural identifiers" says Ken Shelton, one of the creators of "Lessons In Good Trouble”, all of which can empower a student to become more confident and comfortable in the classroom, and Deputy Principal Lena Francis Ngaei Kura Ote Rongo Meinders agrees. "It empowers our Māori students because it recognizes the unique place of Te Reo Māori here in New Zealand […] and we take that really seriously.” 

If you want to learn more about Māori culture this May, or learn Te Reo Māori yourself, then why not explore the immersive world of Ngā Motu! 

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