One of the movie highlights of 2016 was Arrival, which told the story of what happens when mysterious spacecraft suddenly appear across the globe. In the film, Amy Adams plays the part of Dr. Louise Banks, an expert linguist who has to quickly find a way to communicate with the newly-arrived aliens, called heptapods. Assuming you’re a teacher, you already know how much you can achieve in the classroom with nothing more than a whiteboard and marker. Arrival takes these basic teaching tools to a whole new level (literally).


Apparently, the spoken alien language used in the film was created using sounds that included whale songs and cat purring. The written language is based around a series of circular symbols that look amazing. Another amazing thing is the speed with which communication is established. Plot holes aside, Arrival is one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in a long, long time. If you haven’t seen it, watch out for it on your favourite streaming service arriving sometime over the next couple of months.
In the meantime, if you fancy taking on the challenge of trying to make sense of an alien language, check out Sethian, a new sci-fi language puzzle game created by Grant Kuning who describes himself as ‘a programmer who likes linguistics and learning new things’. After graduating from college, Grant went to China where he taught English as a foreign language. He used his experience as a teacher (and learner of Chinese) to develop Sethian which he helped to fund through Kickstarter.
In the game, you play the part of an archaeologist from the future, exploring a distant colony which has been abandoned for centuries. In the ruins, you discover a functional computer, which operates in the native language. Your task is to study and decipher the language, using it to find out what happened to the colony.
When you start the game, you find yourself looking at a series of symbols on the computer screen. The alien language uses a series of 100 unique symbols. These function as words on their own, but also combine to form new words. Luckily, you have some help to decipher the language. Right click and you open a journal with tips and instructions. Follow the tips and you can start using the language. As the game’s creator writes: ‘Those who comprehend the game’s language will find peace, but only those who master its world will truly see the end of Sethian.’ Intriguing.
It’s a really nice concept and there’s something mesmeric about the game’s interface that makes you want to learn the language to find out what really happened to the colony. If you’re a fan of languages, science fiction and puzzle games, then it could be the game for you. Sethian is available on Steam for €4.99.
If you and your students are interested in communicating with aliens from another world, take a look at our e-Book English for the Alien Invasion.

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