D&D taught me English

I was flipping through the my copy of the AD&D 2e Player's handbook and noticed something I had forgotten was there - My own scribblings in the equipment charts, translating most of the entries to Danish.

It brought back memories of when and how I got into AD&D. I was about nine years old and wanted to graduate to what I perceived to be the holy grail of roleplaying. Except, I wouldn't start english classes in school for another year and the cover of the book even said "for ages 10 and up". 

I was an active reader for my age though and knew some basic english by osmosis, simply from hanging out with my older siblings who were taught it, and connecting Danish sub-titles to spoken English on tv.

So that year for those summer holidays in our summer house, my primary reading consisted of the Player's Handbook and a big fat dictionary. And whenever I came across a word I couldn't pick up from context, I'd look it up (I still remember sitting in that sofa looking up the meaning of 'Constitution' and 'Dexterity' - the latter struck me as especially arcane). And then just go through the PHB cover to cover. Many times. Many passages I'd skip more lightly over as there was only so much I could process and then re-visit at another re-read.

I didn't actually use the dictionary much after the first few turns. Nor with the additional sourcebooks I started picking up from the library and got for my birthday. I quickly learned how to learn from sentence context.

As a result, when I actually started english classes in school, I spent 3 years being told to go to the back of the class and read a book in English, since the classes were a waste of time for me. It wasn't until I changed schools and was told we all have to follow the same course material that I took lessons. My behaviour in those classes was less than stellar as I was exceptionally bored. 

At 11, my four year older brother thought I was making stuff up when he saw me reading Lord of the Rings in English and insisted that this was not possible since he couldn't read those in English and he was top grade in his class. Well, if you can read AD&D rulebooks at the same pace as you read in your native tongue, Tolkien's prose is really not that challenging.

It wasn't until high school I actually learned anything about English in school. And this was mostly understanding why the grammar I had already internalised worked the way it did. Of course, by then I had devoured hundreds of issues of Dragon Magazine, scores of D&D and AD&D supplements, dozens of D&D and other fantasy novels. Reading the Danish translations, what few there were, felt ham-fisted and decidedly off.

Having near-native fluency in English has been a great help for me in later life in many ways, but mostly I consider it a rich source of enjoyment - that I have unrestrained access to the largest body of world literature there is. 

And as I sit here contemplating this, it strikes me how remarkable the power of learning can be for a young child who is driven to learn something, and the importance of identifying and supporting those drives in children. I don't know that there are many adults driven enough to learn a language from reading books with a dictionary. So thank you D&D, for all the stuff I learned as a child and adolescent through RPGs.


  1. Possibly one of the coolest origin stories that I've read in a long time. You demonstrated the eternal truth that a motivated kid can learn anything.

  2. What a great story!
    Reading the 1st edition AD&D books greatly expanded my vocabulary -- thanks to Gygax's fondness for esoteric and archaic words -- but I can't imagine that I would've had the determination to learn an entirely different language to understand them. Impressive!

  3. As a professional EFL teacher, I could go into a likely boring explanation of how your implicit motivation helped you learn, but I won't. I'll just say that I wish more of my students could find their "D&D" to help them learn the way you did. Thanks for sharing your story.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Fantasy Map Review IV: Forgotten Realms

Fantasy Map Review II: Greyhawk

Fantasy Map Review III: Dragonlance

Review: Five Torches Deep

Comparison: Five Torches Deep vs Into the Unknown