Vocabulary learning app

Different places in the City of Words
Different places in the City of Words | © Goethe-Institut

“Unicampus” is an extension of the online game “Learn German – The City of Words”. While exploring a university campus, users learn their first new words in the university context. You and your learners can use the rally to familiarize yourselves with the game extension.

Vocabulary learning apps are generally very popular. In many cases the apps are similar, and are reminiscent of conventional vocabulary learning with index cards. With its online game “Learn German – The City of Words”, the Goethe-Institut has created a digital learning environment for German as a foreign language that follows an innovative approach to vocabulary learning.

Self-study courses require a very high level of motivation on the part of the learner. “Learn German – The City of Words” attempts to increase motivation not only by using game and reward elements but also by interlinking the learners. The exercises are embedded in a virtual cartoon world of elaborate design, giving rise to an aesthetic experience that supports the learning of new vocabulary.

The City of Words

The game is aimed at learners without any prior knowledge of German. Users are taken to a virtual city, the “City of Words”, which they explore by searching for specific things. They are asked questions such as: What sort of things can one see during a sightseeing tour of the city? How does one order in a restaurant in German? In the process, they learn A1 level vocabulary in a fun and entertaining way, finding out not only the meaning of the words but also how they are used. After they have discovered the new vocabulary, they practise using the words in question. Players will find digital worksheets scattered all around the “City of Words” – these feature closed exercise formats that prompt the learner to repeat the words they have encountered and commit their use to memory by practising them in new example sentences.

Furthermore, the learning game gives users the chance to hook up with other learners around the world and compete against one another in two vocabulary games. By clicking on an avatar, they can challenge a fellow player to a multiplayer game in which two players pit their vocabulary skills against each other.

The “City of Words” uses a reward system of points and goals that the player tries to reach. This makes players more motivated to engage with German. Once they have successfully completed a search, users receive special accessories for their avatars and can give them a unique look. For correctly solving language exercises, players are rewarded with points that allow them to move up the high-score list.


“Unicampus”, an extension of the game and a new place in the City of Words, also follows the same principles. In cooperation with the Deutsch-Uni Online (DUO), the Goethe-Institut has developed an extension within the existing game. Users can play Unicampus independently of the “City of Words” and can go directly to it at any time. Using low-level language, the main goal of Unicampus is to advertise Germany as a good place for higher education, also targeting young refugees who may be interested in embarking on a course of university study.

One of the main objectives of the game therefore is to use the content and vocabulary that is being taught to showcase a prototype German university and to briefly present key university benefits such as the public transport ticket to which students are entitled, the canteen, halls of residence, the library and the international office. At the same time, players learn some initial specialist vocabulary from the various disciplines in a fun and easily comprehensible manner.

Thanks to the thematic approach, players have an opportunity to expand their subject-specific vocabulary to some extent beyond the basic level, while at the same time being given examples of use in line with the A1 language level. Thus acquiring vocabulary on the digital campus is more akin to natural language acquisition without following any specific progression pattern.

New feature in Unicampus

Unicampus vocabulary exercise Unicampus vocabulary exercise | © Goethe-Institut One new feature in Unicampus that is different from the game structure in the “City of Words” is the integrated narration. A story has been incorporated into the two Unicampus levels, allowing players to identify to a greater extent with Michael, the protagonist in this game extension. Michael is a foreign student who attends the university’s induction day and gets to know the various parts of  the campus. When invited by a fellow student to the latter’s laboratory at the end of the first level, however, he makes a mistake. In the second level, he and Oskar, a student at the university, have to correct this mistake. An animated comic was developed for this plot line that summarizes the events in a humorous way. This narrative component, especially in the second level, serves to establish links between the individual places on campus and the searches, the results of which all come together at the end like pieces of a puzzle.

Application scenarios

Animated comic that guides the users through the Unicampus Animated comic that guides the users through the Unicampus | © Goethe-Institut Because the game is designed for digital self-study, it is very well-suited to accompanying classroom lessons. What is more, it can also be used to some extent during these lessons. If the classroom has the necessary technical infrastructure, the various game settings in the city or in the university can be explored and used to encourage learners to speak. In this context, teachers can also talk with learners about the particular features of the setting in question and draw parallels with equivalent places in their own country.

Another option is to stage an “avatar fashion show”, which involves learners presenting their characters to the class. The avatars can then be described using adjectives supplied by the teacher. Not only does this approach motivate learners to advance as far as possible in the game so as to obtain the most outlandish accessories for their avatars, the incorporation of the game into the lesson also increases the latter’s social component.

It is also conceivable that the game could be used for practice purposes at home. Learners could be given three digital worksheets as homework, or could be asked to play through one of the Unicampus scenarios. The vocabulary they need to do so could then be raised in class so that the teacher can check in a fun and playful way that it has been successfully learnt. Depending on the target group, various visual Web 2.0. tools could also be used to create word clouds or collages based on places on campus.
You can find a rally here that you can play through with your learners so as to get to know the game extension based on the university campus.  
Download the learning game and set off with Michael to discover the campus!


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