Virtual worlds among latest trends in language education

Students can ‘meet’ native speakers and converse informally in virtual worlds.

Learning a foreign language has long been a high school graduation requirement, but technology has taken language learning to new levels with the availability of interactive websites, apps for handheld devices, and software that can target students’ weak spots.

Technology changes quickly, and recently, a new way of teaching and learning foreign languages has emerged: using virtual worlds, such as Second Life, to increase student engagement and confidence as they build new language skills.

Virtual worlds present a relatively new avenue for language learning, although groups and conferences have focused on this instructional method for the past few years.

Proponents say that letting students explore virtual worlds while learning a new language is beneficial in many ways:

  • Students can meet native speakers and converse formally and informally.
  • Teachers can organize virtual field trips to monuments or other sites associated with the language, prompting students to discuss aspects of the field trip in the new language.
  • Students can create their own avatars, environments, etc., and can apply newly-acquired language skills to those personalized creations. For instance, students might have to limit their clothing choices to items whose words they are able to identify in the foreign language they are learning.

Aside from Second Life, other virtual worlds include There, Entropia Universe, and ExitReality.

Emerging research

“The Risks and Rewards of Language Instruction in Virtual Worlds: An Overview of Current Literature and Praxis,” from Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s David Parrott and James Lenze, examines virtual worlds and their usefulness in language instruction.

The paper was part of a collection of selected papers from the 22nd International Conference on College Teaching and Learning in 2011.

“Educators have noted some advantages to virtual worlds which relate to the fact that they are artificial environments, so the anxiety of learning a foreign language in a stressful real life situation can be lessened,” Parrot and Lenze wrote.

The authors note that a wide range of learners and learning styles can benefit from language learning in virtual worlds, including college-level students, those who already interact with others in virtual worlds, and young children who can easily adapt and pick up on a new language in such an environment while under adult supervision.

Laura Ascione
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