How Can VR Technology Facilitate Second Language Acquisition?

How Can VR Technology Facilitate Second Language Acquisition

Is life too short to learn a new language? VR might be a gamechanger in second language acquisition.

Bilingual speakers make up approximately 43% of the world’s population. It is almost guaranteed that you have previously spoken with someone who is competent in speaking multiple languages. You might wonder, how do they do it so effortlessly? If you have had experiences learning a new language, you know it is the opposite of effortless. The process is painful, exhausting and frustrating—so frustrating that many of us might just give up because there are too many grammar rules to memorize. So kudos to you if you have mastered various languages! But what if there’s a simpler way to acquire a language… Well, virtual reality (VR) might be your answer. Here’s how:

Providing an immersive language-learning environment

We all know it is vital to immerse yourself in a language if you want to speak the language fluently. Through interactions with native speakers, learners can receive many language development opportunities, such as listening, speaking and feedback. However, due to geographical constraints, learners may not have the opportunity to communicate with native speakers of their target language. VR technology is thus an excellent solution to this problem, as it can provide users with an immersive language-learning environment to up their language learning game.

VR technology allows learners to enter the virtual world and interact with other people around the globe without traveling to another country. For language learners, this means they can surround themselves in an “authentic” language context, thereby boosting their reading, listening and speaking skills. VR platforms have also been proven to increase learners’ overall language abilities across all linguistic levels, making VR technology truly beneficial for second language acquisition (SLA).

Motivating language learners 

Apart from interaction and immersion, the learner’s motivation is another crucial factor in learning a new language. To effectively learn a second language, learners need to be motivated by their goals, such as to achieve fluency in English to live in an English-speaking country (an instrumental motivation) or to become a target community member (integrative motivation).

Counter to our assumption, studying a language with textbooks in the classroom is not the only way to achieve these goals. After all, we can’t be purely incentivized by our own set of goals; the means of learning a language needs to be motivating and intriguing as well, and gaming can do just that. 

As per a study, playing commercial digital video games can increase learning motivation in SLA. The reason is simple: it is more engaging and interesting than memorizing vocabulary from a textbook. With video games, players can pick up and practice everyday language rather than complicated, academic-oriented vocabularies through communicating with other players. Having the opportunity to use the language in such a setting will encourage learners to speak and use the language more confidently. 

However, this is not to say that we should replace textbooks with video games. As per the same study, classical educational setting is still necessary in SLA, and the increase in language learning motivation as a result of playing video games can transfer to classroom learning. In other words, video games can facilitate language learning at schools, even if language learning is not the games’ primary purpose.

With the rising popularity of VR technology, we can expect more and more VR games and headsets will be released in the market. Compared to commercial video games, these VR games can offer an even more engaging and aesthetic gaming experience, such as better graphics and audiovisual effects,  which can further enhance motivation. If VR games are to be integrated into language classes, maybe we will be seeing fewer students dozing off during class and more being excited to go to class!

Examples of VR language learning apps

In 2021, the global language learning market was worth US$14.2 billion, and it is projected to surpass US$28.5 billion by 2028. Surely, we will be seeing more VR language learning apps in the market soon. For now, if you are learning a new language or considering doing so, here are three apps you should check out :

ImmerseMe

This VR platform helps learners increase their fluency in their second language by simulating authentic and real-life scenarios, such as buying a baguette in Paris or a bento box in Tokyo, where they have to interact with native speakers. It offers more than 3,000 real-life scenarios across nine languages, i.e. English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Greek and Indonesian. 

Mondly VR

The VR app which was acquired by UK education giant Pearson in April this year. Similar to ImmerseMe, the VR app provides an opportunity for users to learn more than 30 languages through interacting with a virtual language teacher. After each interaction, users will receive pronunciation feedback as well as vocabulary suggestions. It also has an augmented reality (AR) app in which their virtual language teachers can appear in your living room through your phone camera.

Panolingo 

Panolingo is a VR app that uses a gamification approach where users can collect points and bonuses from doing tasks or competing with friends. An example of said task is following instruction prompts, such as identifying what a refrigerator is in the user’s kitchen. With the gamification of the VR app, learners can be more motivated in picking up a second language via a relatively more interesting and incentivized approach. 

All in all, interaction and motivation are two vital factors of an effective SLA. VR technology’s ability to create a virtual environment that can motivate learners and provide them with lifelike and authentic interactions makes it especially valuable in the SLA market. With all the benefits of learning a language via VR platforms and the great potential of the language learning market, we will be seeing more tech solutions to help language learners around the world master as many languages as possible. 

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Header image courtesy of Freepik

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