Everything You Need To Know About Language Learning And Virtual Reality

Exploring the benefits (and limits) of learning a language in virtual reality.
Language learning and virtual reality representd by a woman wearing a headset while standing in a brightly lit office, while someone else is holding an iPad and gesturing toward her.

It’s true: there is a link between language learning and virtual reality. Virtual reality integration now offers new ways to improve the language learning process. It’s an immersive experience in a separate reality where users can interact in a realistic environment. The benefits of virtual reality aren’t restricted to recreation. Let’s find out more about how this technology can help you learn a new language!

What Is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is a technology that offers an immersive experience by simulating a three-dimensional environment. It often requires a special headset. Virtual reality users have the opportunity to interact with characters and objects while participating in simulated real world environments. It’s also distinct from “augmented reality,” which uses the real world but adds to it digitally (one popular example of augmented reality is Pokemon Go, which uses your phones camera and puts Pokemon into the “real” world).

Director Antonin Artaud was the first person to use the expression “virtual reality” in the 1930s. At the time, he used it to describe the theater-going experience, so it was a bit different from how we think of it in the 21st century. In the 1980s, computer science researcher Jaron Lanier’s work transformed the concept into what it’s known as today.

Virtual reality headsets cover your eyes and ears, and often incorporate four elements:

  • Simulated Environments — creating a digital world with realistic sound and auditory components. This could send the user to a fantasy world or recreate a real place.
  • Immersive Interactions — handheld controllers, input devices, handling objects, etc. Users have to be able to interact with the virtual world as if they were in the real world (or virtually in the real world, pun intended.)
  • Realistic Sensations — in addition to visual and auditory simulations that are the foundation of successful virtual reality, other senses can be simulated too. For example, the gloves that come with the headset allow for tactile sensations.
  • Simulated Movements — just like real-life interactions, virtual reality isn’t at a standstill; it’s constantly moving. Algorithms and movement capturers can create a sensation of movement in the virtual environment, creating a more engaging experience.

What Are The Advantages To Learning A Language In Virtual Reality?

So how can we merge language learning and virtual reality? By creating the best of both worlds! Virtual reality integration now offers a lot of advantages to learning a language.

  • Immersion — virtual reality allows learners to immerse themselves in an environment where the target language is spoken naturally. This allows the learner to familiarize themselves with the language and improve oral comprehension.
  • Interaction — learners can interact realistically with native speakers, strengthening their ability to express themselves in a target language. The world can recreate everyday life scenarios like ordering at a restaurant, work negotiations, chatting with friends, etc.
  • Instant Feedback — virtual reality is a good way language learners to get an instant feedback on their language practice and correcting pronunciations for example. It can also be used to enrich vocabulary and improve grammar. In this case, the benefits of independent practice lead to continuous improvement.
  • Adaptability — virtual reality can adapt to the user’s fluency level and offer appropriate challenges for each stage of the learning process. This way, the user gets a personalized progressive learning experience. Removing the fear of speaking: a lot of users are less embarrassed to practice the language when they’re in a judgment-free virtual environment. In addition to reducing learner’s anxiety around speaking, this improves their self confidence.
  • Accessibility — virtual reality’s objective is to make language learning accessible to more people by removing physical geographic barriers. It’s a matter of inclusion.

The Limits Of Using Virtual Reality For Language Learning

While it has plenty of advantages, virtual reality can’t replace all forms of language learning. It doesn’t replace learning methods that have stood the test of time. It’s also important to note that every learner is different.

Virtual reality is like any other method: it may work for some people but not work for others. Some might choose a virtual immersion in Rome while others prefer taking a Babbel Italian class to learn how to speak Italian. Before they take a real trip to Italy. To sum it up, there’s a place for both worlds, the virtual and the real!

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