Virtual Reality for learning languages

Artificial Intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality allow for the delivery of learning content in a more stimulating, engaging and rewarding way, and their impact on language training is beginning to be felt. Although it is still at a very early stage, the use of virtual reality in language learning is proving to be a powerful tool in enhancing student participation, improving knowledge retention and bringing the classroom closer to the real world.

From science fiction to real science

VR in education is not new: there are many institutions that have been using platforms like Second Life as online learning spaces for a long time. In a few years we will surely see teachers taking their students on excursions into virtual environments anywhere in the world with Google Expeditions.

However, virtual reality for language learning is a relatively recent … reality (sorry), thanks to improvements in natural language recognition of AI and cheaper VR equipment.

How does it work?

Virtual reality immerses the student in a simulated environment. You can play games, do homework or practice participating in a professional meeting, doing a job interview, checking into a hotel or ordering a coffee on a terrace in Paris. And it doesn’t have to be a solitary process: the user can connect with other people to practice or participate in a course.

Augmented reality combines real information with computer-generated data to enhance the student’s perception of reality.

Apps designed for the smartphone put us in reach of a wide range of characters and very realistic animated creatures that make learning visual, interactive and fun.

In both cases, the user interacts with chatbots with language recognition. The chatbot assesses whether we are using the target language with the necessary skill to complete the task at hand and move forward. If not, it offers feedback to help us improve.

Augmented reality combines real information with computer-generated data to enhance the student’s perception of reality.

Apps designed for the smartphone put us in reach of a wide range of characters and very realistic animated creatures that make learning visual, interactive and fun.

In both cases, the user interacts with chatbots with language recognition. The chatbot assesses whether we are using the target language with the necessary skill to complete the task at hand and move forward. If not, it offers feedback to help us improve.

These are just some of the advantages of using virtual reality to learn languages:

Improves the level of student involvement

Interacting within a true virtual environment is much more motivating and stimulating than doing so in the traditional classroom. And there are no distractions: many students say they concentrate more on the task at hand when they are fully immersed in a simulation.
Another crucial aspect is that VR/AR makes possible the gamification of learning, which is a proven way to make the experience more rewarding and stimulating.

Improves retention

It has been demonstrated that interacting and actively experiencing a 3D-360º virtual environment using different senses helps us to retain what we have learned. Humans have long used visual aids to remember, and a recent study has taken it to the next level by finding that “using a virtual reality helmet to move around a memory palace improves the accuracy of memories over traditional computer use.

Improves confidence and fluency

Often, the student states that talking in unusual situations makes him/her anxious, or that it makes him/her insecure to talk to a native. Virtual reality in language learning aims to solve this by simulating these types of vulnerable situations and acting as an intermediate step between the classroom and the real world. Thus, when we finally sit down to order a coffee au lait we will be ready, thanks to having practiced it before with our virtual waiter.

Flexible and customized learning at any time and place

VR/AR can be adapted to the needs of each student, and the possibilities of application in the custom blended models are evident. And with a virtual trainer in his pocket, the learner will no longer be tied to class schedules or have to search for gaps in his schedule to practice with his peers.

Humans and AI: Better together?

A large number of educational institutions around the world have quickly realized the potential of virtual reality for language training and are incorporating it into their teaching practices.

There are others, however, that consider the human and cultural element in language learning impossible to replace, especially at the most advanced levels. But the technology does not stop advancing. Therefore, the battle to adapt will be won by those who are able to take advantage of all the possibilities it offers for language training. To make the most of them at all levels, human trainers will have to be flexible and reinvent themselves from content providers to facilitators and guides.

The virtual becomes reality

Increasingly sophisticated and affordable technology is making virtual reality language training available to a growing number of users, offering them the possibility of faster and more autonomous learning.

We are seeing that interactive immersive environments are a powerful tool for improving learner participation and knowledge retention, and companies are integrating VR/AR into blended learning models.

Authentic virtual experiences offer more opportunities for immersion and exposure to the language. And while developers recognize that nothing can yet replace experiencing the target language and culture first-hand, realistic simulations are proving to be a good alternative. In the long run, widespread acceptance will depend on whether technology helps learners achieve their goals more efficiently than current methods.

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