The year 2016 was a milestone for Virtual Reality, with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Sony Playstation VR hitting the market. As the number of available VR headsets increases, so does the price range. Samsung Gear VR starts at $99 and Google Cardboard can be bought for as little as $5,99. The new technology becomes available for broader audiences. It’s potential for gaming and watching movies seems obvious, but could it be used elsewhere? Could VR change the way we learn languages?
The Key to Language Learning Success
Language learning business has produced a gigantic number of applications, techniques, and resources. Whether it’s a traditional classroom course or one based on an innovative method, a computer program or an online app, a self-study kit or an e-learning platform, they all promise great progress in no time. And they all lie, at least to some degree. Every self-respecting language teacher will tell you there’s no one universal method that works for all. Everyone who learned a foreign language will tell you that the best way to do so is to go to a country where they speak the target tongue. It’s only by immersing yourself in the language and its reality that truly effective learning takes place.
What Traditional Learning Misses
Do the current applications meet this criterion? Sadly, only partially. A lot of the available language learning tools are good at one aspect of the language or the other. For example, Duolingo is great for grasping the basic grammar concepts, whereas Memrise does really well when it comes to acquiring new vocabulary. Yet all they are is tools – try hard as they might, they won’t replace a real-life experience and tend to be boring after some time. This is where Virtual Reality could change the game forever.
Virtual Reality Potential
Virtual Reality is exactly what it says it is. The 3D experience tricks your brain into thinking you’re in a completely different world. Not only does it seem real, it actually feels real, affecting your spatial perception to a degree where your body gets out of control in the confrontation with virtual stimuli. The effect is truly amazing and it’s hard to put it into words. You’ve got to try it yourself. There’s plenty of videos on YouTube showing how people react to different gameplays. It’s as impressive as it is hilarious. Most importantly, however, it shows the potential of the VR technology for learning languages. If the VR can manipulate the brain to such an extent, then the biggest problem with conventional learning methods – their disconnection from the real world – is solved.
Learning Through VR Gaming?
Imagine a zombie-survival game crafted to a particular language, where your success would depend on your command of that language, where every word and concept would manifest itself in front of your eyes for you to play with and manipulate it. Where players could come together and cooperate to finish complex scenarios. Add to this voice recognition and you have a recipe for language learning success. I’d sure chose this over a standard course, no matter how good the school or the teacher. Yet much has to be done before this happens. The entire virtual reality technology is in its early stage and only a couple of developers took up the VR language learning challenge so far. Let’s take a look at the most interesting projects.
Based in New Zealand, ImmerseMe will allow you to virtually travel all over the world and practice your language skills. They’re developing a VR experience based on real-life locations and scenarios so that you could learn and practice in a stress-free environment before you actually travel to wherever they speak your target language. They’re currently offering a limited access to the beta version with 10 languages and 100 role-plays to choose from. The full version will be available early in 2017 with three subscription options: student, traveler, and business.
Language Room by Unimersiv
This Californian startup boasts of being the biggest virtual reality educational platform and is present on the AngelList. So far they’ve released several apps that enable you to explore the International Space Station, the Acropolis, the Titanic, Stonehenge, and the human anatomy. Their latest product, Language Room, premiered last month. It’s free of charge and lets you meet people from all over the world in a virtual room to talk about your cultures and learn each other’s languages. You can also play games together. For now, it’s available for the Samsung Gear VR, with the Rift version coming soon.
Language VR by Virtual Speech
Virtual Speech is a startup from London developing two VR apps. One to practice public speaking, the other to learn English from French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German. Other languages are coming soon. Their Language VR is compatible with Google Cardboard and allows you to explore vocabulary rooms, various authentic locations across England, practice for job interviews and construct sentences through building virtual blocks.