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Five ways to use AR/VR for language learning

Language learning is one area of education that is genuinely being transformed through the implementation of immersive technologies. Interactive and engaging, AR and VR also benefit from breaking down geographical borders and providing access to native speakers to facilitate experiential learning for the modern student. Both AR and VR have the potential to redefine the way students can learn languages in a variety of ways. Let’s take a look at five different ways that these types of technology can be harnessed in the language classroom.

1. Live translation using AR

I remember showing people the old Word Lens app several years ago (before they were bought by Google and it was wrapped into their Google Translate platform) and watching their jaws drop as text on classroom displays switched languages before their eyes. Then in 2016, I slipped on a curve in Germany and shredded the ligaments in my ankle. Stuck in my hotel room with a stack of pain pills, I used the same technology to translate the prescription from German to English. Now when you think about how I used this AR technology, it’d be fair to say that I didn’t learn anything. in fact, thanks to this amazing technology, I never needed to. If (and when) this type of AR is integrated into an everyday wearable, it could even spell the end of language classes altogether.

Nevertheless, this type of tech can be a fantastic tool right now in the language classroom. Here are just a couple of ideas for using an app like Google Translate in the classroom

  • Create an interactive classroom display where students can practice their language skills then scan to reveal the translation.

  • Students can use it to self-assess their own written work (typed not hand-written)

2. Live tutoring and language labs inside VR

One of the greatest benefits that multi-user VR can offer language learners is access to native speakers. Obviously this is something that classes have been facilitating for many years already using VOIP platforms like Skype but VR can produce a learning environment that is far more immersive and bespoke. In other words – if you’re learning about a topic like Shopping, you can join a lesson that takes place inside a virtual mall, hosted by a native-speaking teacher. You also not bound to one physical space meaning that your lesson has more flexibility and can move from space to space as it evolves and progresses.

AltSpace has definitely set the bar when it comes to facilitating this type of learning, with multiple language classes, across a range of dialects, taking place every week inside the social VR giant’s virtual walls. From French to Italian to Chinese to Japanese, there really is something for everyone and the Oculus Go support makes this an accessible solution to even more educators and students.

How could you use this type of VR tech in the language learning classroom?

  • Coordinate a virtual pen-pal exchange with a sister school and organise meetups inside a platform like AltSpace for the students to chat.

  • Tutoring for students as a part of oral exam preparation.

To find out more about upcoming Language classes in AltSpace, click here.

3. AI integration with AR and VR

Perhaps you don’t have access to VR technology right now but AR-enabled phones/tablets are at your disposal. There are some platforms available now that allow you to pull some interactive language learning content into your classroom. Chief amongst these is Mondly who had already established themselves firmly within the educational VR ecosystem. Mondly also have their AR counterpart app which naturally flips the script in the way that their assets are deployed:

Blending AR, AI and speech recognition, this is an exciting platform which brings learning to life all around you whether that be in a classroom or at home. Their AI chatbot is particularly impressive and provides some impressively life-like conversations. Of course a major advantage for a platform like this over the previous example is that it is not time-sensitive since you don’t need to wait for a session to be available or coordinate one yourself at a specific time.

Another interesting demo that I recently got to test out on the Vive is The Secret of Puffin Cove from Play2Speak. This short proof-of-concept experience uses AI to allow you to navigate dialogue with the character (a wonderfully whimsical pirate) in what is a pretty unique approach to language learning. Could story-based language learning be the next great leap in the field?

AI-enabled language learning can be a powerful tool for educators. Here are a couple of ways that this type of platform could be utilised:

  • Use it as an engaging homework platform

  • Integrated within a specific unit of study (e.g. Animals), it could be used as a part of a carousel of activities (especially useful if you have a limited number of devices.)

4. 360 video scenarios with voice-recognition

During the last academic year, we piloted a great new language platform at JESS Dubai called ImmerseMe. This was a Kickstarter project from New Zealand that really stood out to me as a natural evolution of traditional language learning media. It blends authentic, situation-based 360 videos with an effective voice-control UI that creates a branching dialogue experience. Take a look:

ImmerseMe was very popular with our MFL staff at JESS Dubai and it allowed students to work at their own pace, moving through the situations and directing the flow of conversation. The fact that the videos are pre-recorded could have been quite limiting but the clever use of branching options means that the same situation can be replayed in various ways. The key difference between ImmerseMe and everything else on this list though is the fact that it harnesses actual video footage of real people rather than 3D assets. For many students this will make the experience feel more natural and organic.

How could you use an app like this?

  • Allow a whole class to interact with native-language speakers simultaneously rather than wait to work with a single teacher/guest speaker.

  • Have students record the conversation that they build in the app in written form and compare with their peers to observe how each dialogue developed.

Find out more about ImmerseMe here.

5. Language-based memory palaces

I was asked during a recent interview about my thought on the potential of VR for the construction of memory palaces. It does seem like a natural fit, though the cynic in me does think that if you record the content anywhere except your actual brain, it somewhat defeats the purpose. Nonetheless, virtual worlds can definitely be used to build “living dictionaries” which are a great way to engage language learners.

There are several apps that can facilitate this kind of thing but perhaps the most accessible one for students is CoSpaces Edu as it will work on pretty much any platform. It also includes the ability to build virtual spaces that include 3D models, text boards, images and even GIFs so the possibilities for language learners are almost limitless. The fact that you can also incorporate audio recordings really does make this an excellent option for the language classroom as elements can be coded (using the integrated block-based or JavaScript programming) to speak when a user interacts with them.

There are lots of ways this could be harnessed; here are just a couple of examples:

  • Students build a living dictionary with audio recordings of the vocabulary associated with each object.

  • Students create interactive scenes to review or revise key conversational language.

Find some of the CoSpaces language learning spaces to try for yourself here.

#AR #VR #Languages

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