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Virtual Language Learning

Khaled Alharbi

Introduction
Virtual worlds are playing an
important role in education,
especially in language learning. By
March 2007 it was estimated that
over 200 universities or academic
institutions were involved in Second
Life (Cooke-Plagwitz, p.548).

Introduction
Linden Lab Vice President of
Platform and Technology
Development, claimed in 2009 that
"Language learning is the most
common education-based activity in
Second Life". Many mainstream
language institutes and private
language schools are now using 3D
virtual environments to support
language learning.

Introduction
Virtual world started in the adventure
games and simulations of the 1970s.
Since 2007 a series of conferences
known as SLanguages have taken
place, bringing together practitioners
and researchers in the field of language
education in Second Life for a 24-hour
event to celebrate languages and
cultures within the 3D virtual world.

Approaches to language education in virtual worlds

Almost all virtual world educational projects use


ablended learning approach whereby the
language learners are exposed to a 3D virtual
environment for a specific activity or time period.
Such approaches may combine the use of virtual
worlds with other online and offline tools, such as
2D virtual learning environments (e.g.Moodle) or
physical classrooms. Moodle, for example, is a
learning platform designed to provide educators,
administrators and learners with asingle robust,
secure and integrated systemto create
personalized learning environments.

Approaches in virtual language


learning
Immersive: Immersive experiences draw on the
ability to be surrounded by a certain (real or
fictitious) environment that can stimulate language
learning.
Social: Almost all 3D virtual spaces are inherently
social environments where language learners can
meet others, either to informally practice a
language or to participate in more formal classes.
Creative: A less-developed approach to language
learning in virtual worlds is that of constructing
objects as part of a language learning activity. There
is currently little documentation of such activities.

6 ways in virtual educational


activity
Exploring: learners explore a virtual worlds locations and
communities as fieldwork for class.
Collaborating: learners work together within a virtual
world on collaborative tasks.
Being: learners explore themselves and their identity
through their presence in a virtual world, such as through
role-play.
Building: learners construct objects within a virtual world.
Championing: learners promote real life causes through
activities and presentations in a virtual world.
Expressing: learners represent activities within a virtual
world to the outside world, through blogs, podcasts,
presentations and videos.

SL virtual classroom
Hundsberger (2009, p.18) defines a virtual
classroom thus:
"A virtual classroom in SL sets itself apart from
other virtual classrooms in that an ordinary
classroom is the place to learn a language whereas
the SL virtual classroom is the place to practice a
language. The connection to the outside world
from a language lab is a 2D connection, but
increasingly people enjoy rich and dynamic 3D
environments such as SL as can be concluded from
the high number of UK universities active in SL."

Constructivist approaches
Constructivist approaches are
applied to virtual world language
learning because of the scope for
learners to socially co-construct
knowledge, in spheres of particular
relevance to the learner.
Some examples of these approaches
are:-

Task-based language learning


(TBLL)
This approach has been commonly
applied to virtual world language
education. Task-based language learning
focuses on the use of authentic language
and encourages students to do real life
tasks using the language being learned.
Tasks can be highly transactional, where
the student is carrying out everyday
tasks such as visiting the doctor in
Second Life.

Language Villages
The concept of real-lifelanguage
villageshas been replicated within
virtual worlds to create a language
immersion environment for language
learners in their own country. The
Dutch Digital School has built two
virtual language villages, Chatterdale
(English) and Parolay (French).

Virtual Tourism
Language learning can take place in public spaces
within virtual worlds. This offers greater flexibility
with locations and students can choose the
locations themselves, which enables a more
constructivist approach.
The wide variety of places in Second Life, e.g.
Barcelona, Berlin, London and Paris, offers
opportunities for language learning through virtual
tourism. Students can engage in conversation with
native speakers, take part in conducted tours in
different languages and even learn how to use
Second Life in a language other than English.

CAVE technology
ACave Automatic Virtual Environment(CAVE) is an immersive
Virtual Reality (VR) environment where projectors are directed to
three, four, five or six of the walls of a room-sized cube. The CAVE
is a large theatre that sits in a larger room. The walls of the CAVE
are made up of rear-projection screens, and the floor is made of a
down-projection screen. High-resolution projectors display images
on each of the screens by projecting the images onto mirrors
which reflect the images onto the projection screens. The user will
go inside the CAVE wearing special glasses to allow the 3D
graphics that are generated by the CAVE to be seen. With these
glasses, people using the CAVE can actually see objects floating in
the air, and can walk around them, getting a realistic view of what
the object would look like when they walk around it.

CAVE technology
O'Brien, Levy & Orich (2009)
describe the viability of CAVE and PC
technology as environments for
assisting students to learn a foreign
language and to experience the
target culture in ways that are
impossible through the use of other
technologies.