Redefining Language Learning Through Virtual Reality

Have you ever wondered how the amusing, often meaningless chatter of infants leads to one of the most complex cognitive abilities we develop in our lifetime? Although it may seem to be passive learning, adopting a language involves several important stages and a number of inhibitors. One of the most challenging parts of language learning is engaging the learner and motivating users to rehearse and repeat language. Sitting at a computer and flipping through vocab flashcards isn’t particularly engaging or likely to initiate curiosity in the learner.

Disruptive technologies in the 21st century have altered the possibilities for language immersion and virtual reality can be used as a tool to better catch the attention of language learners. The repetitive nature of many language learning apps can become quite boring and often users end up quitting before reaching their goal. VR comes in by stimulating the senses, by providing a playful environment and by triggering our natural curiosity through games.  Immersive VR technologies, AI chatbots, and gamified learning are transforming language learning from staring at flashcards to ordering a coffee, going to the movies, or playing a game, all in a virtual world.

Retaining words, phrases, and vocab in a different language is a complex process, in which your brain uses repetition to store certain words and their meanings. Professor and author of, “Language Learning and the Brain,” Ulf Schuetze, has outlined the optimal strategy for acquiring a second language. The acquisition of a second language is dependent on spaced repetition, environmental stimuli, and keeping the learners’ attention. Virtual reality has the potential to simulate a real learning situation that stimulates a sense of touch, visual, and auditory senses, triggering our natural curiosity.  The “spaced repetition technique” is the most effective way to acquire new words, vocab, and fluency. Based on Dr. Schuetze’s studies, Infusion has identified four major steps for language learning using the “spaced repetition technique.” In this article I will outline the details of all four steps and why they are important in order for your brain to process and successfully retain a new language.

Rehearsal, Simulation, Communication: A Gamified Approach

Multiple studies analyzing the most effective way to learn a new language have shown that rehearsal through repetition is the most effective step towards retention. Every time you see a word or phrase, it registers in your brain but could be gone within a couple of seconds, if not rehearsed. But you’re tired of flipping through the same flashcards, we get it. Infusion uses gamification to build a rehearsal process, aligned to the “spaced repetition technique.” 

The first step in our gamified approach is building up your exposure to certain words or phrases with high levels of rehearsal. Our shooting range, escape room, and beat saber games use repetition and positive reinforcement to improve your retention levels. Vocabulary games are designed to increase your cognitive exposure to a specific group of words or phrases. Your brain processes words through the phonological loop and does so by connecting unique sounds into sequences that make up words. Certain words are identified in your brain using a combination of vowels and constants, which are then matched to the meaning attached to the word. In the context of gamification, students are shown the same word multiple times in a game-like scenario with the goal of building a basic understanding of a specific topic or vocab segment.

Cognitive Exposure Through Immersion

Once you have been exposed to several words from a specific topic, you can move into the next stage: real-world scenarios. Our real-world scenarios are providing an immersive environment that is enough to trick the brain into believing it is in a real learning situation. This type of authenticity fuels stimulation triggering our sense of play in a “game-like” experience. Learning a language in an immersive environment increases cognitive exposure, builds useful phrases for the real world, and tests your retention of specific words in a game-like setting. For example, beginner learners often struggle with simple conversations such as ordering food and find themselves flustered or unable to understand the native speaker because they are speaking too fast or their accent is too thick. For example, in our VR environment, you will sit in a restaurant and interact with the waiter/waitress.

In the third step, an AI bot will increase the learners’ attention span and engagement. An AI bot will engage in conversation with you about a chosen topic. Engaging in a conversation with an AI chatbot builds confidence and motivates learning by fostering our natural curiosity in a communicative situation. 

Infusion’s approach to combining VR with AI enables the learner to hold his or her attention longer. With this stage, Virtual Reality transports learners into a three-dimensional world without fear of failure or lack of understanding and allows users to make mistakes in a safe environment with an AI chatbot by providing a communicative near-authentic language learning experience.

Your vocabulary and speech are refined in a virtual classroom, with 20 other students learning a second language and a native English Teacher, certified in ESL. English teachers provide students with feedback, gamified homework, and evaluate their progress throughout this program. The immersive learning environment assists in holding the learners’ attention and gives teachers the ability to interact with 3D models, improving the connectivity between a word and its’ meaning.  This is a blended learning model designed to combine the efficacies of in-class learning, gamification, and technology. Infusion Edutainment is combining stimulation, rehearsal, immersion, and gamification to build a successful language learning platform that mirrors the steps in which your brain processes language.

  • Exposure and Immersion
  • Repetition and Rehearsal
  • Sensory Stimuli
  • Emotional Response

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