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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Virtual Language Immersion

Great post by Karl Kapp -Immerse Yourself in Another Language. As someone who's always felt that immersion is the best way (possibly the only way) to really learn languages. While I like the new tutoring systems such as EduFire, the idea of putting someone in a virtual environment to learn the language is fantastic.

I've mentioned before that I also think Second Life as a Learning Tool can be fantastic if you set up an environment like Plymoth Plantation - a recreation of Plymouth where actors playing the part of Native Americans and Colonists told stories and answered questions about life, religion, history, etc. It was a fantastic learning experience where you learned things in such a great way. And there were quite a few surprises, that I didn't remember ever hearing in all my different history classes. (We have a rather idealistic view of the colonists.)

I came home from the trip thinking that the California Missions should really do something similar. I've had to take my kids to a Mission several times as part of their school work and it's frankly boring to walk around reading as compared to the experience at the Plantation. Maybe one of the tribes that has casinos could sponsor putting this together?

This is good timing given the LCB Big Question is: Second Life Training.


Peter Isackson said...

Hi Tony,
It looks interesting and I agree that immersion is not merely the "best" way, but the only way to learn a language. You can learn "about" a language without being immersed in it, but you cannot learn it ("get it in your soul" as Charlie Mingus might say) without immersion.

But from what I read, it doesn't appear to be immersion, but rather standard programmed language practice, with the added novelty of a 3D setting. I'd love to discover it's much more than that, but we've been living with so much mislabeled techno-hype for so long, I'm a bit skeptical, though eager to be proved wrong.

Whenever I hear or see the word "repeat" in a language course, I say to myself, "that just ain't immersion". That, by the way, is a fair representation of how I speak immersively to myself, "ain't" and all!

Tony Karrer said...

Peter - I initially wrote "only" and then backed off and changed it to "best" figuring someone would challenge me on it. I'm glad you just said that.

I think I misunderstood what that system is doing. I thought it had you immersed in an environment where other people were speaking the language - not just repeating. Rats. I guess I was just reading more into it than was there.

V Yonkers said...

Even with your ideal, I don't see how meaning can be created without authentic activities. Having taught EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in both a work setting and a classroom, the classroom does not have the feeling of authenticity that interacting with native speakers do. I think the reason is that there is less risk to the language learner in a classroom and there is little mediation/negotiation of meaning.

I found when I either brought in native speakers or linked my students up with native speakers (on line), there was much greater progress. In addition, the conversations and needs of the students drove the curriculum rather than the curriculum driving creating limits to what a student could or could not say.

My thoughts on using second life is that again, the risk is taken away and if the other person is not a native speaker (or someone who at least is a foreign environment) the cultural cues that are the basis for foreign languages is lost.

Dave Ferguson said...

I've spent quite a bit of time in the past year speaking French in Second Life, both in chat and in voice, almost always with native speakers (French, Belgian, Quebecois, and others).

One difficulty is that the novice-to-high-intermediate speaker simply can't keep up with native speakers, and in general, native speakers don't have all that much reason to slow down for the non-native.

That's not a complaint, it's just a fact. As SL is currently set up, a sim where folks don't usually speak English is frequented mostly by folks who don't usually speak English.

They're not there as freelance tutors, so it's a hit-or-miss proposition to find someone to chat with, who's patient with your slowness, who can (but don't feel compelled to) give correction or feedback.

Certainly there's potential for virtual worlds as a tool for providing language practice, though they won't be magic beans. Study and practice -- and yes, repetition -- will still be necessary, unless you've got a few hundred hours to spend learning by wandering around.

(I'm not against experimentation, but it's hard for most people to derive the conditional tense from conversation.)

Virginia's linking of learners with native speakers is a great idea -- imagine, especially for adolescents, making it possible for Chinese speakers studying English and English speakers studying Chinese to meet up. Maybe even have some structured time -- mainly Chinese one day, mainly English the next; get together with your buddy on your own time and do what makes sense to you.

Tony Karrer said...

Dave that's more of what I was thinking - where you somewhat live in country (virtual in this case). I take it that it is different in a virtual world than when you are actually in a foreign country. Most folks are fairly nice about trying to slow down and help you when you are in person. I can imagine in a virtual world it may not play as well.

What would be interesting is to have a tutor/coach wandering around with you who will help translate. You try on your own, but the coach can jump in when needed or use it as a learning exercise.

Del said...

Hi! I found this article really interesting as I use eduFire and SL. I love eduFire as the one to one tutoring is all about me where as in SL, I don't achieve the same amount of learning in the same given time. Having said that, I do enjoy the immersion of SL with native speakers from my own home.