Learning a Language with Virtual Reality

By Asia Alyson

With the advancements of the latest technologies, almost anything is possible. Even learning a new language virtually has become more than attainable. New innovations such as virtual reality have provided learners with a learning environment that doesn’t require them to go to school or meet lecturers. In fact, Unimersiv states that being able to learn a new language via VR is a big deal.

“It has taken the turn for experience-based learning in its truest form. This is so because with virtual reality, the observer is transported into a whole other world, which has been designed to provide visual and tactile stimuli to them. This aids in more adequate retention of knowledge,” Unimersiv added.

Basics of virtual reality

The future of virtual reality looks very promising, especially with the promising results gained from m the head-mounted devices on the market today. But the next wave of VR headsets will be more portable, lighter, and seamless, according to experts.

“This VR headset of 2018 will move most of the computing power of VR headsets down to the neck and shoulders to make the headset itself light enough to be forgettable,” said Kevin Porras, co-founder of DreamSail Games.

“The form factor will reduce over time, so the stigma of wearing the devices will be less over time,” said Peter Pberdorfer, president of Tactic.

“I think further in the future they will become part of every day life and as the designs become smaller, more people will wear them and it will become fashionable in a non-geeky way,” said DJ Roller, co-founder of NextVR.

What are the top VR headsets today? (Not in any particular order)
Oculus Rift
HTC Vive
• Sony PlayStation VR
• Sulon Q
Samsung Gear VR
• OnePlus Loop VR
LG 360 VR
• Google Cardboard
Google Daydream View
Zeiss VR One and One GX
Homido
Microsoft HoloLens

Although there are already tether-free and standalone VR headsets available to consumers, most developers will start creating their own versions, making them as stable and reliable as computer processors in the future. Soon, users will be able to enjoy a virtual reality experience even without the aid of their smartphones, as these smart headsets will be able to run their own apps, SIM, and other digital requests. Can VR headsets eventually replace smartphones, especially in the educational sector? It might take a while, as the technology is still in its infancy in terms of being used for learning.

What are the benefits of virtual reality in learning?

Collaboration in the VR classroom fosters social interaction among students and teachers. Students struggling to be part of a class group or those with inferiority complexes were able to improve self-confidence and were seen to operate ‘out of their comfort zone’. Second, many things are now possible through VR, where learners are able to safely explore different forms of learning without health or safety risks. Third, the technology increases students’ motivation and engagement, where teachers are able to use games to explain lessons more effectively and introduce new approaches to rewards.

Lastly, virtual platforms are the new tools for inspiring creative learning. As the technology matures, there will be plenty more benefits that learners and educators will find in using virtual reality in learning.

VR learning challenges

There are various VR technologies that offer immersive virtual experiences, mostly for gamers. But, the educational sector is now looking at using it to offer learners a new, effective, and efficient way to learn many different things.

Although tech companies are working hard to provide consumers with standalone and tether-free VR gadgets, most wearables on the market are still dependent on their paired smartphones. There are a lot of processing power and high-end features lacking in most wearables today. Based on the list provided by O2, most handsets offer top-notch technical features necessary to offer an immersive learning experience for many learners, such as the aforementioned powerful processors and GPU, clear displays, and long battery life. But, companies such as Samsung, Google, and Facebook’s Oculus are now offering standalone VR technology that has the same power and abilities as most smartphones today, closing the gap between wearable and mobile devices.

The problem with learning a new language is that you need to be invested in it. Students often need to live in a country where that language is spoken freely to be able to acquire it fluently or even just to be passably coherent in said lingo. This is where virtual reality offers a solution.

 

Studying a language with virtual reality

Since 2014, VR has been tested for learning purposes. A San Francisco startup, Learn Immersive, has built a platform that transport users to real-world environments that help them understand a new language easier.

“You need to immerse yourself in situations where you need to figure out what to say,” explains co-founder Tony Diepenbrock. “What’s important is to ignite students’ passion to learn… That passion follows you for life. For me, that passionate was ignited by field trips. Field trips were always the best part of any class for me. They made the homework, tests, and lectures matter. They gave it context.”

Developers are working rigorously with mobile manufacturers to offer VR apps for smart headsets. The launch of the consumer Gear VR late last year by Facebook was further strengthened with the release of apps, including the House of Languages from the winners of the Mobile VR Jam.

The cute language learning application places players in a cartoon house where they get to meet Mr. Woo the raccoon and are able to learn Spanish, German, and/or English. While the platform is ideal for teaching younger children foreign language vocabulary, it seems to have plenty of restrictions. The Gear VR’s warning note states that the device shouldn’t be used by children under the age of 13. The app may better fit Google Cardboard as it has a more general warning for users – “Cardboard is not for use by children without adult supervision.”

Newer VR applications offer a more comprehensive learning approach by applying spatial learning to help users master a new language easily. Macunx VR has introduced a learning system that places hard to remember things in a virtual reality world or memory palaces. Many of the best memorizers in the world use memory palaces or similar systems. Wired said that it could help people learn a new language. It is ideal not only for new language learners but also those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia. The app will be available for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

“The ultimate aim of the project is to change the way we learn large and complex subjects,” said memory expert Aaron Ralby. “Rather than watering subjects down to make them easier, we want to empower people to learn rigorous disciplines by unlocking the potential of their spatial minds.”

As the VR headsets edge towards being ‘the next big thing in consumer tech’ next to smartphones and tablets, learning a new language will become more engaging, and effective.

What do you expect to see in the VR language learning sector soon?

 

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Asia Alyson

Asia Alyson teaches young learners about science and technology, and also encouraging them to learn about coding. She is working on integrating new technology such as mobile apps and VR headsets in a classroom setting. She hopes to see more innovative technologies to be added to the list of high-tech educational tools that makes learning seamless and effective.