Using technology to learn languages – what can we improve?

Using modern technology and software to learn languages is nothing new. Many language learners today use apps on their smartphones for vocabulary training and other exercises, browse the internet to find interesting contents in their target language, etc. They do so in their free time, outside organized language classes or courses in school or university.

What exactly do they want from their software? What is it that they get?

Our study with language learners from all over the world (see: Publication in ZIF) has shown: most software / app users hope to primarily improve their spoken language skills in the target language, and at the same time, many (approx. 25%) claim that their speaking/listening skills lag behind their writing/reading skills (while only 3% think it is the other way around).

Unfortunately, speaking is the competence that very few existing language apps actually support and foster: training vocabulary, grammar, reading, also listening comprehension … those are the activities, that language learning apps (and videos etc.) can address. But when you hope to practice speaking, apps and Youtube videos neither listen, nor answer.

Not surprisingly, many of those who learn languages with apps and software are somewhat frustrated. They believe that the software solutions they use are less effective than traditional language classes with their teachers, and much less effective than their favorite activity: language tandems (ibid.) (that is: teams of two, in which both aim to learn the native language of the other).

At HumaniVR, we pick it up from there: we know that learning languages in tandems and/or larger groups works great, that hanging out in VR together is fun, and you don’t even need to travel. So let us create, test, and use virtual 3D spaces that provide opportunities to interact, challenges to be faced, riddles to be solved, and “adventures” to be had together in a multilingual group. One of the people in such a VR group may even be a teacher – but not necessarily. ‘Digital-game-based language learning’ (DGBLL) (ibid.) is highly motivating, and it works best in teams.

So ultimately, we will need to use technology – such as VR – to connect people with people, instead of people with an AI.

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