The future is now.
You can watch a 3D TV from the comfort of your couch.
You can morph your face from the comfort of your phone.
Hands-free devices allow you to focus more fully on your taco consumption.
Let’s face facts: We now live in an era that would make Marty McFly’s jaw drop.
And the best part about the future is that technology isn’t just limited to entertaining options that will impress your friends.
Technology can also help you improve yourself, and that includes your language skills!
From language apps to language learning systems to innovative language learning tools, technology is changing language learning.
Each new technological advance leads to new developments in language learning, and each technology offers different advantages. Some apps can help you memorize words. Software can guide you through a full language course in the comfort of your own home.
Meanwhile, virtual reality, the latest player on the language learning scene, can help you practice your language skills like never before.
Virtual reality (also called “VR”) uses computers, phones, tablets, headsets or other devices to simulate a real environment. Rather than merely showing you a scenario, virtual reality puts you in that scenario. It should come as no surprise, then, that HuffPost reports that virtual reality is the new, sexy way to learn a language.
While there are at this point still limited options for virtual reality language learning, there are already some good choices on the market.
There are also ways that you can easily DIY a virtual reality foreign language experience, which we’ll get into below.
And don’t worry, while we’re defining “virtual reality” pretty broadly here just to make sure you’re aware of what’s out there, we’ll definitely get to those neato headsets.
So there’s no need to wait.
Your language learning future can start now.
Why Virtual Reality Language Learning Is Taking Off
First of all, virtual reality can provide interactive experiences to help you perfect your language skills. One study indicates that one reason why virtual reality language learning is so valuable is that it supports interaction. Interactive experiences are much more engaging than studying alone; plus, they give you valuable practice, which helps reinforce learning, which brings us to our next point.
Virtual reality can also offer an opportunity to try out your skills without the intimidation factor of interacting with native spevakers in real life. Practicing your language skills is important. However, it can also be intimidating, particularly if you’re interacting with a native speaker, which can seem downright terrifying. VR language learning programs provide the opportunity to get that valuable practice without any fear. And, thankfully, the more you practice, the less daunting interacting with native speakers will seem.
Virtual reality can simulate real-life scenarios you’re likely to encounter, thereby preparing you to encounter these scenarios in real life. Some study programs focus on learning vocabulary that you may never use. For instance, while naming colors is valuable, do you really discuss them more often than you order food? Probably not. VR language programs tend to focus more on real-life contexts that you’ll probably encounter if you travel abroad rather than abstract activities. This functional knowledge is useful and easy to apply to actual situations.
Finally, the virtual reality experience is flexible and can be as authentic as you make it. And make it more authentic you can! Enhance VR’s feeling of authenticity by combining it with cultural authenticity through using FluentU in conjunction with one or more of the tools below.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
VRoom! Getting Started with Virtual Reality Language Learning
First things first: To use some virtual reality options, you’ll need (or have the option of using) a virtual reality headset. Here are three of the most popular options and what sorts of apps they’re compatible with.
Oculus is compatible with apps sold through the Oculus store. Oculus works with Galaxy smartphones.
Daydream is a virtual reality viewer produced by Google. It’s compatible with select Android-based phones.
Google’s affordable virtual reality viewer is compatible with virtual reality apps for Android from the Google Play store. You can use it with newer-model iPhones and Android devices.
Pioneers of Virtual Reality Language Learning
Available: Android | Oculus Rift
Seasoned language learners are no strangers to Mondly. Their online and app-based language learning options have been bringing their A game for a while. But now, Mondly is also venturing into virtual reality language learning, and it’s a real game changer.
Mondly VR focuses on putting you in realistic scenarios, like checking into a hotel, riding in a taxi, ordering at a restaurant or chatting on a train. From there, a character will speak to you, and you’ll respond verbally based on a list of possible responses. Voice-recognition software allows for immediate feedback on your pronunciation to help you perfect your skills.
Mondly VR offers around 30 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and more.
While the regular Mondly app is also available on iTunes, the Mondly VR app is only available for Android (which works with Daydream) and Oculus Rift.
If nothing excites you more than an exotic locale, ImmerseMe might be just the virtual reality program you’re looking for.
Scenarios will help you practice common interactions, like greetings, ordering food and ordering coffee, with native speakers. If you respond correctly and clearly, the dialogue will move forward. However, ImmerseMe has a unique twist—it features real locations, so not only can you practice your language skills, you can actually feel like you’re abroad.
ImmerseMe offers Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.
ImmerseMe is currently available as a Chrome desktop application. Launches of an iOS app, an Android app and a VR headset app are planned for 2019.
Is it a game or virtual reality? Trick question—it’s both.
Crystallize helps students learn Japanese through an interactive, VR game. In it, you collect words that you find so that you can reuse them in the game. Then, you make use of your vocabulary stash in scenarios like making friends and getting a job.
Your responses will come in the form of either a response to a multiple-choice question or a sentence-building activity. When you complete the response correctly, the dialogue will move on. If you don’t have a vocabulary word you need, you’ll have to go listen in on other “conversations” until you find it.
But Crystallize is useful for more than just vocabulary acquisition. One study shows that Crystallize can also help teach you valuable non-verbal communication skills that you’ll need if you visit Japan, like how and when to bow.
Plus, you can go on quests or even work with other players, both of which can increase the fun factor and your motivation.
Crystallize is currently available via download for Windows, OSX or Linux.
Other Virtual Reality Options You Can Use for Language Learning
While these options aren’t specifically designed for language learners, you can use them to practice your language skills in VR.
Available: iOS | Android
Avakin Life is a 3D mobile app in which you develop an avatar and then interact and explore in a virtual world. You can dance, build and decorate your living space, get a job or just hang out.
For language learners, though, Avakin Life provides some opportunities to practice your target language in a simulated environment. That’s because Avakin Live supports 11 languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. To find someone speaking your target language, you simply need to go to the “social spots” screen and toggle to “international mode.” Then, you can practice chatting in your target language in an immersive environment.
The 3D element of Avakin Life works with Daydream, though you can still access the world from your phone without using the 3D element.
Available: iOS | Android
Wouldn’t it be nice if YouTube videos really pulled you in and made you feel like you were actually there? Well, we’ve got some life-changing news for you—they can.
Fulldive is a virtual reality platform that allows you access to various forms of media in a virtual reality context. This means you can enjoy content in a Cardboard or Daydream virtual reality headset.
Fulldive offers an array of user-generated content, including photos and video. However, what’s really exciting for language learners is that Fulldive allows you to stream YouTube videos in virtual reality. This means that you can use a virtual reality headset to enjoy web series, vlogs and all your favorite FluentU content in your target language. While it’s not interactive like options designed specifically for language learners, enjoying these videos on a virtual reality headset can help enmesh you in the video and make you feel more engaged, which is still quite useful.
Fulldive is designed to be used with a Google Cardboard or Daydream viewer.
So get your flux capacitor in gear.
If you see fluency in your future, check out these VR language learning options!