Virtual Reality (VR) and language learning are a natural fit for developing the skills required to succesfully speak a second language.
This article summarises the main benefits of using VR to learn languages:
- Gain confidence in speaking in simulated realistic environments.
- Be immersed in engaging encounters with native speakers.
- Choose when to study, and utilise your best time for learning.
- Be embodied and feel a connection with your online tutor.
Virtual reality has only recently broken through into the mainstream, mainly thanks to advancements in technology and the success of Oculus’ crowdfunding campaign. It has, however, been around for decades, and various institutions have been investing in the technology and the development of VR training environments for several decades.
Dynamic Languages was founded in 2018 by David Sobell and Katie Pascoe, who have co-authored this article.
A number of VR educational projects and studies were used in this article, but this is not a literature survey or meta analysis. Rather, this piece aims to summarise the key positive learnings from these studies and relate them specifically to VR language learning and our mission at Dynamic Languages.
The panic and fear of making mistakes when having to speak a foreign language can be overwhelming for many people.
It may cause students to lose interest or give up learning entirely.
VR language learning provides a safe space to fail, giving students the opportunity to improve by making errors and overcoming the anxiety of failure.
“Failing and persevering after failure to make continued improvements, is a necessary part of the learning experience […] If highly able children have never experienced this […] it is understandable that an anxiety around failure can occur. This anxiety can be paralysing […]” 
“VR also provides an opportunity for training, therapy, or simulation in situations where repeated practice and a safe space to fail are present. This can be useful as spaces for therapy for students with disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, or social anxiety. The virtual environment allows students control over their learning in a consequence-free, explorative manner, through which they become empowered and more engaged.” 
“VR applications such as VR Language Learning and Public Speaking VR, give students a way to practice public speaking without fear of serious consequences from their mistakes. VR allows for practice in environments that are highly immersive and closely parallel real-world situations.” 
Traditional classroom learning can suffer because it doesn't offer enough authentic practise.
Dynamic Spanish instantly transports you to Spain and reinforces the learning through authentic encounters with native speakers.
High pressure situations requiring you to use your new language are going to occur. We give our students practise at this to avoid the embarrassment of nerves and stumbling over your words during a “real life” encounter.
“One study which did compare immersive VR with traditional lectures covering a similar content for teaching Physics, found that for both Junior High and University level education, post-test results were significantly higher following VR use than following the lectures.” 
“Students often find classroom-based learning to be irrelevant; there is a disconnect between content learned in textbooks and authentic practice in the ‘real-world’. […] Virtual reality can provide an environment for situated learning that is relatively easy to access. Through the increased relevance and situated nature of virtual worlds, students can learn academic content in contexts that increase the potential for learning.” 
Not everyone can make the time or find a suitable, affordable Spanish class in their local area.
The ability to pause, rewind, and repeat a social or professional interaction, is something we’ve all dreamed of doing at various times. In VR language learning environments, it's possible.
Dynamic Spanish can be undertaken at your pace, ensuring you get the most out of your time and energy.
“Virtual reality motivates students. It requires interaction and encourages active participation rather than passivity […] One major advantage of using virtual reality to teach objectives is that it is highly motivating. An investigation […] found students had a favourable attitude towards virtual reality in the educational process. VR requires interaction. The participant who interacts with the virtual environment is encouraged to continue interacting by seeing the results immediately.” 
“Virtual reality allows the learner to proceed through an experience during a broad time period not fixed by a regular class schedule, at their own pace.” 
“Whilst we acknowledge that a simulation is only a representation of real-life, there are features that can enhance real-life experience. For example, a simulation can provide authentic and relevant scenarios, make use of pressure situations that tap users’ emotions and force them to act, they provide a sense of unrestricted options and they can be replayed.” 
Traditional online or distance based learning can lack teacher-student intimacy.
VR provides a more realistic simulation of regular human connection than any other technology utilising verbal and non-verbal communication.
Dynamic Spanish uses 360 video environments and immersive interactions to engage the student in an active manner. Eye contact, verbal cues, and AI speech recognition drive the student to respond. This engagement with the student helps solidify the material and keeps them motivated throughout the experience.
The power of eye contact in VR simulates a natural and friendly relationship with your virtual teacher or speaking companion. It helps build students' confidence and avoid embarrassment, and familiarises students with speaking to another person in a second language.
“[There is] a strong relationship among the quality, amount and the method of using non-verbal communication by teachers while teaching. Based on the findings of the studies reviewed, it was found that the more the teachers used verbal and non-verbal communication, the more efficacious their education and the students’ academic progress were […] emotive, team work, supportive, imaginative, purposive, and balanced communication using speech, body, and pictures all have been effective in students’ learning and academic success.”
“Non-verbal communication is highly reliable in the communication process… it is recommended that attention to non-verbal communication skills can make a positive change in the future of a student’s life.” 
“One aspect of non-verbal communication is the use of eyes to convey messages. The eyes are powerful for both the teacher and the learner in language learning […] this factor, according the result of this study, can lead to effective language learning.” 
“Yuzer (2007:1) maintains that virtual eye contact between the student and the lecturer and among students in the virtual learning and teaching situation increases student attention, improves retention rates, promotes community-building among students and stimulates nonverbal communication and social relationships among all the participants in a distance learning.“
“Cobb (2009:251) found that social presence (of which virtual eye contact formed an important part) was a major influential component in the quality of online learning. In contrast, Barak and Lapidot-Lefler (2011:436) emphasize that being online on the computer without a facility for eye contact with another fails to supply the valuable information which can only be provided by direct eye contact. The information supplied by direct eye contact includes admonition, confidence, confusion, embarrassment, honesty, pleading, security and trust (Barak & Lapidot-Lefler, 2011:436).” 
VR language learning is an exciting combination of technology and scalability.
The technology simulates realistic environments for students to gain confidence when speaking.
Dynamic Spanish students are motivated by the novelty and active participation in immersive video interactions. This can be especially useful for students who are learning on their own or who have typically struggled with language learning in school and other more formal settings.
The flexibility of online courses have made them popular but they often lack that intimate connection with a teacher. Dynamic Spanish bridges that gap by providing a distraction-free environment, with eye contact and verbal communication that help a student feel embodied and connected with the experience.