The Importance of Learning Language with a Tutor in Virtual Reality

Why is the language tutor important?

The tutor facilitates immersion and lowers the affective filter

In our last blog post we shared about the effectiveness of language immersion, but we didn’t discuss the important role of the tutor. The tutor is absolutely integral to facilitating immersion for the student. As we discussed previously, students need to be receiving compelling and comprehensive input, and it is the job of the tutor to provide that input. They need to act as an expert guide for students, spurring them on in their language learning adventure.

Only tutors can respond well to the needs and interests of students1, providing thoughtful help and corrections immediately. They can tailor their lessons to exactly fit their students’ language abilities and goals. Tutors also make successful role-playing simulations possible. They speak at a rate that is clear and just slightly above the level of the learners ability, giving students the push to improve their language skills. All of these create an environment in which students are immersed and comfortable, gaining pre-planned material that is relevant and interesting. When this happens, their affective filter is lower (in other words, they aren’t stressed or frustrated), resulting in higher learning.

The tutor provides the sociocultural element

All human interaction takes place in a cultural context, therefore imparting culture is an important part of any tutor’s role. In recent years, language pedagogy has added the importance of culture as a fundamental aspect of communicating in a foreign language. Culture is seen as inextricable from language learning. Renowned linguist Anthony Liddicoat purports that, “a second language is learnt in order to be used and that language use is fundamentally cultural. It takes as its starting point the idea that every time we use language we perform a cultural act and recognizes for language learners that this involves two cultures: their own and that of the target language.2” So it is extremely important to have a tutor that can bridge the gap between the cultures and bring the learner into greater understanding of both the culture and language.

Virtual Reality is the tutor’s best friend

We have established that the tutor is an important piece to the language acquisition puzzle, but when you pair a good tutor with virtual reality, a whole new world of immersion is opened. “[The computer] offers the possibility of developing the sociocultural competence of language learners more readily than the pages of a textbook or the four walls of a classroom. In effect, computers seem to realize the dream of every language teacher–to bring the language and culture as close and as authentically as possible to students in the classroom.3

Only tutors can provide the social dimension that is desperately missing in other language learning tools4. Coupled with our interactive, realistic immersive environment, tutors are able to really drive language acquisition5 and make all kinds of important language learning activities possible6. This combination also helps the students become more accurate speakers and more culturally-sensitive learners7. Lastly, only a tutor can aid the student in navigating the complex interaction of language, culture, and identity that underlies SLA8.

At Immerse we train tutors in using the immersive method within a state-of-the-art virtual environment. Our virtual reality allows tutors to provide that ever-important language input within a social context. Instead of making do with conversation starters, textbook pdfs and some flashcards, our tutors guide their students through marketplaces, monuments, and museums! It means tutoring knows no limits: our tutors can teach a lesson on another continent, on a mountain, under the sea, or in space! To quote Albert Einstein, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

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  1. Jones, Christopher. (1996): “few would doubt the basic importance of the teacher’s ability and attitude: ability because materials need expert help if they are to realize their potential, and attitude because there is no better way to ensure a flop than to go into class expecting one. The teacher, clearly, is a crucial element in the success or failure of a lesson” and Hamidi (2014) quoting Carrier (1991, pg 224): “Students  (and school administrators!) need to understand that computers do not help students learn, rather that teachers use computers to help students learn. Methodology, not technology, is what helps students learn”
  2. Anthony Liddicoat: Good book on ICC with Liddicoat in it: Intercultural Language Teaching (ILT)
  3. Kramsch and Anderson (1999, p. 31) write that “computers seem to realize the dream of every language teacher – to bring the language and culture as close and as authentically as possible to students in the classroom.
  4. Lan (2016): “Additionally,  according to the perspective  of sociocultural SLA, by actively involving oneself in social and meaningful interaction in an immersive and authentic environment,  successful SLA can be gained (Lan et al., 2016)” and simply designing digital games that follow the behaviorism theorem is not enough. In other words, getting high scores in language performance tests is not enough. The  “appropriate usage in social contexts in real world” should be the key point to today’s L2TL. Furthermore, the lack of the contexts and inter-players social interaction may minimize the advantages of using digital  games in language learning even if some lower-level linguistic skills are improved. The main problem is that the linguistic skills are learned in a decontextualized environment, and thus they may not be actually used in authentic occasions.” Also Dupuy (2006): “Indeed, many textbooks continue to “be built upon the persistent assumption that the acquisition of a foreign language and its culture means studying discrete grammatical structures, vocabulary lists, and pieces of information” (Levine, 2004, p. 26), and as such fail to translate current theories of second language acquisition and communicative language teaching and learning into practice.”
  5. Lan (2016): “authentic  contexts and social interaction  are essential for L2 learners’ successful acquisition of the L2”
  6. Blasing (2010): “interactive, immersive and content-rich virtual environment provides learners with ample opportunity for input, interaction, task-based learning and output production, goals which have been at the forefront of sociocultural approaches to second language acquisition for many years”
  7. Blasing (2010): “Results suggest that the visual component of the virtual world environment plays a key role in shaping the user’s experience, and that interaction in the virtual environment promotes attention to linguistic accuracy along with cultural sensitivity”
  8. Lo Bianco (1999)

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February 20, 2019