Learning of foreign languages can be somewhat of a challenge in the United States, partially due to proximity to countries where another language is spoken, yet global perspectives are essential and better addressed through a multi-lingual and multi-cultural citizenry. “According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, a higher percentage of students are studying a foreign language than at any time in history.” The Case for Foreign language Classes Education Week ( July 12, 2010). Students need to become prepared to conduct business and compete in a global economy, our competitors across the globe are addressing it.
Foreign language instruction is an area that can be handled effectively through virtual environment experiences. Foreign language teachers will tell you that practice in the native tongue with native speakers is a “best practice”. In real life it often includes field trips, at the very least to a local restaurant or community, students from affluent homes may participate in a trip abroad.
In a virtual environment, students can be placed in a variety of social situations, with native speakers, to practice newly acquired linguistic skills. There are instant translators available in virtual worlds that can translate written text to a limited degree, and/or students may turn on voice and actually practice speaking with individuals from another country. Environments can be constructed to elicit the practice of particular vocabulary such as sporting, arts, cultural, or social events. Students (through avatars) engaged in conversation and interaction will naturally acquire cultural lessons as well.
ESOL students could use the environment similarly. A characteristic that encourages language practice for the second language learner is the ‘security’ of the avatar. Students learning a foreign language may express a reluctance to speak, for fear of being made fun of. An avatar representation offers some shielding from potential or perceived ridicule.
A virtual setting may very well be the most ‘natural’ setting we can provide, at a reasonable cost, for foreign language instruction.