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Learn A Language In 3D

A team consisting of researchers from many countries has invented a virtual reality location where students can practice foreign language skills. Mexican engineering students got to test out the environment up front and personal as they practiced their English language comprehension skills with Collaborative Virtual Environment.

College of Telematics, University of Colima, Mexico's Miguel Garcia-Ruiz, Arthur Edwards, and Raul Aquino-Santos, in conjunction with Amman, Jordan's Samir El-Seoud from the Princess Sumaya University for Technology, discuss their project in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organization.

Compelling Space

Virtual Reality uses computing to create a three-dimensional space which provides a compelling variety of sensations and is interactive. The technique has been utilized to create online virtual worlds in diverse fields such as gaming and entertainment, commerce, and learning. Garcia-Ruiz believes that this technique might be useful in teaching new languages. The researchers posit, "Virtual reality is today one of the new frontiers in computer-assisted language learning offering a stimuli-rich environment for language students."

Various types of virtual reality software applications already exist. One such application is useful for educators and is called the open source Distributed Interactive Virtual Environments (DIVE). DIVE was created by the Swedish Institute of Computer Science during the 1990's.

Graphic Interface

The program can be run on most operating systems and allows users to share a virtual reality environment through a network, either local or via the internet. DIVE has a 3D graphic interface through which users can talk with each other through voice over internet protocol (VOIP), or by sending text messages (chat). Users are represented by virtual images, or "avatars," within the 3D location. The program has already been used to teach University of Colima medical students about physical injuries.

Now, researchers have developed Realtown, which is a virtual reality space that uses the DIVE application. Realtown has all the components of a real town, such as shops, supermarkets, a pharmacy, schools, and a bank. Background noises can be played up or softened as the situation requires and helps to provide a sense of realism. Available sounds include children at play, ambulance sirens, and traffic noises. "What makes Realtown interesting is that students simultaneously perceive and interpret three different stimuli to help them incorporate their knowledge: visual, auditory and physical," explain the researchers.

Major Impact

The research group believes that Realtown has the potential for major impact in teaching foreign languages. "At present, users only navigate the streets to get from one place to another, as the objective of Realtown is to provide listening comprehension practice and a collaborative platform where users can 'negotiate meaning'."

The developers plan to enlarge the project so that users will be able to enter any of the forty buildings where they will have greater opportunities to use their language skills as they interact with the residents.


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