Recently, I wrote about the future of the Secondary Language Acquisition/Learning (SLA/SLL) community vis-à-vis 3D virtualization and haptic technology, but I feel as if I need to explain the rationale behind this inevitable paradigm shift. Those of us in the language learning community understand the disconnect between the spoken and written forms of a language; and yes, this is where I am going to show my true inner-nerd and discuss the veritable nuances of language analysis (i.e. colloquialisms, vernacular and euphemistic manners of speak).
Each language has its own varying degree of difficulty depending on the learner’s ethnolinguistic perspective. Meaning, it is much easier for a speaker of a Latinic language to learn other languages within his or her specific language family (i.e. it is easier for a Spanish speaker to learn French than it is to learn Japanese). Of course, the more languages one learns the easier it is to learn additional languages because his or her lexical frame of reference broadens exponentially with each added language. But, that is not really the point of this article. I would rather dive deeper into the crux of why foreign language study seems so inundating and magnanimously impossible, and how we are standing at the precipice of a new frontier (digitally speaking that is).
Now, it doesn’t matter how difficult a language may seem, every language suffers from parallel non-disparateness. Wait! What does that even mean? In short, it means every language has two forms: written and spoken; both of which are linguistically the same language, but very different when delivered through a mode of communication. You see, the academic lexis and pragmatic syntax of a written language is noticeably dissimilar when compared to the spoken vernacular form; in some cases, they seem like two different languages, but they are one in the same. This is not a dialectal dissimilarity, but rather a communicative separation based on cognitive faculty perspectives. As to why it takes place is a moot point, but its relevancy to this article is that it hinders the functional fluency development of secondary language learners. Students learn the “written” language in class, but are expected to understand the “spoken” language “in the real world” or “on the job”. In the past, it was easier to navigate through the parallel non-disparateness of a foreign language because the languages themselves had natural progressions of change (i.e. 1920s American English compared to 1960s American English; the language changed over a slow 40-year period). But, today’s foreign language learner is inundated with constant changes in a language. Given the speed at which we can communicate (globally), thousands of new words are added to individual languages each year, which are then compounded by phonetic morphology, isogloss linguistic vulgarities, syntactical derivations and of course the flowery euphemisms we love to use so much. As an example, and I know we’ve all been there, think about the last time you received a text from a younger person (read millennial). It’s almost as if you need an etymologist to give you the linguistic origin and then the Rosetta Stone to decipher it.
This is why language learning is so difficult; languages change and reflect the cultures in which they are spoken. Why is that? Because in discursive psychology we study “why we say what we say”, and in sociolinguistics we study “how we say what we say”. There are many external and internal motivational reasons to express a thought in communicative form, which is always linked to a desired outcome. We also have to consider political, religious and social influences when it comes to communication. In fact, popular culture plays a huge role in the transformation of a language. Why? Because if a Neanderthal is habitually pushed in front of “the big screen” they become the object of idealization; the public will have an overwhelming sensation to mimic his or her monosyllabic grunting (or rather incoherent ramblings at the Oscars) – it is psychologically inevitable. As another example, a political activist is going to speak differently than a priest. The language may be English, but the choice of lexis and its respective communicative delivery are going to be different. My point is, each person has a different frame of reference and internal motivation to speak a certain way. That in and of itself makes foreign language study difficult, but then we add isogloss nuances (geographical distribution of dialects) into the mix and we really start to confuse ourselves. Since it is 2016 and election year, let’s look at political languages. A democrat from Massachusetts is going to speak differently than a republican from Louisiana. But why? First, there are historical etymological influences in the dialectal differences. Puritan religious dissenters came from East Anglia and brought their distinctive “twang” to Massachusetts, which had Germanic and Nordic influence; whereas Louisiana had a staunch Norman Franchophile influence, which spawned a sort of vulgar creole language – not really French, but not really English either. And then we have to take into consideration religious and social influences, which bring a deluge of lexically isolated nuances. The dissimilarities may be slight, and we still understand one another, but to a foreigner… we might as well be speaking Greek.
And this is where we are failing our students. In some cases, we teach them the written language and highly educated spoken language (BBC, VOA, et cetera) when they are expected to understand highly a colloquial spoken language for their follow-on jobs. While learning the educated form of a language is imperative for global skills, it is nearly impossible to teach a student how to understand the “spoken” target language when their exposure is restricted to news media broadcasts and non-specific videos from other media sites. Suffice it to say, it is monumentally difficult for students to learn a foreign language or culture by simply attending a class or being instructed in a classroom-style environment.
But where does that leave us? Well, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” encourages the change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms. So, as advent technology revolutionizes the way human beings interact and learn, it is imperative to evaluate and possibly even change the very fundamental principles of SLA/SLL, or in the case of this article, a greater emphasis on enhancing language acquisition techniques. Language study should not be delivered as the topic of training but rather than the medium through which training takes place. Experiential virtual training forums create isolated and sanitized environments in which students can receive varying degrees of the target languages themselves (spoken, written, dialectal and et cetera). Not to mention, they provide a generationally relevant SLA/SLL program for kinesthetic, millennial-style learning. Immersion, albeit by virtual means, allows students to explore and make discoveries in the language and culture for themselves, which maximizes and expedites language fluency.
This is exponentially relevant for creating 3D Serious Games for SLA/SLL because if we bore down to the fundamental level of foreign language acquisition, we need to not only digitally replicate the immersive experience in a foreign land, but also replicate the nuances of its language and culture vis-à-vis spoken and written language.