In the US, when we think about learning a foreign language, most people are filled with nervous anticipation. To a lot of Americans, foreign languages are seen as insurmountable obstacles without any sort of practical application or immediate use. In fact, because of our global economic and political positioning in the world, there is rarely a survival necessity behind learning a second or third language here in the States. But most monoglots fail to see that there is a deluge of tremendously rich cultures and business opportunities for those who want to learn a foreign language and connect with the world.
Creative Veteran Productions (CVP) is a training and education company, and, as such, we have a goal to make language learning more accessible and easy to navigate. At CVP, we view foreign languages as tools that help us succeed in both a global world and within our respective multi-cultural organizations.
Traditionally, the language training community, primarily within the United States, focuses on “language learning”, which is often very pedantic, dogmatic, and formal. It emphasizes on “delivering” language training materials and courseware rather than replicating survival communication skills learned during early adolescent years. To expound upon this concept, participants in Secondary Language Learning (SLL) receive language instruction that focuses on transmitting information about the language rather than using the language as a communicative medium through which topics and skills can be delivered. You see, we fail to understand that foreign language study needs to be active and engage the participants in doing something with hands-on involvement, which is otherwise known as acquisition through “language immersion” – surrounding or “immersing” participants within a second language and its respective culture.
Understandably, this may seem like a confusing topic, which is why we would like to offer clarification and hopefully spark a desire for people to embrace foreign language study rather than fear it. At the most simple level, there are two types of approach to learning a language: Secondary Language Learning (SLL) and Secondary Language Acquisition (SLA). Here in the States, we conduct SLL (not SLA). At a glance, most would not be able to delineate between the two functions, but we would like to offer a basic understanding between the two.
When a person grows up they learn their primary mode of communication, which is known as their (L1); this happens automatically like learning how to walk or even as easy as eating. In essence, we learn to communicate out of necessity and for survival; this is known as primary (or initial) Language Acquisition, which is often referred to as one’s “mother tongue” or “native language”. With time and practice, we are able to refine this skill and create more complex language that includes the ability to transmit and receive abstract concepts and other higher-level critical thinking communicative techniques. Again, this is known as Language Acquisition; we acquire the language, we do not learn or study it.
Now, when we are placed into a foreign environment we are forced to adapt to and learn how to communicate; this is known as Secondary Language Acquisition (SLA). If a person acquires a secondary language, this is known as their (L2). This type of Language Acquisition takes place in an active, immersive environment. However, here in the US, most of us passively learn foreign languages in a classroom; a place wherein the language in an intangible concept without life or active application. This is known as Secondary Language Learning (SLL) or foreign language study wherein we learn/study the language outside of the country (or countries) in which it is spoken. In short, SLL refers to the study of a foreign language rather than simply going to another country, living there, and acquiring it as a survival tool (SLA).
You see, immersion within a culture and language is the only way to truly learn a foreign language, and it is the only way to achieve (L2) functionality. But here in the US, wherein there is no survival need or motivation to acquire a second language, which means most institutions are set up to teach passive SLL foreign language study, how can we change the paradigm in order to promote (L2) SLA? How can we actively learn a second, third, fourth or even fifth language without traveling around the world and living for years on end in the countries in which those languages are spoken?
In a previous discussion, we talked about “The Role of Serious Gaming in Secondary Language Acquisition/Learning” as it pertains to using Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) for SLA/L so as to no longer limit ourselves to the constraints of the physical world. Specifically, how we envision merging real and virtual worlds wherein physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. This will make academic and performance SLA/L instruction simultaneous by changing the way we see our physical environment, which will, in turn, enrich the learning experience for the learners. This is because it will allow traditional SLA/L educators to remain attached to their physical classrooms while also allowing for richer, more in-depth teaching points in a more immersive, interactive and augmented manner. Meaning, we can immerse ourselves into a culture and language by augmenting our physical reality with digital cultural nuances that make it seem like a classroom is really a foreign country.
In a 3D Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), trekking to world can be as easy as opening a Web browser or using technology like Microsoft Hololens. When it comes to traveling to far and distant lands, we would no longer be limited by fiscal resources or physical travel. At a touch, I could travel to an Esfahani Spice Bazaar or haggle with roadside vendors at the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality, the only limit to learning would be in our imagination. We could travel to the Gobi Desert in the matter of minutes, or we could walk the Rue du Cler street market just minutes after visiting a Moroccan Bazaar. With 3D SLA/L, cultural and language immersion could be at your fingertips.
So then why is (L2) Language Acquisition such an elusive concept when it comes to the Serious Gaming and Educational communities? What is missing? Why can’t even the most prestigious of IT corporations crack language learning in a virtual environment? In short… it is because we overthink one of the most basic human functions… communication. At the primordial level, we need to pass on information, so why are we so scared or nervous when we have to do it in a language we do not understand? The answer? Culture shock. Plain and simple. We become inundated with the unknown and place basic communication on an unreachable pedestal, so much that trying to communicate in a foreign land causes a sort of psychological spotlight terror phenomenon wherein we freeze like deer in front of headlights. Why does this happen?
This happens because we look at foreign language as delicate, intangible artistic functions and not a primal form of survival. But, at CVP, we have found a way to combine (L2) pragmatics within a 3D Virtual Learning Environment. While others continue to search out what they believe is the mythical language learning unicorn, at CVP we have created an SLA/L paradigm approach as an “Isolated Community”, or rather Iso-Comm. Instead of overthinking a basic human function, such as language learning and simple communication, we simply provide a virtual platform wherein SLA/L is given active purpose and intentional design. In our Iso-comms, participants are given roles and responsibilities as a means to make (L2) SLA active rather than passive, and it is done in a way that focuses on using survival communications as the medium to transmit knowledge and information about a particular skill, which then forces the participants to acquire the language rather than learn it. Through this initial SLA process, we are also able to achieve basic SLL fundamentals as well.
Simultaneous SLA and SLL? How does our design even work? It’s is a simple concept…
Our task-based objectives give purpose to learning, and our external stimuli make the learning intentional and real. Meaning, we replicate life as it pertains to acquiring a language inside its country of origin/use. Whether in synchronous virtual scenarios with an instructor or an asynchronous environment wherein students interact with NPCs…. our platform provides real, authentic cultural and language acquisition through immersive assimilation. This makes the language and cultural come alive. It this SLA technique that allows participants to experience a foreign country as it exists rather than how it may be perceived inside a classroom.
As for the simultaneous SLL portion of our SLA approach, we have designed an andragogical aspect that allows for the introduction of simple SLL pragmatics, and then becomes more complex as the participants progress through their training. In the simplest terms, we correlate SLA principles to specific participant needs. Once a participant has reached a certain level of survival (L2) language skills, we begin to introduce basic SLL functions as part of the participants’ paradigm of “needs”, and then add more complex SLL pragmatics as the participants gain more functional fluency. In essence… we create an immersive environment wherein external stimuli are introduced through VR/AR modalities in order to force immediate SLA needs. As a participant progresses and begins to acquire basic survival communication skills (SLA), we begin to introduce basic SLL pragmatics so that the participant begins to understand the abstract “nuts and bolts” of how the language functions from the aspect of a native speaker. Throughout the process, the participant gains/refines skills using the language itself. In a nutshell, think about being a native speaker of English that is learning woodworking, but your teacher only speaks Arabic. As you work with your teacher to learn about woodworking techniques, you begin to learn Arabic in the process. At first, it will be a very simple and rudimentary form of Arabic, but over time you will be able to hold a basic conversation. Once you can understand your teacher, he begins to help refine your Arabic speaking skills by exposing you to the functional pragmatics of the language itself and “how to talk” more like a native speaker. With enough exposure, you would be able to hold abstract conversations about woodworking.