Learning English for a Specific Purpose

There is a lot of technology out there that ESL teachers like to incorporate into their classrooms as a way to help engage and educate their students, but there are a few things to take into consideration before incorporating new technology into an ESL classroom.

The first question to ask, “was this technology specifically created for ESL”? Chances are, the answer to this question is no. There is not a lot of technology out there that is specifically designed for ESL classrooms (in-person or online). This poses a few problems for ESL teachers. For one, the teachers have to figure out how to incorporate the technology in a way that not only engages their students, but also how to get their students to understand the purpose of using the technology. Meaning, if the students cannot see an immediate return on investment or benefit, they simply will not engage with the technology.

The second question to ask, “does this technology have a specific purpose in the ESL classroom, or is it just an ancillary after-thought within the curriculum/syllabus”? There is an age-old rule throughout the ESL community with regard to the use of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL), “never put technology in the classroom simply for the sake of putting technology in the classroom.” Some ESL teachers often incorporate technology into the classroom simply for the sake of trying to engage and educate their students, but they often fail to consider that most technology is not specifically designed for ESL, and therefore can be more of a hindrance rather than a benefit. After a while, the focus is on the technology rather than the learning. To this end, when the technology does not maximize the learning experience… students become bored and disengaged. In all fairness, most younger students can figure out how to use the technology with minimal English language capability, but they need to understand “why” they are using the technology in the first place. Meaning, the students need to be able to correlate the ESL language class to a future endeavor (e.g. a job, a career, higher education, et cetera). In the end, if ESL students cannot see the purpose of technology, as it pertains to their specific life and career goals, they will not get the most out of the training.

At Creative Veteran Productions (CVP), we consider all aspects of ESL training, which is why we focus on the “purpose” of ESL and the “end-needs” of the students. Our English for a Specific Purpose (ESP) training solution addresses the students’ concern of an “immediate return on investment.” We understand that ESL information must not only be relevant and contextual, but also be delivered in a way that allows students to apply the information and skills immediately; practical, active application ensures the highest degree of language retention. To do this, our ESP gaming concept provides a crucial ingredient into the overall paradigm; it entertains! Our triune learning paradigm utilizes the “Entertain, Engage, Educate” concept because we understand that training must Entertain in order to Engage the new learners of today and tomorrow. Meaning, in order to Educate, the materials must be Engaging. And, in order to be Engaging, the materials must be Entertaining. To be Entertaining, the materials must be Active.

By incorporating this approach into our Instructional Systems Design (ISD) process, we are able to develop ESP training that answers both of the two questions above. Yes, this technology we specifically designed for ESL training, and it is used for a Specific Purpose – it provides immediate performance capabilities specifically designed to promote ESL within a skill set. Here is a brief look inside our gaming concept “English for a Specific Purpose (ESP) Learning Game – Construction Series: Framing.”

This ESP gaming concept not only incorporates active learning in a virtual environment, but it ties a specific skill set to the purpose of learning English. This helps engage the learner because it offers real life application to a future job or career (in this case, construction), which makes the learning practical and contextual.

Our team is very excited about bringing something new to the language learning community. To find out more about, contact our sales team and see how our ESP solution can help maximize your students’ classroom performance.

“Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”

~ Confucius, circa 450BC

The Role of Serious Gaming in Secondary Language Acquisition/Learning

As a foreign language educator who holds an almost unwavering approach to traditional classroom learning, I often question the direction of today’s educational methodologies and wonder if they are doing more damage than good. When we, as foreign language educators, find new technology we immediately look at how we can integrate that technology into the classroom, but we often overlook the intricate details that matter most.

  • Was this technology designed for the purpose I am going to use it?
  • What are the limiting factors that will make this technology irrelevant after a few weeks/months/years?
  • What is the return on educational investment for trying to convince others to integrate this technology into the mainstream organization?
  • Will this technology teach students poor study skills?

These are very important questions to ask, and even more important considering Millennials, persons born within the two decades before the turn of the 21st century, will soon make up fifty percent (50%) of the global working age population… and they grew up refining the use of technology as part of their core physiological development skills. As these Millennials continue to enter the workforce and climb their respective corporate ladders, it is apparent there is absolutely no way around incorporating technology into the “classroom”, especially when that technology can make Secondary Language Acquisition/Learning (SLA/L) training more relevant, immersive and cost effective.

But, while Millennials will soon make up half of the working age population, what about those that have had to adapt to technology? As a member of the cusp’er generation, meaning I am in between the Baby Boomers/Gen X’ers and the Millennials, I can see the controlling generation slowly making room for the rising generations beneath them. However, how can the controlling generation pass the baton to the rising generation unless they impart their knowledge? And how can they pass along that knowledge unless it is done in a meaningful way that connects with how the younger generations learn?

Because technology moves almost as fast as the genius minds that create it, there is a large gap between “knowledge givers” and “knowledge seekers”. Those who have the knowledge and experience want to pass it along to the knowledge seekers, but technology often inhibits a seamless process because knowledge givers cannot fully relate to the technological medium through which knowledge must be transferred. Point blank, traditional classroom-style SLA/L is simply not compatible with Millennials’ approach to learning, but that is because foreign language training needs to be “active” instead of “passive”, and traditional classroom SLA/L training cannot offer any meaningful level of active immersion. Because our educational system is designed around the physical classroom, we have to find a happy medium through which knowledge and experience can be transferred.

The good news is that advent processes are democratizing the technology needed to modernize the SLA/L classroom, whether physical or virtual. In terms of 3D Serious Gaming, we are now able to use Augmented Reality (AR) in lieu of traditional Virtual Reality (VR), which is the keystone ingredient that is often misunderstood by those of us that had to learn about technology rather than growing up with it.

For years, classrooms have augmented physical, real-world environments with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, et cetera, and with the decrease in costs of AR, we can now envision merging real and virtual worlds wherein physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time (*see Microsoft Hololens). It is important to note that traditional VR is just now becoming affordable and widely available enough to enter the traditional classroom; however, AR is still in its infancy comparatively. Regardless of current cost and availability, we, as educators, must start to consider what that means for the future of Serious Gaming with regard to SLA/L. In short, training will no longer be limited by the constraints of the physical world. Very soon, we will be able to use the traditional SLA/L classroom in a way that connects with the way Millennials learn, and we will be able to do it in a much more cost effective manner than before.

While we see AR as becoming the norm for training, it doesn’t mean legacy SLA/L training will all of the sudden becomes obsolete. Instead, this is simply a new modality to deliver training. It will make academic and performance SLA/L instruction simultaneous by changing the way we see our physical environment, which will 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. This point notwithstanding, the use of AR technology must be focused and purposeful. Meaning, there must an intentional design and reason for the technology to exist within the SLA/L classroom; it cannot be introduced without any cognitive foresight or anticipatory direction.

Understanding that technology cannot simply replace SLA/L academic classroom instruction, we do see how technology can supplement and vastly improve the practical application portions of career field curricula wherein teachers can assist learners with the hands-on application of a given skill and the technical language needed to master it. For example, Creative Veteran Productions (CVP) has built an English for a Specific Purpose (ESP) training course that uses VocAdemics to address the parallel non-disparateness between academic lexis and occupational vernacular that often hinders SLA/L. Meaning, ESL students become overwhelmed with and fixate on information that has no discernible or connected meaning between the multitude of concepts they are learning (both academic and career technical alike), so they require more “hands-on” skills training to help correlate practical application to academic concepts.

Of particular importance, amongst the foreign-born workers/job-seekers community, there is a lack of functional and job-based technical English language skills, which impacts their ability to fully integrate into the US workforce. In its most basic form, our English for a Specific Purpose (ESP) VocAdemic program allows job-seekers to develop their functional English language skills as well as their technical English language skills while refining the focus to specific trades or skills.

For example, in the construction trades it is important to make sure a “rough opening is plumb, level and square”. However, in mathematics classes, we teach concepts such as vertical, horizontal, parallel and perpendicular; these are the same concepts, but they are the academic lexical versions of their respective “on-the-job, occupational vernacularisms.” There is no direct correlation between the words themselves because we teach them as disparate singular concepts relative to each respective skill set, and, while students understand the use of mathematics in construction, they still view them as completely dissimilar concepts with no discernible relationship.

In this regard, when technology is focused to enhance SLA/L academic objectives through real-time performance interaction in a Virtual Environment, it helps expedite practical fluency and gives relevance to why the learner is participating in the first place. Within the ESL community, it is best summed up through a Confucius saying circa 450 BC, “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.” By using VR or AR, we can accelerate the correlation of more intangible and abstract concepts, which drastically increases functional fluency.

To learn more about the SLA/L virtual learning concept, please watch the instructional video for our ESP Learning Games Construction Series: Framing.

Spoken Vs. Written Language

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.

Iso-immersive 3D Simulation V.R. Environments for Secondary Language Acquisition (SLA)

In 1997, while playing “Duke Nukem” in my barracks’ room at the Defense Language Institute (DLI), I started to think about the possibilities of using video game technology to conduct language study. Well, it’s been quite some time since I was at the Presidio of Monterrey but I am happy to say that over the last two decades the Secondary Language Acquisition/Learning (SLA/SLL) community has slowly introduced Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) technology into the classroom. Now, I wish I could say the introduction of CALL has been fruitful, but such has not been the case. In recent years, while advent technology has finally allowed for the integration of 3D virtualization into the foreign language learning paradigm, the current 3D SLA/SLL environments focus on addressing the attention deficit disorders of millennial learners rather than actual secondary language acquisition principles. Granted, these programs are better than traditional foreign language study techniques wherein we had to endure countless hours of head-to-wall banging sessions while being peppered with vocabulary and hoping something would stick. But, if we, as a community, are going to move forward with CALL technology, we cannot keep focusing on “cool technology” while negating its purpose in the classroom.

I remember quite a few years back when “Second Life” became the holy grail for the SLA/SLL community, specifically for the Department of Defense, but it was short-lived asPlaceholder Image the forum became reduced to a de facto “Adult Entertainment” site centered around the monetization of virtualized social interaction (read degradation). So why didn’t it work? Shouldn’t it be as easy as outfitting an avatar, meeting with a teacher and learning a language? The answers to those questions are a bit more complex and less superficial than one may think.

The reason most 3D simulated environments have proven ineffective in terms of foreign language study is because they were not designed by individuals who have actually studied foreign languages. Moreover, they were not designed from a perspective of deploying discursive psychology, sociolinguistics and e-andragogical principles to establish connective faculties within digital, iso-immersive environments (authentic experiential learning). Sadly, they were designed with one very finite and linear objective: “create a forum; study a language”. Soon, the industry exploded with 3D simulation games, but there was a common misconception that SLA/SLL principles would simply transfer into the digital frontier and language acquisition would just naturally occur. This proved to be a false assumption.

When we approach foreign language study we understand that full exposure to the language is the most expeditious way learn it. In fact, Dr. Stephen Krashen, who has set the standards for Secondary Language Learning & Acquisition (SLL / SLA), maintains that isolated immersion (iso-immersion) is the most effective way to learn a second language. Naturally, one would assume that the digital replication of a real environment would simply create the parameters for effective iso-immersion, but language study is very nuanced and does not follow a simple instructional system design formula. Because of this simple fact, there will always need to be student-teacher interaction.

Getting back on topic, we have to approach digital iso-immersion from both synchronous (active) and asynchronous (passive) learning perspectives. To accomplish this, we can create Non-Player Characters (NPCs) that act as socially-intelligent programmed virtual humanoid avatars (i.e. computer characters) as part of guided/themed objectives for student interaction. From the Synchronous side-of-the-house, students can conduct learning with instructors and report as they are accomplishing the language objectives. Instructors navigate the students through the objectives and assist them with the language learning aspect of the training course. From the Asynchronous side-of-the-house,  students can conduct training in an independent capacity while solely interacting with the aforementioned NPCs. To be effective, we incorporate testing dynamics into the courseware so that the Learning Management System (LMS) only allows the students to advance after meeting a “pre-defined” threshold of language capability. Meaning, we program parameters into the course so that students cannot not simply “click to continue”; they actually have to “interact” with the game in order to advance. But, incorporating these e-andragogical principles in a 3D simulated environment will not simply produce secondary language acquisition to achieve the desired level of proficiency in a particular foreign language. I won’t get into the SLA/SLL Instructional System Design (ISD) architecture, but there is a key ingredient in making the digital frontier  a viable option for iso-immersive foreign language study that is now within our reach – literally.

Up front, we have difficulty viewing language learning as abstract, and have a particular challenge seeing our lexicon, phonology, and syntax as having meaning in a particular historical, social, and political condition. Our vocabulary, phonology and syntax are used to convey a broad sense of meanings and are reflective of our immediate social, political and historical conditions. This is why we deploy a Virtual Constructivism (VC) model that relies on three fundamental principles (de facto language laws) with regard to Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) – which promotes our multi-faceted aspect of Secondary Language Acquisition (SLA) over a linear secondary language learning (SLL) model. These language laws are: Discursive Psychology, Sociolinguistics and Connective Faculties. The first two are accomplished with a fairly easy SLA/SLL approach, but the last (connective faculties) has been very difficult to crack – until now.

The Connective Faculties aspect of the VC model integrates “how we react within a traditional language immersion environment” (i.e. how we connect with the language and culture itself): emotional connections, cognitive connections and physical connections. By integrating internal/external simulated stimuli into the pre-defined objectives of the course, we can create emotional and cognitive connections. Under the physical connections, we easily assimilate sight and sound into the 3D environment. And this is where things get interesting. With new technology, a third element of physical connection (touch) can be integrated through the utilization of haptic technology (i.e sense of touch particularly relating to proprioception). In a nutshell, we can use a body suit and gloves that create sensations of touch so the students feel like they are actually in the simulated environment.

Possibilities are endless with this type of technology, but most importantly, we are no longer limited by: the space constraints of physical classrooms; teacher-availability for students at multiple locations; or hinged by dwindling fiscal resources. This means that agencies and organizations don’t have to worry about budgets or travel logistics; students can train any time, and from anyplace.  Seems too good to be true, or something out of a Star Trek episode, right? Actually, I am happy to report that Creative Veteran Productions (CVP) has designed, devoloped, and deployed a 3D simulation platform that is web-based and specifically designed to be accessible from behind low-bandwidth systems with high security firewalls, which means connectivity is no longer an issue. Using “off-the-shelf” haptic equipment that allows users to interact within virtual reality environments and actually feel certain aspects of the program, we can create a iso-immersive SLA/SLL environment wherein students conduct experiential learning. Now that “touch” has been incorporated into the connective faculties equation, we could theoretically send students to the oil fields of Siberia to conduct Russian language training, or to the desert villages of Syria to learn Arabic – of course, all from the safety of their computers.

Having been around the Department of Defense (DOD) for two decades, I understand the logistical problems associated with government/military training. Too often, we are given finite resources to train a multitude of service-members that need to conduct “high repetition” training. Essentially, a lot of people need to use a small pool of equipment, which comes with a slurry of scheduling nightmares, travel budgets, last-minute delays and equipment malfunctions. In a 3D simulated environment, thousands of users can use the same forum and not even know one anther are there. They can conduct repetitive exercises and drills with an instructor that is located 2000 miles away. If a student is struggling, the teacher can change the parameters of the learning environment. Best of all, we can conduct academic and performance based instruction simultaneously.  As Aristotle said in the The Nicomachean Ethics, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

Here is a short video illustrating the SLA/SLL concept of “Training the Way We Fight“. Technology has finally caught up with human innovation, and it is time for a paradigm shift in the SLA/SLL community.

Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand. – Confucius, circa 450 BC