Science and Technology

Melbourne students using world-first VR technology to learn languages

In a world-first, Melbourne students learning an additional language are now able to use the power of VR-based technology to develop real-life communication skills.

The pioneering ImmerseMe software simulates authentic conversation scenarios that students interact with on their laptops using voice recognition technology. It currently teaches 9 different languages and will soon have the additional use of a mobile app and VR goggle application.

ImmerseMe CEO Scott Cardwell had the idea for the software after seeing the potential in his own life. “As a traveller, I wanted to be able to go into a cafe in Paris and confidently order a coffee and croissant,” the New Zealander says.

“With ImmerseMe, you get dropped into a situation in a 360 video, where there’s someone talking to you and you have to respond. We use speech recognition to listen to your pronunciation, and if it’s close enough to what we’re expecting as a native speaker, then you’ll automatically be moved onto another video of them replying and then continue the conversation.” You can also choose how to interact, ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style.

Scott approached Chloe Briand, the Head of Languages at Methodist Ladies’ College in Kew, to help create the content and dialogue. With the support of MLC’s senior management, it took eighteen months of content development, with Scott travelling to real locations around the world to film authentic interactions with enthusiastic locals.

“The program allows us to get move away from a traditional learning setting, and bring the world into the classroom,” says Chloe. “Not only can they practice ordering food or asking for directions, they can also have broader social conversations.”

This is a radical shift from learning a language with lists of vocabulary, and is now the backbone of MLC’s learning program starting with Year 7, and being rolled out over other year levels. It encourages independent, self-directed engagement where the students are in charge of their own learning.

“After six months, the impact it has had on our program is quite dramatic,” says Chloe of the software, the first of its kind worldwide.

“Studies have shown that the most anxious part of learning a language is speaking to a native speaker. This tool allows you to practise and improve on your fluency in a real-life scenario, without feeling self-conscious.”

Scott has had immense interest from schools around Australia and New Zealand, alongside universities such as Stanford, Cambridge and Harvard, and believes this is the new way of 21st century learning for both students and adults, with MLC leading the way with this technology to create truly global citizens.

“There are lots of different avenues to integrate this technology into the classroom,” Scott says. “The possibilities are limitless.”

Source: Methodist Ladies College

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