Innovation Spotlight

Language Learning Gets a High-tech Makeover

Learning a new language is easier — and a lot more fun — thanks to a variety of innovative apps and augmented reality tools. 

Today’s workforce on the move can take advantage of new ways to learn, practice, experience and share languages — well before any bags are packed.

Virtual Reality

Full immersion into a native-speaking environment has long been regarded as one of the best ways to master a new language. But traversing a new land without being able to fully communicate can be daunting, especially if you are worrying about making embarrassing mistakes and mispronouncing words in a professional work situation. 

So what if you could experience the type of language-learning conditions immersion provides without having to cross borders? That’s the idea behind New Zealander Scott Cardwell’s ImmerseMe, a virtual-reality tool that embraces technology to mimic an immersive environment. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, the 28-year old entrepreneur set off with a 360-degree camera and a videography team to record a variety of scripted scenes and real-world conversations in multiple global destinations. Donning a VR headset, users can engage in those life-like experiences (currently over 500 scenarios across 9 languages are offered), combining visual reinforcements while boosting confidence to engage in practical conversation. Now you won’t have to feel intimidated walking into that patisserie and ordering your favorite sweet and coffee; you can practice it on your own time until you’re sounding like the locals.

Gamification

Free language learning sites and apps like Duolingo, Memrise and Mindsnacks use a combination of visual imagery, typed phrases and audio to help users learn a foreign language, but their success lies in the gamification of language-learning — adding elements typical of game playing like scoring points and racing against time. By using traditional coursework (vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, etc.) but bringing it into the digital age with bite-sized, gamified lessons, they’re not only increasing the user experience by making learning more fun, but also adding another dimension to the learning process by tapping into users’ desires to be rewarded for achievement and engage in a bit of healthy competition — and maybe even earn some bragging rights — while enhancing their foreign language skills. In addition to boosting user motivation, these language-learning models are proving effective: an independent study by the City University of New York and University of South Carolina found that 34 hours of Duolingo was equivalent to an entire semester’s worth of language studies at a university.

Social Sharing

If you want to take a break from touring Tokyo with your VR headset on or earning hearts and badges as you master Mandarin on your phone, there are plenty of social sites that connect learners with native speakers, too. After all, the ultimate purpose of learning a new language is typically to better engage and communicate with other human beings, right? Sites like italki and Speaky allow you to find language partner experiences based on your skill level, interests and goals, then schedule one-on-one lessons, set up a language exchange, or practice right away by talking to people active in the community online. Bonus: You might gain more than just language skills, but new friends around the world.

Italian film director Federico Fellini famously observed that, “A different language is a different vision of life.”  Whether you’re embarking on your own exotic journey, or counseling a family on the move, so many fun, engaging and innovative tools have made developing new skills and gaining new perspectives through language easier and more accessible for all of us — whenever we want and wherever we are. It can be as simple as downloading an app.

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