Sunday, October 26, 2008

New project with students: Video games and language learning

In graduate school in cognitive science I studied artificial neural networks and language acquisition, a continuation of my interest in psychology and computer science from college.

As a professor, I became knowledgeable in several new areas during the 1990s. One of these is the question of why adults find it difficult to learn a foreign language, even in an immersion context. To answer this, I have been developing "multi-causal" theory: foreign language learning is difficult because of entrenched and routinized first-language structures, decline in brain plasticity, and decreased motivation to practice the second language because immediate rewards are so low. Adult learners may highly desire the end-state of fluency, just as they value other long-term goals like weight gain or smoking cessation; immediate rewards are minimal. The intervention I propose is a virtual reality learning environment. The virtual world is the place to learn and practice a foreign language with game characters providing language recasts and diverse skill levels. The immediate rewards of video-games (solving puzzles, finding clues) means that language learning is part of making progress in the game. After developing a prototype for foreign language learners, I want to extend the video game language learning project to the problem of literacy acquisition for deaf children. With my colleagues at BU, I argue that deaf individuals have difficulty learning to read because they are being asked to do something unprecedented: learn a second language (and sometimes a first language) via print. But can a language be learned just from print? Language learning is typically thought to depend on social-emotional interaction, which is absent when deaf children struggle to learn language from the printed page. Virtual reality environments can be used to immerse learners in a world where printed material can co-exist with interactions between characters, including interaction of the learner.

I'm currently looking for funding and collaborators and welcome suggestions.

5 comments:

vgresearcher said...

Interesting topic. Have you contacted those who have done similar projects?

HumanProject said...

Hi VG researcher,

We're just now trying to find out what labs have done similar projects. We've been mostly reading the journal Computer Assisted Language Learning. My impression is that there was an huge amount of interest in virtual reality as the the next big thing in education around 1995-1999, but progress didn't keep up with expectations (like the explosion of interest in Artificial Intelligence in the 1960s).

If you have ideas, email me and/or leave some notes on our project site:

vgresearcher said...

hmmm... my specialty is social-developmental. I tend to cower away anything biological, most of my blog posts are mainly on aggression and anything that tickles me. I may have passed by some articles in blogs on second language acquisition, maybe terranova.blogs.com or http://kotaku.com/gaming/education/play-mmos-learn-a-second-language-318617.php or http://edugamesblog.wordpress.com/2007/10/26/slay-a-dragon-learn-a-language/

Well today's focus is on multiplayer environments. I can refer you to some general labs who may know better: http://blogs.parc.com/playon/
http://vhil.stanford.edu/

vgresearcher said...

oops, looks like the parts of the links are missing:

http://kotaku.com/gaming/education/
play-mmos-learn-a-second-language-318617.php

http://edugamesblog.wordpress.com/
2007/10/26/slay-a-dragon-learn-a-
language/

HumanProject said...

Hi VG researcher,
Great ideas, thanks!