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.
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