Virtual Reality: The New and Sexier Way to Learn Languages?

Virtual Reality: The New and Sexier Way to Learn Languages?
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There have been some drastic changes in the way that people are able to lead their lives over the past decade. The internet has connected people across the globe in ways that we never previously thought possible - many of us are travelling more frequently, businesses are able to hire people to work remotely from the other side of the globe, and friends and relatives from different countries can now chat face to face without having to travel for hours.

As we move towards a more globalised world, we cannot deny the value of learning a language. A multilingual individual will be able to connect with more people, encounter more professional opportunities, and gain a self-confidence that only comes with mastering a language different from their own native tongue. Now that’s all well and good, but let’s be real here: learning a new language is hard.

Two years spent living in Seoul often saw me wandering the neon lit streets of Korea’s capital looking more doe-eyed and bewildered than Scarlett Johansson’s character in “Lost in Translation”.

I desperately wanted to fit into my new country and I experimented with virtually every available means of learning Korean in order to do so. I joined language exchanges, forced myself into situations where I would have to utilise my limited vocabulary and downloaded every language app I could find on the itunes store.

Like many others, I had a short-lived fling with Duolingo. It started out like most flings do - initially I was head over heels and couldn’t get enough, but as time progressed, I realised that the infatuation was fizzling out. The app simply wasn’t in-depth enough. The fling had flung.

Duolingo only taught me a selection of stock phrases which were essentially useless unless a conversation in Korea required me to exclaim such specific things that never arise in typical conversation as “The mouse eats the cheese” (wait, why are you teaching me that?) and the robotic monotone voice of the app didn’t prepare me for holding actual conversations with native speakers at all.

Researchers argue that immersion is the best method for learning a language but when you’re starting out, leaping into a situation with limited knowledge and only a handful of words and phrases to throw out defensively is nerve-wracking. Not to mention, in reality, not everyone that wants to learn a language has the luxury of jetting off to the country in question for a year or so to study it.

So what if there was a less intimidating alternative that allowed you to converse comfortably from anywhere? That’s certainly the direction that the innovative world of language apps is going as VR (virtual reality) learning software enters the market and provides us with the closest thing to real life immersion that we could possibly get.

The Mondly VR app helps you practice languages in a number of useful scenarios.

The Mondly VR app helps you practice languages in a number of useful scenarios.

As of earlier this year, the developers behind leading language app Mondly have expanded the capabilities of their offering in order to include an immersive VR world, something which has already taken the tech world by storm, with both Bloomberg and Digital Trends magazine speaking highly of the application. The user can choose one of several real life situations and then practice holding conversations relevant to that specific context. The app works by utilising a chatbot in the form of a virtual reality character and the true beauty of this format is not limited to the artificial world and characters that Mondly has created, but in the almost life-like nature of the bot.

Mondly VR is the brainchild of entrepreneurs who know first hand of the struggles that individuals are faced with when learning languages, and the limitations of the apps currently in the marketplace which is why they have developed state-of-the-art language recognition software which enables the user to engage in an actual conversation with the robot.

With Mondly, you are not limited to a selection of stock phrases to perpetually repeat, but can instead chat freely with the bot as you would a human teacher. Mondly knows millions of phrases and responses meaning that you almost forget that you are speaking to a robot. The clever AI technology that the robot is gifted with also means that it is continually expanding its vocabulary base.

Chatting to a bot is not exactly the same as speaking to a genuine language teacher but it has its advantages: The Mondly bot has the patience of a Saint, and will repeat itself as often as is necessary for you to grasp something. The recorded voices are native and natural sounding (none of that strange bot voice) and the Mondly bot is your typical conscientious teacher providing you with useful, constructive feedback and specifying precisely where you went wrong and how to improve. Not to mention, the app is super convenient. You can’t chat with your real human italki teacher while on the toilet or sat in bed in your underpants can you? (Well you could but we’d have to question your moral judgement)

The Mondly VR app initially offers 3 scenarios in 28 languages. These scenarios are:

  1. Speaking with a new friend on a train - Chat with them, banter, practice your flirting skills ready for Friday night at the bar, whatever you like.
  2. Ordering food at a restaurant - Because pointing at menus, miming and selecting a random dish while hoping it isn’t something that’s still flailing around on your plate isn’t the ideal travel situation.
  3. Checking into a hotel - Possibly one of the most useful scenarios you can prepare yourself for.

Mondly is already one of the most downloaded language apps in the world, with over 15 million downloads, a 4.7 star rating on the app store, and a stint as the most downloaded app in Arab countries (surpassing giants like Facebook and Instagram). The train module is completely free, and the app can be downloaded now from The Apple Store, The Google Play Store, and The Oculus VR Store. For further information, visit the Mondly website here.

Disclaimer: The Huffington Post and its contributors are in no way affiliated with any of the programs discussed in this article. The Travel Writer behind the article simply appreciates the struggles of learning a language, and wanted to share her experiences.

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