Go to Moscow to
Learn Russian (Sort of)
New virtual reality technology provides instant
language immersion without leaving home.
BY MEDHA TARE, EWA GOLONKA AND MARTYN CLARK
Language study is a national imperative, and the technology shaping it goes as far back as 1877, when Thomas Edison’s phonograph promised to break down geographical barriers to let Chicago learners
practice German as it is spoken in Berlin.
Fast-forward 140 years to an era when virtual reality
(VR) is transforming language instruction as we know it.
Exciting breakthroughs capitalize on the rapidly progressing technology to help deliver critical language and socio-cultural content and experiences faster than ever before
with fewer resources than full immersion experiences.
One revolutionary approach combines VR with empiri-
cally based cognitive-learning principles, marrying
technology and pedagogy. Called REVEAL 360 Degrees:
Research-Enhanced Virtual Environments for Acquiring
Language, the prototype provides a virtual 360-degree cin-
ematic experience for immersive foreign language learn-
ing. Innovators at the University of Maryland Institute
for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) created the
platform, and language-learning researchers from the uni-
versity’s Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL)
provided the content that runs on it. The tool immerses
learners in a setting that requires them to focus on a for-
eign language conversation amid background noises and
distractions. This type of realistic practice is critical for
developing high-level listening skills. REVEAL could boost
A panoramic camera view shows the room setup
before conversations are recorded for REVEAL 360
Degrees, a joint immersive learning research project
conducted by the University of Maryland Center for
Advanced Study of Language and the university’s
Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.