Improve Your English
English in Virtual Worlds
Beyond the Game
Meeting Native Speakers in Virtual Places
The advent of the Internet, profound leaps in digital technology, and advances in computer graphics have enabled significant new methods for learning English or any other language, and one of these new methods is the use of 'virtual worlds' to build language skills such as reading, writing, and conversation skills. Virtual worlds make language-learning fun, unique, interesting, and interactive - in a very innovative way. Yes, the Internet and its vast array of virtual worlds are not just for playing games.
A virtual world is a community on the Internet. It is typically a computer-based simulated environment. In this simulated environment, users can interact with one another and use and create objects to assist in their interaction. In a virtual world, you create any kind of avatar, which other users can see. You can then connect with the person behind the avatar by virtue of this online environment. Today, 3-D virtual environments are gaining in popularity, whereby those of a particular community communicate with each other with the added benefit of this enhanced visual experience.
Often those studying the English language find it difficult to connect with native English speakers on a regular basis. This can be due to a host of reasons, from living too far away from locations where they can connect with someone in person, to scheduling due to time zones or other issues. This is where the virtual world comes to the rescue. These online communities are available from the comfort of your armchair - 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The gist of learning English via a virtual environment involves finding a community that serves your purposes. You might want to hook up with a community that engages in informal English language discourse. Virtually speaking this can be a community that offers informal 'hangouts'. In these hangouts, people 'meet up' and begin to talk with each other in English. They may communicate by video (speaking, writing, and listening to English while seeing the person), via Instant Messaging (IM) (writing and reading English), or by calling (speaking and listening to English). All of this takes place while they enjoy the created landscape around them.
An informal gathering in a virtual world may involve hanging out in a restaurant or pub environment. It may involve teleporting to an exotic beach locale where you learn English while sitting on a deck chair around a pool. It may be a wooded retreat where you virtually get back to nature - practising your language skills in a visually verdant setting. In these informal communities there are often formal events listed. The online community will post (on a virtual bulletin board) the times and virtual locations for seminars, classes, parties and so on for building your language skills.
The people, places, animals, things, locales, 'weather', and more in a virtual setting becoming talking points for those online at the time. Participants can immerse themselves in the world around them and discuss it, learning new words, phrases, slang, figures of speech, pronunciation and more as they interact with those of whichever community they choose to visit.
Of course, there are formal language learning sites inworld as well. These are typically institution/enterprise based, whereby a school, university or language learning enterprise offers their services in a virtual world they've built, but they often charge real money. These places typically have qualified teachers or native speakers, and they afford the visitor the opportunity to learn a language with other students from around the world. If you plan to use one of these virtual language schools do check out the credentials of the teachers there. A reputable virtual world will list the qualifications of their instructors.
The benefits of learning in a virtual world are many. One benefit is that you can learn according to your schedule. Yes, you will have to be available for some formal sessions at their posted times. Nonetheless, for informal learning you can log-on at any time and begin to text, speak, and read English with whoever's online at the time. This suits early risers and nighthawks alike.
A virtual world can be an excellent way to learn for those who are uncomfortable or shy learning English in a person-to-person setting in a bricks and mortar classroom. The virtual world learning experience can help can really help you build your confidence in your English skills as you can hide behind your avatar, and pretend it's the more confident, English speaking you. You can even create an avatar that looks like an animal: I mean how cool is that, a talking cat? Eventually you can step back out into the real-world with a new found confidence (just resist the temptation to groom your whiskers.
Learning in a virtual world first requires you sign up with a virtual world provider. Examples of virtual world providers include Second Life, Kitely, Active Worlds, and Whyville and there are many others, you just need to find one that suits you. Upon registering, you may have to download their software in order to be able to interact within these 'worlds'. And herein lies one of the downsides of this kind of learning, it's very resource hungry, and you need a powerful computer and a good internet connection. The other downside is the learning curve to get used to interracting in the virtual world you are visiting, you have to be patient with yourself, and with the technology and persevere, Think of it like a long journey, and realise there will be delays and frustrations along the way, but the destination will be worth it.
You have to do your research. Some sites do not require software downloads, some are free to join and others require a subscription fee for the services they offer. One resource that lists many of the virtual world sites available is Virtual Worlds Review (www.virtualworldsreview.com). This site lets you view diverse worlds according to category and they describe the main features of each one to give you an indication of a it's usefulness for your requirements.
Go beyond the game…explore the virtual worlds available to you on the worldwide web for educational purposes. Use a quality site to interact with native speakers and other learners who can help you build your reading, writing and conversation skills. Virtual worlds truly are the next best thing to actually being there. In fact, they're a state-of-the-art "state of mind" if you will. The digital mechanics behind it all are very impressive and can be a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated, but the overall enjoyment of the language learning experience is in the comfort you start to feel in a particular environment that someone has created, it can become a second home from home.