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L2 Immersion in 3D Virtual Worlds: The Next Thing to Being There?

Second Life is one of the many three-dimensional virtual environments or “synthetic worlds” (Wingham, 2013) that are accessible through a computer and a fast broadband connection. Like Massively Multiple Oriented Online Role Play Games (MMORPGs) thousands of participants connect to a platform to interact virtually with the world, join international communities of practice and, for some, role play groups. Unlike MMORPGs however, Second Life is user generated social platform where users have the freedom of building, chatting, selling their products, learning as well as playing.

Following Lave and Wenger’s (1991) beliefs in the value of situated learning and with the wealth of visual and interactive resources Second Life affords, our university’s School of Languages and Cultures initiated in 2012 a pilot project to explore the viability of such platform for immersive language applications with a small number of student volunteers from the French, Spanish and Italian programmes.
The original intent was to find ways of bridging the language learnt in the classroom and authentic language used in real-life situations, thus contextualise and consolidate newly acquired knowledge (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Brown et al, 1989). The affordances of 3d Virtual environments can be such that they can provide opportunities for students to interact with a rich environment and native speakers, and therefore enhance their cultural and linguistic awareness. Following the research by Wehner et al, 2011, the second purpose of the project was to gauge students’ level of engagement and motivation when evolving through an avatar, role playing while interacting with the world, its objects and viewer interface in the target language at all times.
The first part of this presentation is a report of findings collated during the pilot phase: (1) the implementation phase, (2) separate designs for the three separate groups (low A2 to B2), (3) participants’ impressions which challenged assumptions on students’ digital literacy and interest, (4) recommendations for implementation in a tertiary environment.

Following the success and pitfalls of the pilot project over two and half trimesters, a lecturer of the Italian programme has committed to continuing the project in 2014 as a compulsory part of her second year course tutorials (level A2-early B1). The second part of this presentation therefore explores the logistics and design of Second Life integration aligned to the course outline in light of the nine principles of “Authentic Learning” (Herrington, 2006). The presentation will end with a report on the outcome of trimester 1.


Edith Paillat    
Language Learning Centre
Victoria University of Wellington
New Zealand

Edith Paillat is the language technology specialist at Victoria University of Wellington. Her role is to find solutions for the integration of technology in the teaching of 10 languages taught at Victoria. She provides support and hands-on training to teaching staff and students using the computer language labs she implemented in 2005 and 2008 consecutively. She is an experienced teacher and teacher of French as a foreign language, and occasionally teaches course on Educational technologies applied to language learning within the School of Linguistics and Applied Languages. She has taught in Vietnam, England, Japan and New Zealand before she took up her current role in 2002.


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