The future of language learning
Metaverse could be the answer to speaking foreign languages like a native.
I have been learning German for over 2 years. My biggest hurdle is a lack of German-speaking environment where I can practise listening and speaking in real-life contexts. Last year, I came up with the idea of building a virtual world where language learners could practise by going about their daily lives virtually. My initial idea was to build a virtual language world — let’s call it Speak World — on existing platforms, such as other virtual worlds (e.g., Second Life) or gaming platforms (e.g., MMORPG games).
A new world is waiting... Join Free Expect the Unexpected With thousands of virtual experiences and communities, you'll…
I did not have a tech background so it was pure imagination. I found this a valuable experience as I was not limited by thoughts like “this will not be possible with today’s technology” or “this will be too expensive to do”.
Practising through scenario-based exercises is a common way of learning a foreign language (in my case German). But without a learning partner or when we do not live among native speakers, our learning depends on self-practicing through reading out from textbooks and reading along with German YouTube videos or podcasts. This is not entirely useless but it could sometimes feel mechanical. Indeed, a native German speaker once looked at my A1 textbook and exclaimed, “Nobody talks like that!”
I am particularly put off by the way some textbooks present their materials:
Therefore, my first goal is to make Speak World a scenario-based learning environment that simulates reality. There will be no drill and no model answer.
Crowdsourcing and co-creating
Speak world belongs to all language learners who will contribute to its continuous evolution. Native speakers will be encouraged to help out.
- Participation will earn you points which can be used towards redeeming gifts and donations to charities, etc.
- Higher points can be earned from practising with learners real time.
- Non-real time participation will involve users, whether learners or anyone who want to help, uploading audio or video recordings of their own conversations in everyday scenarios — e.g., buying coffee at the local cafe, calling the service hotlines and asking for direction on the street.
- In addition to recordings of conversations, users may also record TV news, radio programmes and metro announcements, among others. Possibilities are limitless. The goal is to capture as many everyday real-life scenarios as possible.
- All recordings (real time and non-real time) will become the training data for Speak World’s AI which will then generate new practice scenarios.
Speak World will be membership-based for learners.
Advertisers can buy spots in Speak World. Advertisements will be executed as if in real life — TV commercials will be shown on television sets, outdoor ads on billboards and print ads on newspapers/magazines in Speak World. This may be a rare, if not the only, occasion when users (learners) are willing, or even eager, to watch ads.
Brand owners may also open shops, sponsor events and create their own contents in Speak World.
My discovery of metaverse
I first heard about metaverse from Facebook. I literally heard a “Ding!” in my head. Metaverse is a term coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. It is
“a collection of digital worlds and assets where interoperability allows users (note: in Speak World, these will be learners and native speakers) to interact as digital versions of themselves, also known as avatars, across platforms. The ultimate goal is to allow users to generate content and connect it across digital worlds. Users will be able to take their avatars and assets and move from place to place; a ‘Fortnite’ skin could be brought into a ‘Minecraft’ world, for example.”
(Source: AdAge’s article)
Through my avatar in the Speak World Metaverse, I will live in Berlin among the locals, observe and mimick Germans speaking German, learn the slangs in each region of Germany, laugh at German jokes, attend lectures in German universities and work with German colleagues… Living in non-German-speaking Hong Kong will no longer be a hurdle for my endeavour to learning to speak German like a native.
Übung macht den Meister!