Does Virtual Reality (VR) support learning modern foreign languages (MFL) at GCSE level, from the students perspective?
I am a French and Spanish teacher in an independent secondary school in central London (Portland Place School). I am Head of Languages and ECT coordinator for the school. I lead staff induction and organise CPDs for staff at times around technology. I trained with CILT GTP and university of Northampton PGCE top-up
This research investigates Virtual Reality as a pedagogical tool in MFL, with a focus on learning French and Spanish in Y10 using the app Mondly VR and the Oculus headsets Quest 2. VR is currently developing at a fast pace and is becoming increasingly present in the field of education. It is worth exploring as a growing phenomenon and more literature and research is needed consequently. Working in a central London independent school, some of my students often relate how they can use VR at home. Technology and VR have been increasingly present in their life and therefore this means that teachers need to be aware of resources that might become available to them.
As an Apple specialist teacher, I use iPads to teach daily and my students all have their own device in the classroom. We have been using apps and learning games in lessons, mostly for teaching vocabulary and retrieval practice, such as Linguascope, Blooket, Kahoot or Wordwall. Today, GCSE MFL uptake in anglophone countries remain worryingly low. French GCSE entries have halved since 2002 (Churchward, 2019) and the government has just announced a 2024 reform to encourage more students to take up an MFL at GCSE level (Walker, 2022).
In a post-Brexit world English is not spoken as an official language in the EU anymore and French, Spanish or German will become more prominent in their future, as professional adults. This is even more relevant in a Covid era, where traveling could be banned again in the future. Thus, this study examines if VR can help students in learning a foreign language and if it has the potential to attract more students at GCSE level, which would help English speaking children to speak other languages.
The research is a small scale evaluative method (2 classes of Y10, one French, one Spanish with some Y9 students as a pilot. Mixed genders, abilities, languages and ethnicities), with a flexible design and qualitative approach. Students experienced Role Play situations in VR experienced a few times each, then answered questions using questionnaires and in interviews recorded on the app Flip, which also allowed them to use Emojis to expressed their feelings. Data was coding using Taguette then analysed.
As early as 1995, Rose and Billinghurst proposed that VR can be effective as a pedagogical tool, as it presents the advantages of a Constructivist approach to teaching and learning, which suggests that students learn better through experience (Piaget, 1970). Its experiential nature allows learners of a foreign language to fully immerse themselves into the culture and target language of a country and thus allows some new cognitive processes that would not exist otherwise (Huang, Rauch, Liaw, 2010). As suggested by Psotka (1995), VR replaces the desktop metaphor with a world metaphor, where students interact directly with 3-D agents, in symbiosis. This real-life like situation enhances their learning as it taps into the students’ emotions, but without the pressure of reality, as they know it can be replayed (Ferry et al., 2004). There is also evidence that VR is a motivational tool for students to learn content, as suggested by Peixoto et al. (2019), Nobrega and Rozenfeld, (2019) and Lan (2020), who showed that motivation and enthusiasm were higher amongst students when using VR. These studies echoed Winn’s research (1993) who proposed that VR allows students to relate to knowledge as a non-symbolic first-person experience and gives their learning a sense of purpose, which could prevent some students from failing at school.
In MFL, VR enables students to access face-to-face communication with native speakers and reduces physical distance with authentic communities (Schwienhorst, 2002) whilst also allowing to break stereotypes and clichés that can stem from traditional classroom settings (Berti et al, 2020). However, some studies reveal that VR can also be misused and lead to literalization, or the danger of mistaking reality for simulation if it is overused (Pandelitis, 2009). Chun, Kern and Smith (2016) also warn about using it as a panacea, or a solution for everything, instead of an additional didactic tool.
Below is a summary of the themes and subthemes that emerged from the data collected from the sample.
THEMES /- Subthemes
Number of tags (over 9 participants)
124 including 37 for helpful
Easier to learn a language
Useful for exam vocabulary and speaking / listening skills
Sense of purpose (life)
96 including 40 for fun
Engaging / motivating
Student’s autonomy / outcome related
Meeting learning needs and styles
Active & Interactive experience
A journey at your own pace
Barriers to accessibility due to accents / pronunciation
Technical glitches with audio & images
Discussion of findings
This study suggests that learning VR can be helpful, engaging, intrinsically motivating and a fun pedagogical experience for MFL GCSE students. It reveals that they can learn a language from it using Mondly VR and that it is specifically useful for their speaking and listening skills, also supporting their vocabulary preparation for the conversation part of their speaking exam, particularly the role-play section. It shows that students feel more confident in making mistakes and that the constructivist approach of VR allows them to experience personalised learning, meeting their individual needs. It also suggests that, although students seemed to prefer learning using VR, they valued learning from traditional classroom settings, and recognised learning using both methods might be necessary. Finally, the research shows that using VR can be frustrating at times, due to difficulties with voice recognition or technical issues. However, this was not for everyone.
In undertaking this study, I realised how VR had evolved in last few years and how it could be used in education. Therefore, teachers should think about integrating it into MFL (or other subjects) SOWs at school and could be using it with (MFL speaking) examinations in mind, every half-term. In MFL, this would allow students to get used to speaking out loud and improve their listening skills at the same time, practising or learning some vocabulary. Further research would be needed to show causation between learning before and after using VR; this research could be testing students’ memory, using quantitative methods. More apps should be tested in VR and a bigger sample should be studied to get more generalizability.