Theoretical background and motivation

Why is it so hard for adults to learn a foreign language? Our lab is developing a theory that emphasizes multiple causes. Foreign language learning is difficult because of entrenched and routinized first-language structures, decline in brain plasticity, and decreased motivation to practice the second language because immediate rewards are so low. Adult learners may highly desire the end-state of fluency, just as they value other long-term goals like weight gain or smoking cessation; immediate rewards are minimal. The intervention we propose is a virtual reality learning environment. The virtual world is the place to learn and practice a foreign language with game characters providing language recasts and diverse skill levels. The immediate rewards of video-games (solving puzzles, finding clues) means that language learning is part of making progress in the game.  Please see our Q&A under the Visitors tab to read a more extensive rationale for our project.

For Fall-Spring 2008-09 we are working on two specific questions

1. How do types of teaching tools (live, videotape, and video game) affect adult language learning 

2. How do different levels of learning (active vs. passive viewing) interact with the tools mentioned above?


Our study is a 3×2 design with the following independent variables: learning tool and level of interactivity. Participants in each learning tool group will be assigned to either an active learning condition (respond to requests from the teacher) or a passive viewing condition.

Dependent measure: Performance on a sound-picture naming task


1. Main effect of active learning: participants in active conditions will outperform those in passive viewing.

2. Video game learning will be better or equal to live learning and better than videotape learning.

3. Active/video game and active/live conditions will yield the highest results.

We are currently running experiments on the live and videotape conditions. We hope to find video game experts interested in collaborating for the video game condition.



1 Response to “About our project”

  1. 1 Wai Yen Tang October 30, 2008 at 3:05 am

    I’m not sure if you are making the game from scratch, but I’ve heard that Second Life (search in wikipedia) might be useful for various research purposes (i.e. owning land and create to your specific needs) and you can possibly recreate visual environmental conditions between the video game condition and the live condition. Although, I don’t know about the rest of the details, but probably Second Lifers might have the answers.

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