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Immersive VR for Heritage Language Learners

El Misterio de Tia Carmen was my biggest undertaking to date. It’s a fully immersive VR game built in Unity for use with an Oculus headset and controllers. Virtual reality has been shown to have successful use cases in foreign language classrooms. However, none of these applications have focused on heritage language speakers. In Fall 2020, the LLC developed a virtual reality game and conducted a qualitative study with native and heritage Spanish speakers to determine if a virtual reality game environment provided a useful medium for language practice and cultural cue recognition.

Players speak to virtual avatars via the on-board microphone on the Oculus headset. The characters provide verbal and nonverbal responses. All dialogue is written in Northern New Mexico Spanish in keeping with the game’s setting of Truchas, NM. Players speak to the virtual avatars to solve a simple mystery that plays out over the course of approximately one hour.

This game sought to address the following research questions:

  • To what extent are heritage language learners (HLL) able to recognize cultural cues in the VR environment?
  • What are HLL’s perceptions of cultural cues in the VR environment?
  • How does this virtual environment align with the use of flow theory to lower affective filters?
  • Hold simple conversations with a family member.
  • Ask questions using the past tense.
  • Answer questions.
  • Identify cultural cues in a familiar situation.

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