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Piccolo Mondo:

Virtual worlds for language learning:

a look at Second Life

Kate Borthwick and Ann Jeffery,
University of Southampton
Session outline
• What is Second Life?
• Our interest in Second Life for language
• How we got started in SL
• Benefits and barriers
• Demo
What is Second Life?
• Virtual, 3-D world
• More than 2,700,000 people registered
• Social networking service
• Rich environment
• Free, but a cost for building/owning land
Our interest in SL for language
• Users can create content for others to
access and use
• Over 100 ‘islands’ created for educational
• Research at an early stage
• General potential for language learning
La mia seconda vita
• My perspective of the adult learner
• 2 main difficulties :
– getting to classes
– Practising Italian conversation
• Wanted to explore SL community
– What were SL communities actually like?
– Were there other language learners?
– Would it help me to learn Italian?
• Short overview of my experience
Starting out
• Choose your name from:
– A Linden surname and a personal forename
– This affects how people respond to you
– My Italian name means Italian people speak to me
• Create a basic avatar
• Learn the essential movement controls
• You decide how you want to look.
• Red hair because it often gets a ‘bad press’, green eyes
because I could
• Unusual combination in SL, gets attention!
Growing up
• Overcome shyness, reserve, gain
• SL can be a real social leveller
• I found friendly, helpful people who have
actively helped out
• Friends from across the world, across
different time zones.
Learning Italian

So how has Second Life helped me with my Italian?

My experience
• In 4 days, I needed to extend my
vocabulary etc.
• Dictionaries, verb tables and grammar
• Translating songs, making jokes, cultural
concepts, phrases and sayings.
• Now faster with fewer mistakes
Teacher’s perspective
Mettiamo i mobili? A learning activity
• Uses the culture of SL
• Having land and creating a home
• Students create a personal space,
• Choose and move their furniture
• Could support language learning functions:
• Learn directions, position and types of furniture.
• Assessment
• Screenshots
• Recorded dialogues
• Reflective diary
• Finished house
Q: Dov’é metto il divano?
A: La metta in salone.
Vicino al fuori
Are there other benefits?
• Learning styles can be explored
– Visual and kinesthetic are fairly evident, but
auditory styles could prove interesting.
• Students acquire higher-level skills
– such as negotiation, intercultural
communication, social, personal and creative
The environment
•Endless possibilities:
sailing, waterslides,
•Exploring is one of the
most fun things you can do
in Second Life. You can do
just about anything.
•How does it benefit
language learning?

• Sailing in Nantucket - a themed sim

• New environments promote new topics of conversation
• The conversation turns to boats, and Venice.
• Notecard on the bottom right shows how I include accents.
Benefits and barriers
• Definite cost in time and effort
• Some investment of money
• It takes time to get started
• Technical issues
• Interface issues
Benefits and barriers
• On the positive side:
• Immersive
– Difficult to dip in (very sociable)
– Hours spent practising Italian
• The limit does appear to be your imagination
• Friendly, sociable, collaborative
• Rather like the www in the beginning…
– Clunky, quirky but undeniably fun.
Overall learning experience
• Immersive
• Collaborative
• Active learning
• Role-play
• Speed of learning
• Importance of cultural knowledge
• A quick view of the environment, the
‘learning centre’, the informal space
where we meet up.
• Chat in-world with Glenn Hardaker,
University of Huddersfield
Useful links and articles
• Find out about Second Life at http://secondlife.com/
• Second Life: the official Guide (2007) by Rymaszewski,
M., Wagner, J.A., Wallace, M., Winters, C., Ondrejka, C.,
Batstone-Cunningham, B., and Second Life residents.
Pub: Wiley
• A useful article about language learning with Second Life
by Vance Stevens,
• The University of California IT Guidance Committee
provides a site of useful Second Life information links at: