You may have heard about Second Life . I actually hadn’t heard of it before I saw the course description for a TESOL EVO session on Virtual Worlds and Language Learning. Considering that I thought an avatar was a diety in Hindu Mythology, I think it’s fair to say that my learning curve was pretty steep.
Learning to live in Second Life is a lot like learning a foreign language. There’s more than one way to go about it. You can simply create an account and log on, but that’s a bit like assuming the best way to learn Russian is to catch the first flight to Moscow without knowing a word of the language. You might become fluent, but you’re just as likely to have a traumatic experience, leave, and take a long time before being willing to try again. It’s tough to be a beginner. However, that’s the first reason that language teachers need a Second Life.
It allows us to remember what it feels like to be a beginner.
After years of teaching, it’s easy to forget what it feels like to be totally lost. Regaining that feeling is worth the learning curve of trying something difficult.
It’s easier to learn a foreign language with a good teacher (or else we’d be out of jobs!), and it’s easier to develop Second Life skills with good coaching. I was lucky to end up with the Webheads who led my course. In six weeks they took us from absolute beginners to enthusiastic Second Life residents (and potential virtual world teachers). To continue the language learning analogy, I’m far from fluent. I make a lot of mistakes. A LOT of mistakes. And that’s a second reason language teachers need a Second Life.
Mistakes are good. They help us learn.
I’ve certainly said this plenty of times in class over the years. Second Life makes me practice what I preach. Somehow, when I tell my students about losing my hair, or getting stuck in an animation, or trying to chat up zombies, they don’t feel as embarrassed about their own mistakes anymore.
I meantioned my EVO class earlier. What I didn’t mention was that my classmates came from nearly every continent, and time zone, in the world. Many spoke languages other than English. Our four instructors were from four different countries. The only way we could have all met at the same time was in a virtual world. Once people are your friends in Second Life, you always know if they’re in world when you are. For me, it’s like having a virtual teacher’s lounge–there’s almost always a fellow teacher, somewhere in the world, who’s awake when I am. We attend conferences together (SLanguages, for example). We experiment with teaching tools together. We practice camera skills in Costa Rica, or meet for coffee in Barcelona or a beer in Dublin. For a language teacher who feels a bit isolated, this sense of community is a gift. And, it’s another reason language teachers need a Second Life.
Friends matter. We learn better when we learn (and laugh) together.
Related to this is the chance to practice our second (or third) language. As in Real Life, language speakers tend to live near each other in Second Life. So, it’s pretty easy to find native speakers of any language. The best part? We’re using language to make friends, without having to buy an expensive airline ticket to meet them.
At the end of the day, I continue to visit Second Life because it makes me smile. The beauty that more fluent Second Lifers have created from computer code astounds me. I can fly over the rain forest; I can enjoy a perfect sunset in Bora Bora; I can ride a plane through a hurricane; I can walk on the moon. What’s not to enjoy? And that’s my final reason (for this post, anyway) that language teachers need a Second Life.
The language teaching profession is not always taken very seriously. Sometimes, in the process of proving that we are professionals, we take ourselves a bit too seriously. We focus on the end result (an exam score or a grade) and forget about the process. This doesn’t mean that every class needs to be a party. Learning a new skill–whether Second Life survival or survival English–can be tough. But, using those skills to do something new and challenging can, and should be, fun.
If you’ve never visited Second Life, I encourage you to give it a try. I also strongly recommend that you create your account through ISTE. Instead of the vampires that plague the regular orientation areas, you’ll find wonderful docents to gently ease you into your virtual life.
If you’re a teacher who tried the solo immersion approach to learning Second Life, and haven’t been back after being traumatized or overwhelmed, consider joining the Chateau de Tuite. This online community (and virtual clubhouse) was created by a Second Life resident who has a soft spot for teachers and librarians. You’ll find other other Second Life beginners, and friends. Friends make all the differnce when you’re trying something new.
Oh, and be sure to look up Lynn Carlucci when you get to Second Life. There’s always room for more people on her friend list.