Why Every Language Teacher Needs a (Second) Life

My Second Life self, Lynn Carlucci, being camera shy

My Second Life self, Lynn Carlucci, being camera shy

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.

It’s fun.

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.

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

About Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto has taught English and ESL in the US, and EFL in Japan. An EFL teacher and teacher trainer since 1985, she has conducted workshops throughout Asia, the USA and Latin America. Barbara’s motto is ‘Always try new things’, so these days, when she’s not teaching, writing, or giving workshops, she’s exploring the potential of new technologies for collaboration and professional development. You can often find Barbara online working with teachers around the world as Program Director for International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi.pro) or on her new blog for English teaches who work with young learners, Teaching Children English.

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21 Responses

  1. Carol Goodey says:

    Thanks for this post Barbara which makes a lot of sense. I have had a very limited but so far great experience of Second Life, and each visit I feel I can try something new. I haven’t tried to chat up any zombies yet (!) but I have been chatted up in French – which was a great opportunity to practise useful language 😉 – I’ve also managed to dress myself despite some clothing (skirt and shoes) problems and can generally get from one place to another…although not usually in a straight line yet!

    You’re right, it’s great to experience being a beginner at something and it can also remind us of what it feels like to be in a new place and not know how things work or how we should behave. I’m looking forward to getting more and wider experience (from you :-) and Chateau de Tuite) and also to meeting others on a social/informal basis.

    So far, though, I’m very impressed by being able to attend quality talks and conferences such as Nik Peachey’s “Coffee with…” series and SLanguages and being able to interact with other participants from all over the world.

    Looking forward to meeting you and others in SL… soonish!

  2. Terrific post, Barbara, one that clearly and effectively makes a case for Second Life in foreign language learning. You’ve certainly inspired me to revisit SL! I will be sharing this post with other language teachers as well. Thanks much.

  3. Barbara Barbara says:

    Thanks for your comments! I look forward to seeing you both in world sometime soon.

    Carol: Don’t fret about zombies. They’re actually not a very talkative group. Mostly just want to bite you :-) I wish that I were in a time zone amenable to attending Nik’s “coffee with” series live. I really appreciate archived recordings of those, as well as conference presentations that occur in the wee hours of the morning for me.

    Barbara: I’m glad you think so. I’d love you hear what your fellow teachers think, too. SL can certainly eat up time, and I know it can be a tough choice for teachers who already overloaded with other time eaters! We all have to decide how best to spend our time–but I think the payoffs in teacher development are worth the effort.

  4. Heike Philp says:

    Hi Barbara,

    What a great blog.

    Is this truly your second blog?

    You certainly are on a steep learning curve.

    Rgds Heike

  5. Barbara Barbara says:

    Thanks, Heike. This is my first plog, second post :-)

  6. Helen says:

    Hi Barbara
    we “met” on the evo virtual worlds course and like you, trying out SL with a friendly bunch of people makes all the difference. Carry on blogging !
    bye for now
    Helen (aka juniper)

  7. Barbara Barbara says:

    Hi, Helen! Of course I remember you, from both EVO VWLL, and after. Hope to bump into Juniper one of these days :-)

  8. What a helpful post .. this sums up EXACTLY my experience and my feelings! Thank you!

  9. Excellent post, Barbara! I think you have conveyed a really good message here. With guidance from an instructor, it does not take all that long to get up to speed in Second Life. I have chalked up many successes as a Second Life instructor, both in face-to-face sessions and in distance-learning sessions spanning two or three continents. I shall be running an introductory half-day workshop at EUROCALL 2009:


    My own (free) SL tutorial materials can be found in Section 14.2.1 of Module 1.5 at the ICT for Language Teachers website (ICT4LT). They are in the form of a downloadable Word document, and there are lots of other links that you can follow up:


    I used these materials as a starting point in my EUROCALL 2008 Second Life workshop for beginners and I shall be using them again this year.

    Graham Davies – Groovy Winkler in SL

  10. Nergiz Kern says:

    Hi Barbara

    You have not only listed many good reasons for language teachers to join Second Life but have done so very eloquently, too. A very enjoyable read!


  11. Marcia Cunha says:

    Carol, as an TEFL ( I’m Brazilian and I’ve been teaching English for 20 years ) I’d love to know a little more about the community you’ve mentioned. Can you add me when logged in? Subtle McMillan ( avatar name )
    Thanks and keep the ball rolling!

  12. Barbara Barbara says:

    Graham: Thanks for the kind words. Coming from one of my SL idols (Groovy) they mean a lot. When you commented favorably on our practice lesson during VWLL, I felt like I’d truly accomplished something :-) If it’s okay with you, I’m going to put a link to your materials on the Chateau de Tuite Ning, too, since that might reach some teachers who won’t see this page. ICT4LT is a great resource!

    Nergiz: Thanks! Without you (and Graham and Dennis and Nick) I wouldn’t have had the experiences that led me to think this way. Always in your debt :-)

    Marcia: Glad to meet you. I’ve already added you! I’m going to meet another teacher Tuesday at 7 am US Central time. If you’re in Brazil, that should be 9 am. If you’re free, please join us!

  13. Chris Cotter says:

    Hi Barbara,

    What a great post! I’m particularly drawn to the connection you make between SL and learning a foreign language.

    I think most teachers eventually forget on a more visceral level the difficulties students face. Sure we know that language learning is hard. We know that students will make mistakes. We know how to help them with so many of the hurdles to minimize frustration and discouragement. But the basic skills we take for granted in the real world must be “relearned” in Second Life, much like students are “relearning” communication.

    It’s frustrating for so many adults to be eloquent in their native language, yet possess the communicative ability of an elementary or junior high school student. It’s good for teachers to remember that level of frustration, as with success comes motivation, energy, and confidence… and that’s just as true in Second Life as anywhere.

    Chris Cotter

  14. ShellTerrell says:

    This is a great post and you have been a great help as a mentor to other teachers! I was one of those teachers who signed up a long time ago and was scared off by the complexity of it. However, now I have seen so many ways that this virtual learning environment is able to help language learners. I am looking forward to learning the system well enough to help others!

  15. Barbara Barbara says:

    Thanks, Shelly. You are a great example of the student passing the teacher!

  16. Ozge Karaoglu says:

    Hi Barbara,

    This is such a wonderful and an inspring post, I really enjoyed reading it!!

    After reading your post, I think that I should give SL a second chance :) I don’t want to miss it !!


  17. Aniya says:

    Last but not least 😉 great post and a thanks for showing me the ropes. I would never of realized the immense power Second Life had if I hadn’t of tried it again, (thanks to you) and as others have mentioned it does seem very complex until you know how. I am still going through the learning process, but have bought my first plot of land and a house, which I intend to use as my base to invite students for conversation, guided tours and visual based learning lessons, and teachers to chill out with…I am finding it very time consuming, but I believe it will pay off giving me that extra information and head start to continue this new learning/teaching adventure. Thanks!!! :)

  18. Barbara Barbara says:

    Thank you Ozge and Aniya for your kind comments, and sorry for my tardy response :-)

    Aniya, you are another great example of the “student” surpassing the “teacher” in a VERY short time. I don’t own any land!

    And Ozge, if you’ll send me your Second Life name, I’ll add you to our in-world group. I would love to meet up with you sometime. I’m totally envious of your coffee meetings with Burcu, and as I’m unlikely to be in Turkey in the near future, this is the best I can do…

  19. Well, you’ve convinced me. This lucid explanation is very helpful! I’ve signed up and will explore for a while…Thanks for showing me how to navigate an intimidating new world!

  20. Barbara Barbara says:

    I’m glad, Siobhan! I look forward to seeng you in-world. I’ve added you as a friend, so let me know if I’m online when you are, and we’ll get together. Or, you can also join the group at http://www.chateaudetuite.ning.com and get notices about beginning teacher workshops.

    I’m glad you are willing to give Second Life a try–I think you’ll like it!

  1. May 30, 2010

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