Why Language Teachers Still Need a (Second) Life

Part of the series: Teaching and Learning in Second Life

My Second Life self, Lynn Carlucci, being camera shy in 2009

You may have heard about Second Life . I actually hadn’t heard of it before I saw the course description for a TESOL EVO workshop  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.

That first EVO was in January 2009. I’m still in Second Life, teaching and learning. It’s EVO time again, and I’ve enjoyed meeting some of the teachers in this year’s workshop, Village. I thought I’d re-visit my original posts about Second Life as a place for learning and teaching. If they look familiar to you then you’ve been reading my blog since July 2009 or have explored my Second Life page (Thank you!). I’ve updated the posts, since many of the places I mentioned have disappeared from the Second Life landscape. (But never fear—equally wonderful places have appeared, too!)

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. The coaches for Village, this year’s EVO, are everything you could hope for–knowledgeable, experienced teachers, and very patient. Once again, they are taking a group of 150+ teachers from absolute beginner to (fairly) competent Second Life resident in five weeks.

To continue the language learning analogy, I’m still 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.

Some of the teachers I met during my first EVO classes are still among my best friends online. The 150 members of this year’s Village come from nearly every continent, and time zone, in the world. Many speak languages other than English. It’s a unique opportunity to learn with an incredibly diverse group of people, and it could only happen online. 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. Whether learning how to use Second Life tools or attending conferences (SLanguages, for example), or simply drinking coffee in Barcelona, it’s more fun to do things with a buddy. 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. If you tried Second Life once and gave up, I encourage you to try again. There’s still time to join this year’s group of teachers, making mistakes, learning together, and having fun!

Lynn Carlucci in 2011–less shy and still having fun!

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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5 Responses

  1. Heike Philp says:

    What a lovely post on your experience learning ‘cyberlingua’ this new language everyone talks about but very few are fluent in.

    What an apt description too what it feels like to be a total beginner.

    It is a wonderful experience and not to be missed!

    What I would like to add to this post is, that one create a most enchanting personality in Second Life. This what it felt like to me, when you turned up in a Kimono, which you mentioned ‘came automatically with Viewer 2’. Very sweet indeed.

    What I also like to add is the very fond memories of your tour at the SLanguages 2010 inworld conference of Macbeth.

    When you did the tour you made me see this world through the eyes of Macbeth and when you took us through the labyrinth, it only took 10min to get out and not 1,5h when I tried it on my own before!

    Very enjoyable and fond memories indeed.

    Rgds Heike aka Gwen Gwasi in Second Life

    • Barbara Barbara says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Heike, and for sharing some good memories!

      You know, when I wear kimono in Second Life I often get compliments on my English. And I get a lot more chat invitations in Japanese :-)

      I’m glad you enjoyed the tour through Macbeth’s head! It’s still one of my favorite sims for showing ways that a virtual world can allow us to do things in education that we can’t do in the classroom.

      Cyberlingua, eh? I’ve never heard that term before–I like it! I can add it to my list of languages that I don’t speak very well, but enjoy using anyway!

  2. Włodzimierz Sobkowiak says:

    Hi Lynn/Barbara!

    It’s great to hear that the SL-induction effect of the EVO TLVW2010 has been so lasting for you! And thank you for this short and personal list of SL pros for teachers. I subscribe to all your arguments, of course, and I guess could add a few more. But right now, let me observe that not all teachers share the joy of virtual worlds. Part of the reason is that the fun and friendship in VW depends on (variously called) presence/immersion/… If you do not feel that, if all you see on screen is cartoonish pixellated characters and cheesy landscapes, chances are you’ll not take to SL at all, and all argumentation about the inherent beauty and fun will be wasted on you. And how does one learn immersion? The bad news is — one cannot do that. One either has it after a few moments in-world, or one does not, end of story. So, one reason to rejoice for us — you and me, and others like us — is that for some unfathomable reason we’re immersive. Good to have it, of course, but we should always remember there’re people who do not have this something. Especially when we lecture to them on the advantages of using SL for teaching…

    Best to you in both lives!

    • Barbara Barbara says:

      Thanks, Wlodzimierz!

      You’re my role model for immersion–I don’t know anyone who is more “present” in Second Life than you are!

      You’re absolutely right about presence/immersion being an important factor in our ability to enjoy being in a virtual world. I think the same is true of students–when we take an entire university class into Second Life (or any other virtual world) as part of a class, we can’t assume that they’ll all enjoy or benefit from the experience equally. It’s a good reminder that we are all different.

      I don’t believe that it’s an all or nothing situation, however. I think teachers (and students) can find value in using virtual worlds for teaching and learning, even without being fully immersed.

      For example, if having an avatar allows me to attend workshops where I can learn about teaching, or attend a concert, or visit a museum, or meet a student who lives in another country, then the ability to connect at that level may be all the value I need. Perhaps I’ll see the virtual world as another way of accessing information online–and I think that’s OK.

      Sometimes it takes multiple encounters for teachers to feel comfortable with (and see the usefulness of) a new online tool, whether it’s facebook, or blogs, or twitter, or skype, or virtual worlds. That’s one reason I’m glad that TESOL offers this workshop annually!

      Best to you, too! Hope to see you in world!

  1. January 16, 2011

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