EFL Grammar Learning through Simulations in a 3D Multi-user Virtual Environment: A Case Study
Recent investigation on the effects of 3D multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) has revolved around affective constructs such as social cohesion and motivation. However, their efficacy in promoting EFL university learners’ acquisition of a specific grammatical feature has been under-researched (Chen, 2020). Especially, English phrasal verbs and prepositions are frequent in use, but not well learned by adult EFL learners due to limited opportunities to practice them in authentic contexts (Schmitt & Redwood, 2011).
Theoretically motivated by technology-mediated task-based language teaching principles (Ortega & González-Lloret, 2015), this paper presents a qualitative study to show the effects of an MUVE on EFL L1 Japanese university learners’ acquisition of L2 English phrasal verbs and prepositions with transparent meanings. The study employed collaborative simulation tasks for those learners to use the target forms on a virtual reality (VR) platform Spatial. This application was chosen for its ‘physical’ interactivity allowing participants to practice motions encoded in target grammatical forms.
The study lasted around one month. Two EFL university learners in Japan and two L1 English peers met on Spatial weekly for 30-40 minutes. They were given oral and written guidelines to place and interact with 3D objects to build a house or their own virtual room. Video-audio-chat recordings on Spatial, a semi-structured interview, and the investigator’s field notes were analyzed through grounded theory.
Results showed that the EFL participants gained receptive and productive skills for phrasal verbs and prepositions through real-life simulation tasks. Their level of perceived usefulness toward learning grammar on the MUVE also increased across those sessions; they found the MUVE a viable tool to learn L2 grammar interactively and safely, especially under circumstances surrounding COVID-19. The presentation ends with pedagogical recommendations for using VR tools to teach university EFL learners L2 grammar remotely.