Digital Games

Multiuser Virtual Environments and L2 Spanish Pragmatics: Do Learners Really Learn?


Various features of multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs) make them ideal contexts for the development of authentic second language skills (e.g., L2 pragmatics) that are, at best, very difficult, and, at worst, inaccessible, in the traditional language classroom. A theoretical importance of interlanguage pragmatic acquisition (ILP) has been established within the field of SLA; however, there is still a large gap between the established theoretical premise and the practical application of ILP instruction in the L2 classroom, likely due to the many obstacles associated with pragmatic instruction present in the current educational context (e.g., Bardovi-Harlig, 2001; Félix-Brasdefer, 2007; LoCastro, 2003; Rose, 2005).

With the intention of giving learners access to the critical L2 pragmatic skills they need to successfully interact outside of the classroom, this project examines how one type of multiuser virtual environment (MUVE) contributes to the acquisition of requests and apologies in Spanish. Various attributes of MUVEs are ideally suited to tackle pragmatic complexities associated with individual sensitivity, feedback and assessment difficulties, and an immense amount of individual, social, and dialectal variation (Belz, 2003, 2005; García-Carbonell, et. al. 2001; Gee, 2003; Sykes, 2005, 2008; Sykes, Oskoz, and Thorne, 2008; Thorne, 2008). While there has been a great deal of attention to the potential of MUVEs for language learning, very little research addresses their effectiveness.

In order to empirically examine the use of MUVEs for the acquisition of requests and apologies in Spanish, this study analyzes learner data from the first synthetic immersive environment (SIE) for learning Spanish pragmatics, Croquelandia. This presentation reports learner outcome data from a large-scale (N=60) study addressing student use of the virtual space for learning to request and apologize in Spanish. Participants in the study engaged with the SIE as part of an advanced language course at the university level. Utilizing pre- and posttests, class presentation, and one-on-one interviews, from the implementation project, the analysis demonstrates the areas in which learning occurred over the course of the project. Results indicate a marked difference between actual learning outcomes and perceived outcomes on the part of the learners, with greater improvement occurring in the apologies context. Implications for future research and pedagogy will be presented.


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