Virtual world aims to teach children English

virtual classIn a world where extensive 3D worlds are plentiful, but companies are still struggling to find a way to make online learning successful, a Shanghai-based startup company is developing what might be the  next generation of education software.  Wiz World Online, developed by 8D World, aims to teach Chinese children English through a 3D virtual world.  It’s not your typical classroom stuff, either.  The ultimate goal is to teach children how to really communicate, not just pass examinations.

From the tech blog at The New York Times:

Alex Wang, the company’s chief executive and co-founder, said the idea grew out of his personal experience landing at the San Francisco airport on his first visit from China, 21 years ago, when he was in his 20s.

Though he had studied English for years and scored well on the written part of the GRE test, he discovered that he could not read the McDonald’s menu in the airport, nor could he converse with the server. Although he was hungry, “I was never in that kind of conversation before, and I ended up with a jumbo Coca-Cola with tons of ice,” he recalled.

“Hundreds of millions of people experience the same problem worldwide, particularly in Asia,” he said. “People study languages, but cannot talk, cannot communicate.”

The biggest problems, he said, are that children studying languages do not get to practice the language in their daily lives, they do not get much attention from teachers in large classrooms and they are often afraid to make mistakes when they do try to speak different languages.

Those are the problems that Wiz World Online aims to solve. Kids choose an avatar and pick a scene, like a castle in a fantasy land or a supermarket in the United States. They are confronted with challenges, like dodging flying monsters or buying fruit, all of which ask them to use English. If they hit a ceiling in their language capabilities, they go to the wizards’ library and read so-called magical books that teach them lessons.

The company is initially focusing on kids age 7 to 12 in China but plans to expand globally, eventually teaching many different languages to kids all over the world.

This is an ambitious task, but if it succeeds in teaching kids (and adults?) how to interact in real (or almost real) situations in another language, it will be a big step forward in online learning.