Virtual reality training: reducing social distance abroad and facilitating spanish second language acquisition
The current study attempts to investigate the potential benefit of using a custom-designed virtual reality experience to reduce the social distance between the students and the speakers of the target language. This virtual reality experience provides opportunities for students to acclimate to the Spanish culture and at the same time practice and consolidate certain aspects of the communicative competence of Spanish in a simulated version of the natural setting. The final goal of this experiment is to reduce the impact of transcultural contact once abroad and facilitate interaction between the learners and the speakers of Spanish. The participants of this study were undergraduate students of Spanish who took part in a summer study abroad program in Spain. The participants were divided into a control group undergoing traditional pre-study abroad training and an experimental group undergoing a virtual reality experience. The present study used mixed methods research to collect numerical and non-numerical data. The data were collected through interviews, journal entries, questionnaires, and recordings of in-game behaviors. The results of the study showed improvement in the level of adjustment to the foreign language culture for the participants who completed the virtual reality experience. The positive feedback received and the analysis of the language attitudes of the participants while abroad confirmed the effectiveness of the virtual reality training in comparison with traditional training.