Mondly, the free language learning app for mobile devices, launched MondlyVR in early January 2019. The new VR application takes advantage of Quest’s unique portability and ease of use to bring immersive language learning to users all over the world. After spending a week with MondlyVR on my Oculus Quest, I can say that I am only further convinced that VR immersion is perhaps the best way to learn languages today.
New breeds of education are emerging in the education technology industry at an exponential pace. Today’s college students are already using highly developed virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive to immerse themselves in 3D worlds where they are able to role-play through business simulations, solve engineering problems or even play entire video games as part of their curriculum. In this context, MondlyVR as an offering is a very interesting proposition for language learners as well as English speakers wanting to learn basic conversational skills in other foreign languages.
MondlyVR’s design and approach is similar to other VR language learning apps. It forces users to interact with other characters through voice chat and visual cues while scoring them on how well they perform. To make up for the lack of other real-time feedback mechanisms such as facial expressions or body gestures, the team at Mondly have designed emotes that can be found under each character’s avatar which you can use to give hints about your comprehension level during exchanges where one person speaks another language.
While it may seem like a good idea to allow users to choose the language they want to learn, this approach has its pitfalls. For example, once I selected Spanish as the language of choice for my German exchange partner, I had no option but to stay in that conversation track even when her responses became incomprehensible due to our extreme language disparity. This is something that most VR education apps are yet to address adequately with their current content offerings.
MondlyVR’s conversational modules are broken down into small chunks where each chunk consists of a 4-5 sentence exchange between two avatars while emotes give you real-time feedback on your comprehension and character reactions. The app uses spatial binaural audio for effective 3D sound localization (which works well with Quest’s integrated audio solution) and character animations are done very well.
The Quest formula is pretty straightforward- engage with an activity, score points, unlock modules based on your performance, repeat. Mondly VR uses the Quest’s touchpad for locomotion to keep you strapped to a single spot which may sound uncomfortable but it actually worked surprisingly well throughout my time with the app. Higher scores will award more XPs unlocking new conversations in the future. However, I was able to complete all six conversational modules offered at launch without any hiccups whatsoever so it currently remains to be seen how future content upgrades may stretch the dollar value proposition of this app over time for users looking to take their language learning up a notch or two. The experience ends with a short quiz section where you are encouraged to answer questions that correspond to the language of your choice.
MondlyVR is not without its shortcomings. For example, I am yet to see any evidence that Mondly’s conversational modules accurately recreate the experience of picking up new words and phrases in real-life conversation scenarios. While it felt very plausible when my German avatar was saying “Ich bin Lehrer” during one exchange, her following comment about being at school sounded more like gibberish than German to me which resulted in points deduction on my part even though it broke no grammatical rules whatsoever.
Overall, however, MondlyVR performs well as an app designed primarily for the casual traveller or English speakers who want to learn some basics of a new language to prepare for their next foreign trip.