Augmented Reality and Second Language Acquisition

Revolutionizing the World: One Augment at a Time


Arriving at a language school, motivated and determined to learn a new language, the immigrant begins their new target language instruction. The foreign language student, motivated and determined to learn a new language, begins their new target language instruction. The child, complacent and apathetic toward learning a new language, surpasses both in fluency in its language. The child never studies nor is tested, never goes through exhaustive drills or memorization of lengthy vocabulary lists. Yet, miraculously enough, the child’s language ability has been acquired rather than learned. According to current understanding, the pace of the acquisition is something that is not surpassed by the older learner. People of the language classroom often get frustrated when results are not obvious. A common complaint is that the learner has been taking the language course for years and has not learned a single thing.

The immediate response is usually that the teacher and/or course is poorly designed or organized. To the casual observer, it would seem that the classroom is not the most efficient, let alone effective, environment for fluent language performance and competence in communication. Performance and competence are described by the accomplished Dr. Noam Chomsky as what a person can do versus what they are able to do. (from Radford, 1981). Most linguists would agree that culture and language are quite necessary in understanding each other. Aspects of cultural language are apparent more noticeably in the lexicon. For example, the northern Inuit people generally lack words such as ‘car’ or ‘nanotube’. They do, however, have abundant words for snow and ice.

Culture, then, has a tremendous influence on its language. Acquiring a language is in itself, acquiring a culture. Schools have vastly failed to accomplish language acquisition in students. Their methods are not working. What then, is the most effective language learning strategy?

The Immersion Method is debated as the most effective tool in acquisition of a language. However, some researchers have quite solid reasons for the ineffectiveness of this method. Personal research has led me to conclude that the traditional Immersion Method is not presented correctly. The downfall of the traditional Immersion Method is that knowing the true meanings of presented language elements throughout the acquisition process are not done properly. True meanings and situations augmented with the surrounding environment make this more effective and efficient. People first acquire by immersion. An alternative and new way of simulating an immersion technique is best suited for acquisition of a second, third, or even more languages. Understanding the positive impact of modern media tactics and language age of acquisition theories will lead up the steps of understanding what will be the most effective immersion technique.

Media Input Issue

Interactive media is the specialty of Jane Sherman (2003). Authentic video (video that presents real life situations and the language that is really used in those situations) is now abundant and accessible to most people of the world at a relatively small cost. The various nature of video content brings a valuable asset to the language learner. Scenarios and situations are different in each media example empowering instructors with endless material to expose the acquirers to. Scenarios can be interesting and compelling to the learner increasing their motivation and attention to the material. It is more ‘fun’ to watch language then to stare at a void and listen. More language skills are facilitated with the assistance of subtitles to exercise a reading ability (Sherman, 2003). In a study done by T. Pica (1998), “international adjustments (and the focused linguistic adjustments consequent on them)” were shown to be “more effective in promoting comprehension of input than are linguistic adjustments alone” (Mitchell & Myles, 1998, p.130). With more stimulation and understanding of presented materials, boredom is more difficult to fall into. Input is interesting and compelling to the acquirer, making the acquirer more attentive to the understood input from the media.

Traditional immersion methods are based on Krashen’s ‘Input Hypothesis’ which states that “Humans acquire language in only one way—by understanding messages, or by receiving comprehensible input” (Quoted in Mitchell & Myles, 1998). In order for successful immersion to take place, everything said must be just above the comprehensible level of the acquirer. A teacher has many students. All with different levels of language skills. A perfect individual-based immersion instruction is impossible to apply to every student at their different levels. An attempt can be made to accomplish such an impossible task; however, common sense tells one that the impracticality of such a method is something that will never even closely be approached even by the most experienced and motivated teachers. Individual-tailored feedback is more effective when the student has but one teacher that knows where the student falls in his/her skill level. Practicality of having one teacher per student, and having that teacher constantly speaking the language to the student, is as well an impossibility. An alternate method can be created to implement individual ‘teachers’ and accomplish this feat inexpensively. From what is learned from the video studies, a method with similar media functions will be helpful in approaching this new technique.

Age of Acquisition Issue

Before the new immersion method is proposed, the age of acquisition issue must be addressed. A noted language acquisition expert, Dr. Stephen Krashen, who came up with the idea of acquiring vs. learning believes differently than Chomsky. Krashen dismisses the theory of the ‘language acquisition device’ (the part of the brain that holds the innate ability to acquire a language before puberty) that it prevents a person from acquiring a second language. He states that acquisition can occur when “teachers engage students in authentic communicative experiences” (Freeman & Freeman, 2001, p.82). These types of interactionary experiences allow the learner to internalize their language elements in an authentic way to more effectively learn the target language. Recent studies have shown that in ideal situations, such as proper support and feedback within the curriculum, immersion can lead to acquisition. (Freeman & Freeman, 2001)

There are many within academia who believe that language can only be acquired before the “language acquisition device” (LAD) is turned off at puberty. Noam Chomsky first developed this theory as a “black box” that is within the mind that encompasses the innate ability to learn a language. At puberty the LAD closes leaving people with the ability to “learn” and not “acquire” a target language. Exposure to a language must happen before this time or language will never be acquired by the person (Thomas, 2004, p.7-8). Chomsky then, held the belief that second languages could not be acquired after this language acquisition device was shut off. Children that attempt to learn a second language before puberty acquire the language and culture of the new language and will perform just as a native were to perform with little variation.

Although evidence is clearly shown that to support the differing theories of Chomsky and Krashen, Chomsky’s main argument that acquisition cannot happen after puberty is proven erroneous. Krashen was able to prove Chomsky wrong with his own studies along with experiments by others to solidify Krashen’s ideals. From these results, a universal conclusion leads to proof that an ideal second language learning strategy and method can lead to acquisition of a second language. Chomsky’s evidence is as a result of the many years wasted in teaching people in a second language with wrong methodologies. His evidence was overwhelming by the many older people who have always held on to accents and mistakes for years after they had begun their late training in a language. The ideal language acquisition method and strategy is just now starting to be discovered with the help of a compilation of proven studies by accomplished linguists.

The Most Effective Method Issue

There does exist, or rather, can exist, a method that would perfectly produce native-like fluency in a second language, even if the instruction begins after puberty. So far, the modified immersion method needs to have constant authentic video interaction, with stress on the meanings. Boredom should be difficult to fall into, authentic cultural language should mesh with authentic cultural situations, authentic communicative experiences are to be abundant, and immediate feedback and support are the foundations of a successful immersion technique.

A new technology, called ‘Augmented Reality’ is currently being developed by students and professors at various universities including Columbia University and the Michigan Institute of Technology. According to the Edinburgh Online Graphics Dictionary, (n.d.), Augmented Reality is “the idea that an observer's experience of an environment can be augmented with computer generated information. Usually this refers to a system in which computer graphics are overlaid onto a live video picture or projected onto a transparent screen as in a head-up display.” (Edinburgh, n.d.). Worn like a pair of glasses, this technology is being developed so that a person walking down the street, has augmented computer graphics within the usual field of vision with an individual-specific display that provides information that one would otherwise not see. For example, while walking down the street passing a café, the establishment’s menu would appear, giving you an idea of what they have without actually going into the restaurant itself. Other displays can show the estimated time it takes to travel a certain distance, the weather forecast, even real-time stock tickers. Extra information on the surrounding environment is the goal of Augmented Reality, with many scientists speculating these systems will saturate the populations of many, if not all countries of the world (Feiner, 2002.).

A successful language acquisition method can be implemented using this new technology, by integrating ideal aspects from earlier immersion techniques. A language learner would have the ability, with the proper software installed, to acquire a language while being saturated in their normal environment. In the target language and while wearing the augmented reality, people can see people having conversations, objects being labeled in the new language vocabulary, preference settings would tailor the method to the individual. It is the perfect teacher. Elements that are first introduced in the beginning of the day such as vocabulary would be programmed to repeat the exposure in differing contexts throughout the day, and for the rest of the instruction. The understood element, with steady exposure leads to acquisition rather than learning. Integrating one into the augmented culture and intense language instruction allows the person meaningful exposure without fatigue or disrupting the normal life of the person. With the saturation of this technology around the planet, cost will be relatively low. The large numbers of these systems will constantly drive the prices lower to the point that expense should not be an issue as much as it will be in the beginning. Cell phones were once a status symbol of the rich. Nowadays even children with no income possess them in ever increasing numbers.

Computers assisting language learning are an everyday part of many second language classrooms. The programs used today such as TALL, (Technology Assisted Language Learning) have made significant strides in second language acquisition methods. Early versions relied on mathematical theories rather then the popular pedagogical techniques of the day. It later evolved into a more effective tool that conformed to the student based on the student’s historical performance (Chapelle, 2001 p.4). Computers offer an integration that was unheard of before the technology came into being. Having been used in the classroom, students have come closer to acquisition through the adaptive nature of the computer.

However, the computer, although effective in learning, is not practical enough for acquisition. The computer cannot simulate real-world situations in the real world. The authentic interaction is not available to completely take advantage of their usefulness. Classroom time is limited to at most, a few hours a day. The constant interactionary need is not met. Even if the student was on the computer then entire day, everyday, fatigue and boredom would easily set in. Emphasis on the conscience, and over stimulation of such, will prove too much for acquirers of the second language. More emphasis on the subconscious, with understood and applied language aspects, augmented into the real world allows the acquirer to acquire, without wire, without tire.


Arriving at a language school, motivated and determined to learn a new language, the immigrant begins their new target language instruction. The foreign language student, motivated and determined to learn a new language, begins their new target language instruction. The child, complacent and apathetic toward learning a new language, is now equaled by both in fluency in its language. Gone will be the days when one is frustrated with the lack of new knowledge since the instruction began. When augmented reality becomes a part of the everyday life, the Augmented Immersion Method (AIM) will be a valuable tool in combating the follies and ineffectiveness of the past. Culture and language can be acquired concurrently and efficiently, possibly unlocking the secret to acquisition itself.

The traditional Immersion Method, when perfectly used, is impossible. Close attempts are expensive and impractical. There is no effective second language acquisition strategy in existence today. We have the principles; we have the technology; now we have a way to implement these into the first effective language acquisition method. A child acquires their native abilities without a classroom, vocabulary lists, extensive drills, and correction. Common sense dictates that learning as a child learns is more effective. The Augmented Immersion Method allows us the closest simulation to a child’s acquisition technique available with practicality. Carol Chapelle (2001) perhaps predicted it best: “As we enter the 21st century, everyday language use is so tied to technology that learning language through technology has become a fact of life with important implications for all applied linguists, particularly for those concerned with facets if second language acquisition” (Chapelle, 2001). The best way to learn—to acquire, is without teachers, classrooms, lectures, drills, tests, or deadlines. Through the example of children, with the technology of tomorrow, supplemented by the ingenuity of man, nothing is learned. Acquire, without wire, without tire.


1. Chapelle, Carol A. (2001). Computer Applications in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

2. Mitchell, R., & Myles, F., (1998). Second Language Learning Theories. London: Oxford University Press.

3. Thomas, Margaret. (2004). Universal Grammar in Second Language Acquisition: A History. New York: Routledge.

4. Sherman, Jane. (2003). Using Authentic Video in the Language Classroom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

5. Housen, A., & Pierrard, Michel (Eds.), (2004). Investigations in Instructed Second Language Acquisition. New York: Mouton de Gruyer.

6. Feiner, S. K. (2002). Augmented Reality: A New Way of Seeing. Scientific American.

7. Freeman, D. E., & Freeman, Y. S. (2001). Between Worlds: Access to Second Language Acquisition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

8. Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (1999). How Languages Are Learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

9. Radford, A. (1981). Transformational Syntax: A Student’s Guide to Chomsky’s Extended Standard Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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Epsilon5 6 years ago from Eastern Pennsylvania

A Wonderfully written, well thought-out hub. Thanks for writing!

Acquisition of English 5 years ago

Great article. A second language acquisition can be frustrating sometimes but with dedication and a congenial environment it is achievable for sure.

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