In a speaking class I have a student who is extremely shy, doesn't say much and if she does, she gets so excited that she can hardly string a sentence together.

Last week, someone mentioned World of Warcraft in class, which led me to tell them about Second Life. The shy student told me today that she created an account, went to a community I had mentioned, chatted with many people and made several friends from different countries. She was even offered to take on an active role in the community.

Maybe virtual worlds are still not mainstream but there are many students out there for whom this seems to be a good environment to overcome their shyness and practise their language skills. In the virtual world, they can opt in an out whenever they want, which is not so easily possible in the classroom.

I think occasional technical issues are not a deterrent for students who go to virtual worlds to practise their language skills informally as they can always come back at another time. They are more of an issue for (paid) scheduled classes.

So, even if teachers don't have the change to integrate virtual worlds into their lessons and even if they don't feel ready to teach there, we owe it to our students to mention their existence so the students can find out for themselves whether it is a good way for them to improve their language skills or not.


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Comment by Nergiz Kern on February 23, 2011 at 20:59

Yesterday, while writing, I thought one factor why my student was less shy and more talkative could have been the fact that she did not have to speak in front of the whole class but with one partner while everybody else was also speaking with their partners. In the past, the class she was in was small and we usually worked as a group. Another reason might be that she feels more relaxed now because she has known me and a couple of the students for some time now. However, most of the students in the class are new and the class has become quite large now.


Today, we had another lesson. At the beginning of the lesson, I told my class that there would be no lesson on 25 March because I would be at a conference in Vienna. When they asked me why, I said it was about Second Life and explained what it is. The only student who already uses SL in her own time is my "shy" student. So, I asked her to tell the class more about SL, what she has been doing there and how it helped her improve her English. For the first time, she was able to speak coherently and without stammering or looking embarrassed.


She said that she had made many friends from different countries and that they visited different real life places. Her friends helped her get clothes and other objects for free and she has changed her appearance. She has used text and now also voice chat. She also said that it helped her develop her typing and English (her own words). I really wish I would have access to her chat log and could analyze it.

Comment by Nergiz Kern on February 21, 2011 at 19:50

Hi Paul and all,

Here is more about my student. I joined the small group in which the student was with another group to form a larger conversation class. In the first lesson, I did a kind of "speed dating" activity with them where they had to change conversation partners after a couple minutes. The student above was speaking with a more advanced student who did not understand what she was saying. The problem was not due to grammar or vocabulary problems but to pronunciation/intonation.


In the past, she would have stopped speaking and said in Turkish "I can't speak today, can I only listen" or something like that.  This time, she did not give up nor did she look nervous or shy. She firmly repeated what she had said two more times. When the other student still didn't understand, she tried different techniques of explaining what she meant without resorting to Turkish at all, and finally, she succeeded. I was so happy and I wanted her to get recognition for this so I pointed out to the class what she had done when giving feedback and how important negotiation of meaning in such situation were for language learning.


I cannot say whether this had anything to do with her regularly being in Second Life and text chatting with her new friends (she has not used voice yet) but today I have come across references to research that suggest that CMC (computer mediated communication) may in fact indirectly enhance oral proficiency (Payne and Witeney, 2002; Beauvois, 1997) albeit maybe not necessarily accuracy (Abrams, 2003; Kung, 2004, Meskill and Anthoniy, 2005). There are many possible reasons for this but even if text chatting enhanced communication skills (only) and encouraged learners to speak in face-to-face situations that would be enough reason to promote its use.


Whether an avatar or being in a virtual world makes any difference that is a different issue. In this case the virtual world was motivation for my student t

Comment by Pawel Topol on December 22, 2010 at 7:43

Hi Nergiz. It would be very interesting to know if the student became more active in-class, too. Did she feel more encouraged to speak out in real life conversations? Maybe it is too soon to ask because only a month has passed, but anyway. Please drop a line about your observations.


Comment by David Richardson on November 17, 2010 at 10:29
My experience on the Business Talking course is that SL is the ultimate 'safe learning environment'! I once had a student who studied the course tucked up in bed with some cosy cushions and a nice mug of tea - how much safer can you get?!

A common experience is that you feel much less 'stupid' if it was your avatar, rather than yourself that made the mistake. People also feel less inhibited about opening up to each other. A recent very interesting cultural exchange happened when a Swedish man in Gothenburg IRL asked an Iranian woman coming in from Teheran IRL why she began her presentation by apologising (for taking up our time, having us wait a couple of seconds whilst graphics uploaded, etc).

We've noticed too that gamers aren't quite prepared for the level of 'active-ness' required in SL. I remember showing Kamimo Island to a group of teenagers (who were doing a computer-programming program at sixth-form). One them had once been into Second Life "but nothing happened" (in this words)! As one of my students said in his presentation last week: computer games ultimately come to an end, whilst SL just goes on and on …
Comment by Graham Davies on November 14, 2010 at 12:49
Steve Thorne spoke about World of Warcraft being used for language learning in his keynote at EUROCALL 2009 in Spain. See the video of his keynote at
There is also a World of Warcraft in School wiki at
Comment by Nergiz Kern on November 13, 2010 at 19:59
A teenage male student who has also recently signed up to Second Life told me today that he didn't get it. This is maybe not surprising as he is a gamer while the female (shy) student is not. I've often read that gamers don't like Second Life.

But it might also be due to the fact that he didn't know where to go and didn't find people to talk to while the other student knew where she was headed to (I had suggested a place that would interest her and where there is a vibrant community).
Comment by Nergiz Kern on November 13, 2010 at 19:48
Nina, thanks joining in. I'm happy to hear that the Internet is becoming more accessible in Ukraine.

I think it is already something very positive when places like Second LIfe help learners overcome their shyness and thus give them a chance to practise their L2 (and consequently hopefully improve). An interesting question is whether this affects their behaviour in the face-to-face classroom/situation (due to gain of self-confidence for example). This particular students said much more in class after her Second Life experience but it was just one lesson so it might have been a simple coincidence. I'm going to observe this further.
Comment by Nina Lulkun aka Nagora Yakubu on November 13, 2010 at 17:58
Thanks for openning this interesting topic for discussion, Nergiz. I guess Second Life is a good environment for students to feel more relaxed to communicate, explore, make friends and, of course, to learn language through communication. I wish my students can join this environment soon. The Internet has been becoming more and more accessable in Ukraine.

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