Overcome Language Barriers in Mixed Reality: The Future of Corporate Learning?

Taikonauten
Taikonauten  Magazine
8 min readMar 21, 2024

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Two employees wear virtual reality headsets to learn English in Mixed Reality.
Immersive language learning is a captivating way to overcome communication barriers in everyday working life. (Source: AI-generated/Midjourney)

Looking for the German version of this story? // Du suchst nach der deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels? ➡️ Spricht Mixed Reality die Sprache des Erfolgs? Visionärer Blick auf das Lernen der Zukunft

Mixed Reality seamlessly integrates digital content into our physical environment. This high level of immersion unlocks a wide range of new potential in various industries and areas of application such as the enhancement of corporate language learning. In this article, we discuss the impact of communication barriers in multilingual companies with Michelle Bechinie, Interim HR Consultant, and Katharina Schweitzer, Business Manager at STARTUP TEENS. Additionally, you will discover exemplary use cases and take a look behind the scenes of our new Taikonauten research project, which brings together the fields of Mixed Reality game development and language learning.

Communication plays a key role in corporate success

Have you ever felt uncomfortable in a conversation in a foreign language? You are not alone in this. The market research company respondi surveyed 2,299 employees in Germany about their experience with languages at work. 44 percent of the participants regularly communicate in a foreign language in their day-to-day work. Almost all of them use English, but only 12.4 percent feel confident with it.

Michelle Bechinie, Interim HR Consultant, gained experience in bilingual companies on her career path and shared her personal impressions with us:

“HR professionals are often expected to communicate flawlessly in every situation. But to be honest, I also feel insecure from time to time, especially when communicating with native speakers. I speak English fluently, but sometimes it’s small nuances in the wording or specific terms that can lead to serious misunderstandings. That’s why I prepare sensitive employee meetings or announcements in a foreign language with particular care and regularly work on my English skills.”

However, thoughtful communication is not only important in the sensitive HR area, but in all areas of business. Misunderstandings have a lasting negative impact on operations and the general working atmosphere. This makes it all the more important to sensitize employees to this.

We asked Katharina Schweitzer, Business Manager at STARTUP TEENS, about her professional experiences with language barriers in former companies:

“My experience in HR is not the only reason why I know how important communication is at different levels in different companies. Especially when working in an international team, it is essential to enable employees to leave their linguistic comfort zone. This increases both job satisfaction and a person’s self-esteem.”

Employees confident in their communication skills are more motivated and generally feel more comfortable in their daily work life. This gives companies an important competitive advantage which positively impacts business development and turnover.

New technologies, new opportunities: Mixed Reality enhances learning success

Mixed Reality allows for language learning to add a virtual layer with information on top of the real environment. That way, different learning styles can be stimulated, such as visually, haptically and acoustically. As a result, content is better remembered and this ensures a higher learning curve.

In addition, Mixed Reality applications often have a gamification character. Playful elements involve learners not only cognitively, but also socially and emotionally. This means that the overall experience is better tailored to the user and motivation is increased.

So wouldn’t it be great to take advantage of Mixed Reality technology to enhance language learning even more to overcome communication barriers in everyday working life? With curiosity and optimism Michelle Bechinie already looks forward to future application possibilities of new technologies in the professional landscape:

“The term mixed reality has a long history but is still a new technology that has only taken a permanent place in everyday processes in very few companies. In my opinion, now is the best time for all of us to explore its potential and try out several features to improve our future business lives together. Ultimately, integrating intelligent language learning opportunities into employee benefit programs or team-building events benefits both sides: the company and the employees themselves.”

From theory to realization

In our New Year’s article series from our research and development lab, we have already explored the possibilities and potentials of creating Mixed Reality experiences for the Meta Quest 3 using Unity or WebXR. Inspired by this we decided to get a step further to put our gained knowledge into practice by creating a prototype for a Mixed Reality language learning application.

💡 What does Research and Development mean at Taikonauten? 💡

If you want to shape the future, it’s important to keep pace with it. At Taikonauten, we engage in research and development projects to continuously expand our technical expertise and explore innovative business scenarios based on the latest technological advances. Our approach integrates user-centricity with agile, lean product development. We focus on targeted exploration of technological use cases as well as opportunities and limitations. In this way, our research and development program helps companies to successfully engage with new technologies and become future-ready.

But what could unique new immersive learning experiences look like? Let’s check out our three favorite technological use cases that we recently sketched out during our research and development ideation phase:

#1 Language Defense

What if we integrate language learning elements into a virtual game? Imagine, the Mixed Reality scenario transforms your home into an interactive playground that resembles a tower defense game. You would face language-related challenges to successfully defend your territory against virtual enemies.

By correctly translating vocabulary and building correct sentences you keep strengthening your defense. Thus, you level up your game and your language skills equally. Sounds like a refreshing alternative to traditional language courses, right?

A language learner wears a virtual reality headset and experiences Language Defense. In Mixed Reality he can see real-world elements like his desk and the virtual game elements like the playground and enemies.
Language Defense combines your language learning experience with an exciting game atmosphere. (Source: AI-generated/Midjourney)

#2 Complex Simulations Involving Real-World Interactions

In this realistic scenario, you immerse yourself in language learning in your own digital safe space at home. You are prompted in your chosen language to place virtual objects in real places, e.g. “put the book (virtual element) under the table (real-world element)”.

Not only do you learn new vocabulary but you are also motivated to use and act on them, putting language in an everyday context. Based on your actions the system can provide feedback using artificial intelligence. This way, your learning experience is tailored to your personal progress.

A language learner wears a virtual reality headset and experiences a complex simulation. In Mixed Reality she can see real-world elements like a book on her table and virtual learning elements like charts, graphics or additional information.
In a complex simulation, the daily objects in your home space turn into language learning opportunities. (Source: AI-generated/Midjourney)

#3 Language Quests

Let’s change the user context one more time. You find yourself now in an external learning scenario in a public space like a historical site. With Mixed Reality technology everyday places and objects in your surroundings are transformed into language learning opportunities with overlaid information and tasks. Like sightseeing, only more educational and entertaining.

The system recognizes and evaluates your responses. As a result, it provides you with contextually relevant language tasks based on your environment and your progress. Visualizing historical events to match the surroundings, interactive scavenger hunts — there is plenty of scope for creativity. Virtual elements seamlessly blend with the real world, offering a holistic learning experience. It’s like sightseeing, but enhanced.

A language learner is standing in front of a point of interest and wears a virtual reality headset to experience Language Quests. In Mixed Reality, she can see real-world elements like monuments and virtual elements like tasks and information material.
Learn and travel: With Language Quests you experience language learning opportunities while exploring public spaces. (Source: AI-generated/Midjourney)

Challenge accepted: Developing a prototype for a Language Defense Game

All these exciting technological use cases stimulate our spirit of research. That’s why we want to put one of these ideas into practice to carry out a first reality check.

Which one of the opportunities makes your eyes sparkle the most? Sure, all ideas have a lot of potential. Not an easy decision. But in the end, we can only win — lots of new experiences and insights that enrich the landscape of language learning.

As we have no experience in the development of learning applications at this point, especially in a Mixed Reality environment, we will continue with the creation of a Language Defense Game to broaden our horizons even more.

And honestly: gaming is simply popular. According to the latest statistics from the Statista Research Department from February 2024, around half of all Germans play computer and video games at least occasionally. Among 16 to 29-year-olds, the proportion is even over 85 percent. The combination of language learning and a virtual game may therefore be of particular interest to young professionals.

Time to trade the clouds for some solid ground

You already got a short impression of the principle of Language Defense. Let’s bring this idea to life with a few more details on the possible game concept. Imagine you are sitting in your living room in front of a flat surface, such as a table. Now, you make yourself comfortable, put on a Mixed Reality headset and tap the table with your hand.

Immediately, a playing field rolls out — your immersive learning experience starts here: Characters challenging you with vocabulary tasks build up threateningly on the playground. You have to solve each of them in order to successfully defend your territory.

The first character approaches you. Suddenly, vocabulary and possible translation options appear in front of you in a multiple-choice format. If you choose the right answer with your hands, the virtual character will immediately be destroyed.

Headline: Vocabulary Training in combination with a Tower Defense Game. Picture: Graphic for the Language Defense Gameplay. Woman with mixed reality headset explores how the application works and what to expect.
A possible gameplay variant for Language Defense. (Source: Taikonauten)

However, providing an incorrect answer increases the threat of the enemy who now gets closer. The pressure increases, but giving up is not an option. The next opponent already approaches to put your language skills to the test. This process is repeated until you have answered all the vocabulary of one wave for the first time. Now you get a second chance to defend your territory from the remaining enemies that you failed to defeat due to an incorrect answer. Stay concentrated — you only have a total of three attempts per vocabulary to survive the first wave.

By the end of each level, the tension flattens and you will receive a summary of the vocabulary you have learned, including corrections if necessary. This repetition consolidates what you have learned in a calm atmosphere outside the game. So, take a deep breath, internalize the vocabulary and jump into the next lesson.

Next stop: Prototype

The rough concept is in place, now it’s time to get serious. As of yet, game development and language learning are blank spots on our map. Call it ambitious or megalomaniac: we are ready for the journey, and our experiment, Language Defense, begins now.

With a time limit of two weeks, we are developing the prototype for Language Defense to identify initial challenges and possible functional enhancements, such as speech recognition. The aim is to get a realistic idea of what is feasible in a tight time frame of 14 days — and what is not.

Already curious about the result of this experiment? Us too. So don’t miss the upcoming article — follow Taikonauten Magazine to exclusively look behind the scenes of our journey and to discover our Language Defense prototype.

Author’s note April 11, 2024: Finally, it’s time to explore the Language Defense prototype in our new article “What if: Vocabulary Training Became an Immersive Showdown in your Living Room?

Editorial: Shirley Schmolke

Have you acquired a taste for creating Mixed Reality applications to build your own immersive learning experience? Expand your knowledge together with us and take your first steps into WebXR development using Babylon.js or Mixed Reality development using Unity.

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Taikonauten
Taikonauten  Magazine

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