2 Understanding Immersive Technologies and Their Use in Language Education

When describing immersive technologies, two closely related terms, immersion, and presence, are usually considered together. Both terms have roots in human-computer interaction or HCI, although different HCI scholars will have different definitions for it depending on the area of HCI they are studying. According to Hein, Wienrich, and Latoschik (2021), immersion is “what the technology delivers in all sensory and tracking modalities and that it can be objectively assessed” (p. 119). It is an objective term, in the sense that it can be observed from the outside, therefore it is measurable. Presence, on the other hand, is a subjective concept, because it is about how individuals react to various immersive technologies and cannot be viewed or observed from outside. Presence is about individual choices, preferences, perceptions, and experiences; therefore, it can be different from person to person (*).

Immersion and presence concepts are important in that they help us define augmented and virtual reality technologies. Milgram et al. (1994) viewed immersive technologies on a continuum, ranging from augmented reality (AR), less or low immersive technology, to virtual reality (VR), most and highly immersive technology (See Figure 2.1 for traditional illustration of MR continuum). In other words, augmented reality refers to the enhancement of real-life objects and environments with computer images, while virtual reality is the total immersion in the virtual world, real or imagined. When AR and VR technologies are blended, combining real and virtual realities, it is called mixed reality (MR) technologies. In recent years, another term, extended reality or XR is also commonly used. Lee et al. (2021) describe XR not as a specific technology, but as a broader category of technological advancements that enhance human experience. While XR is the latest of the immersive technologies, due to the convergence of artificial intelligence (AI) with the XR technologies, much more advanced novel applications are also expected to emerge soon, possibly extending the MR continuum even further.


Figure 2.1. Milgram et al. (1994) Reality-Virtuality continuum


In the past, the concept of immersion in the context of language learning usually referred to either dual language programs, which allowed learners to have increased language experiences, or study-abroad programs, where learners lived in the target language country surrounded by language and culture (Blyth, 2018). Today, however, immersion with the use of AR and VR technologies aims to provide virtual immersion experiences that simulate authentic environments. In this chapter, the use of immersive technologies in the context of learning languages and cultures is discussed, to demonstrate affordances as well as limitations of such technologies for language education.

Degree of Immersion

Before discussing the pros and cons of mixed reality technologies, it is important to understand the differences between various levels of immersion, because the immersion level determines the kind of virtual technology that would be selected for educational use. In the literature, it is becoming common to categorize virtual realities under three categories: nonimmersive, semi or low immersive, and immersive. Most desktop-based games that manipulate virtual worlds using a mouse are considered non-immersive reality. Most of these applications are so widespread in daily life that they are usually not considered part of immersive technologies. AR and 360 videos experienced via PC or tablet computers are semi-immersive technologies and are viewed as a partial immersion into virtual worlds. Fully immersive technologies require wearable technology such as an AR or VR glass or head mount set. While highly immersive, head-mounted VR experiences are also the most expensive VR tools.

Non-Immersive Reality  Semi or Low Immersive Reality Immersive Reality
No Physical Immersion Partial Immersion Full Immersion
Desktop Applications, such as game consoles Augmented reality

360 VR-Videos

Use of wearable technologies, such as AR or VR glasses or head mount VR sets

Figure 2.2. Level of Immersion

 Benefits and Challenges of Immersive Technologies

Some of the reported benefits of using AR and VR technologies in language education are increased immersion and presence (Davis, 2023; Wang, Petrina & Feng, 2018), active participation and interaction (Peixoto et.al., 2021), reduction of learning anxiety and stress (Lowell & Yan, 2023) and increased use of authentic materials (Parmaxi & Demetriou, 2019). Table 2.1. summarizes some of the other research studies and their results to illustrate the benefits. The following summaries are intended as a quick review, rather than an extensive list.

Author/s Setting Intervention Benefits
Bacca-Acosta, et.al, (2022) EFL classes at the US higher education developing Developing embedded scaffolding exercises for EFL Increased learner performance if the scaffolding tasks are embedded in the design of VR
Legaut et. al., (2019) Mandarin classroom at US higher education Developing immersive VR exercises explicit L1 to L2 word–word (WW) paired association learning Greater accuracy in the experimental group, especially among low achieving learners
Palomeque, et. al., (2018) Undergraduate tourism class in Spain ESP classes designed in Second Life using authentic language content increased Increased multimodal communication skills in the experimental group
Repetto, et. al., (2021) Undergraduate ESL students in Italy Mobile-Assisted Language Learning activities using 360 VR videos to teach vocabulary increased Increased learning gains, motivation, and interest
Xue & Wang, (2021) Primary school English classes in China Develop an AR-based listening material to improve students’ phonetics skills increased Increased curiosity, joy, and attention to learning materials; increased communication skills
Wang, Petrina, Feng (2018) English Language School for young adults in China Chatbot and Time Machine developed in OpenSimulator Increased Immersion and Spatial Presence

Table 2.1. Benefits of AR and VR use in language education


Many current studies were positive on the use of immersive technologies for teaching and learning, but as with any emerging technology, AR and VR have also disadvantages. For instance, it has been reported that AR and VR present some technical difficulties, such as low-quality images that can cause physical discomfort (Dolgunsöz, Yildirim & Yildirim, 2018); extraneous cognitive load (Bacca-Acosta, et al, 2022), accessibility issues (Lowell & Yan, 2023), and low-level perceived usefulness of the technology by the students (Repetto et. al., 2021).

Immersive Technology Applications for Language Learning

There are many immersive technology applications, as seen in Table 2.2, for language instruction. These tools can be categorized into four groups. The first category includes virtual reality platforms, which can be used for entertainment or educational purposes. It should be emphasized that these platforms are not created specifically with students or language learners in mind. All the platforms in this category have a high level of commercial purpose. Therefore, they need significant customization and planning on the educators’ part. The second group of tools is created for public use, but they have great educational benefits, such as Google Street View or Google Arts and Culture. The third group includes tools for educational purposes, while the last group is specific to language instruction.

AR and VR Tools Used for Language Learning and Teaching Features and Functions

1) Virtual Reality Platforms
VRChat Features: One of the most popular virtual world platforms. It can be used either with a Desktop Mode or with a VR headset. Free to use but requires a $9.99 monthly fee for enhanced features. Recommended age 16+.


Functions: Chatrooms, meet-up spaces, gaming, attaining assets in 3D, avatar customization

Second Life Features: One of the oldest virtual world platforms. Can be used on a desktop. Free to use but to create private spaces (called grids), one needs to pay. Recommended age 16+.


Functions: Meet-up spaces, virtual classrooms  

OpenSimulator Features: Open-source platform for developing 3D virtual platforms. Using OpenSimulator, worlds like Second Life can be created. Highly complex system for developers, but if the space is created, it is very easy to use in educational settings with full control over the software with maximum security. Free of charge.


Functions: Meet-up spaces, gaming, virtual classrooms

AltSpaceVR Features: Virtual event hosting service by Microsoft. Mostly a 3D space that works with any VR headset, but a 2D version is also available on PCs. Breakout rooms could be created for simultaneous meeting rooms. The rooms are not moderated, but safety can be assured with the creation of private spaces. Free of charge. All age groups.


Functions: Meet-up spaces, virtual guests, virtual exchanges, collaborative VR environment

2) General Use Programs
Google Street View Features: Part of Google Maps, Street View presents a virtual representation of real locations. 360 videos of various locations are available. Free of charge. Individuals can add their content to Google Street View. (Google’s Earth VR provides a full immersion VR experience, however, it is no longer supported, along with Google Cardboards). All age groups.


Functions: Virtual field trips

Example: Ukrainian Rada (content created by a user)

Google Arts & Culture Features: Google’s non-commercial initiative, which showcases an extensive collection of real-life cultural artifacts and historical collections to make them accessible to everyone. 360 video tours are available. No advertisement. Free of charge. All age groups.


Functions: Virtual field trips

Example: Your Guide to Kyiv

Metaverse Studio Features: An easy-to-use AR tool for creating experiences. Experiences can be created on a PC, which then can be viewed on mobile devices. Users can view shared content created by others. Free of charge. All age groups.


Functions: Educational and trivia games

Adobe Aero Features: An easy-to-use AR tool that comes with a database of objects to create experiences. Only available to use on mobile computers. Free of charge. All age groups.


Functions: Educational games; demos

3) Educational AR and VR
ClassVR Features: Using a standalone VR headset, educators can create their own AR and VR teaching materials or use the embedded resources with their students. Appropriate for K-12 students. Fee-based, commercial program (It should be noted that there are many similar commercial programs in the market, but ClassVR is included here, because of its widespread use. Another good alternative is Avantis World).


Functions: Resources to teach and support all content areas.

CoSpacesEdu Features: Using templates, scenes, and objects instructors and learners can create their own virtual spaces. There are existing lesson plans that can be used. Web-based 3-D worlds. Suitable for K-12 learners. Basic features can be used free of charge, but the pro version requires a subscription.


Functions: Creating virtual spaces, presentations, simulations, digital storytelling, games

3D AR Book Apps Features: Sometimes called a-books, children’s books viewed through a mixed reality interface. One such app is Straight Path Apps. Suitable for early childhood or young readers or beginner-level foreign language learners. Fee-based.


Functions: Story room activities, reading

VirtualSpeech and VirtualOrator Features: VR experiences to improve public speaking skills. Available only for English speakers. Suitable for teenagers or adult learners. Fee-based.


Functions: Communication and public speaking skills, active listening, presentation skills with immediate feedback, soft skill training, storytelling, meeting space

4) Language Specific AR and VR
Mondly VR Features: Collaborative learning experiences with a VR set or 2D PC. Chatbots and speech recognition features are available along with the learning scenarios. About 30 languages are available. All age groups can benefit, but most suitable for older children or adult learners. Fee-based.


Functions: Realistic activities that focus on communication and all language skills

ImmerseMe Features: Learning scenarios are available at three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced, and four modes: pronunciation, dictation, translation, and immersion. These scenarios use real-life settings. Only nine languages are supported. Suitable for all ages. Fee-based.


Functions: Supports all language skills

FluentU Features: Immersive VR experiences via authentic videos and interactive exercises. Available in ten languages. Suitable for all ages. Fee-based (but a 14-day trial is available).


Functions: Supports all language skills.

Table 2.2. Immersive Technology Applications and Tools


Immersive Technologies and Intercultural Competence: Research Gap

Due to the increased interest in immersive technologies, many language scholars have been conducting systematic literature reviews to better understand the cumulative impact of AR and VR technologies. Three of the recent comprehensive reviews reveal similar results. For instance, in a study conducted by Huang, Cheng, and Xie (2021) VR technologies are mostly used in teaching vocabulary (28%), followed by speaking (18%) and writing and culture (10% each). Another study revealed that most technology integration studies focused on cognitive learning, such as teaching vocabulary or speaking skills, and affective domain goals, such as motivation, satisfaction, or speaking anxiety and discomfort (Hein, Wienrich, & Latoschik, 2021). Finally, Parmaxi and Demetriou (2019) found that vocabulary learning (23.9%), reading (12.7%), speaking (9.9%) writing (8.5%) are the most used activities with the mobile AR. These reviews show that language educators mostly use immersive technologies for vocabulary acquisition and practicing speaking skills.

These literature reviews also demonstrated that often students are active in immersive learning activities, while instructors have a more observant role. Another important outcome of similar literature review studies is that more research has been done in the last decade to study the impact of augmented reality technologies and language learning, compared to virtual reality technologies and language learning. This may be due to ease of use, availability, and low cost of AR technologies. Higher education was also found to be the most active implementation and research field, while K-12 schools clearly lagged. Parmaxi and Demetriou (2019) analyzed the languages used in their reviews, concluding that 63% of the research studies used English as a Second Language or ESL, 14% used Mandarin, while all other languages were in single digits.

Regarding intercultural competence or teaching of culture, only 5% of the studies used immersive technology (Hein, Wienrich & Latoschik, 2021), while Parmaxi and Demetriou (2019) reported 4.2% usage. These results show a very significant research gap in an area full of potential, especially for languages other than English and Mandarin.


Bacca-Acosta, T., J., Fabregat, R., Kinshuk, & Guevara, J. (2022). Scaffolding in immersive virtual reality environments for learning English: An eye-tracking study. Educational Technology Research and Development70 (1), 339–362.

Blyth, C. (2018). Immersive technologies and language learning. Foreign Language Annals51(1), 225–232.

Davis, R. (2023). Leveraging the Power of Presence for Learning Design. In Cherner, T., & Fegely, A. (Eds). Bridging the XR Technology-to-Practice Gap: Methods and Strategies for Blending Extended Realities into Classroom Instruction. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. (p. 13-24), (AACE).

Dolgunsöz, E., Yıldırım, G., Yıldırım, S. (2018). The effect of virtual reality on EFL writing performance. Journal of Language Linguistic Studies. 14, 278–292.

Hein, R. M., Wienrich, C., & Latoschik, M. E. (2021). A systematic review of foreign language learning with immersive technologies (2001-2020). AIMS Electronics and Electrical Engineering, 5(2): 117–145. Available at https://opus.bibliothek.uni-wuerzburg.de/opus4-wuerzburg/frontdoor/deliver/index/docId/26881/file/10.3934_electreng.2021007.pdf.

Huang, Zou, D., Cheng, G., & Xie, H. (2021). A systematic review of AR and VR enhanced language learning. Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland)13(9), 4639. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13094639.

Lee, M. J. W., Georgieva, M., Alexander, B., Craig, E., & Richter, J. (2021). State of XR & immersive learning outlook report 2021. Walnut, CA: Immersive Learning Research Network.

Legault, J., Zhao, J., Chi, Y.-A., Chen, W., Klippel, A., & Li, P. (2019). Immersive virtual reality as an effective tool for second language vocabulary learning. Languages, 4(1), 13.

Lowell, V. L., & Yan, W. (2023). Facilitating foreign language conversation simulations in Virtual Reality for authentic learning. In Cherner, T., & Fegely, A. (Eds). Bridging the XR Technology-to-Practice Gap: Methods and Strategies for Blending Extended Realities into Classroom Instruction. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. (p. 119-134), (AACE).

Milgram, P., Takemura, H., Utsumi, A., and Kishino, F. (1994). Augmented Reality: A class of displays on the reality-virtuality continuum. Proc. SPIE 2351, 282–292. DOI: 10.1117/12.197321.

Palomeque, C., & Pujolà, J.-T. (2018). Managing multimodal data in virtual world research for language learning. ReCALL (Cambridge, England)30(2), 177–195.

Peixoto, Pinto, R., Melo, M., Cabral, L., & Bessa, M. (2021). Immersive Virtual Reality for foreign language education: A PRISMA Systematic Review. IEEE Access9, 48952–48962.

Xue, Y., & Wang, J. (2021). English listening teaching device and method based on Virtual Reality technology under wireless sensor network environment. Journal of Sensors2021, 1–11.

Wang, Petrina, S., & Feng, F. (2017). VILLAGE—Virtual immersive language learning and gaming environment: Immersion and presence. British Journal of Educational Technology48(2), 431–450.


* For “The Guide for Considering the Affordance of the Sense of Presence for Teaching and Learning, See Cherner, T., & Fegely, A. (Eds). (2023). Bridging the XR Technology-to-Practice Gap: Methods and Strategies for Blending Extended Realities into Classroom Instruction. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. (AACE). https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/222242/ (p.18).