Last Updated: December 3, 2023

Immerse insights: 

  • One of the most powerful aspects of learning through language immersion is the authenticity of the experience
  • "Embodiment" is a term used in education to describe when you are physically active in your language learning experience
  • Research shows that embodied language learning results in faster fluency growth

What Does The Rubber Hand Illusion Have to Do With VR Language Learning?

You probably think you’d recognize your hand anywhere, but a clever experiment known as the rubber hand illusion shows how easy it is to confuse people’s sense of their own bodies.

By carefully positioning a rubber hand on a table in front of them, scientists have been able to fool people into experiencing actual physical sensations when the rubber hand is touched.

Rubber hand illusion demonstration - a man laughs when the rubber hand is tickled and cries out when it is smacked

This illusion works in virtual reality, too - participants in a 2010 study reacted to their virtual hand being threatened as though it were truly their own.

And this is actually great news for anyone who wants to learn a language.

Embodiment and language immersion

Virtual reality provides high levels of embodiment - that sensation when your body is truly interacting with the virtual world.

And it just so happens that embodiment is a sort of secret sauce when it comes to successful learning.

Embodied cognition is the idea that cognition, including learning, is inextricably linked to our physical and sensory experiences.

So while a lot of people think of learning as an abstract process that takes place deep in the mind, it really has a lot to do with physical perceptions of the environment.

The potential of immersion in virtual reality to provide embodied environments for language learning is so significant that researchers have been excited about it since before it was even possible.

Back in 2014, one neuropsychologist speculated that the realistic interactive virtual worlds of the future would enable the “optimum environment” for language learning - and it turns out she was right.

Why VR is the ideal medium for learning through language immersion?

Well, for two reasons:

Language and sensory information overlap in your brain

The parts of your brain that process sensory information also process vocabulary for that sensory information.

For example, the same part of your brain that lights up when you perceive the color blue also lights up at the word “blue.”

First-hand view of painting with friends in a virtual reality art gallery
Painting with other learners in the art gallery in Immerse

As far as your brain is concerned, language is connected to your experience of, and interaction with, the world around you.

Language learning is accelerated by interacting with objects

Sensori-motor interaction with your surroundings is your brain’s natural method of learning.

This means that learning a language through sight, sound, gesture, and body movement is significantly more effective than learning from a textbook or a traditional language app.

In fact, the more motor movement you engage in, the better you’ll learn!

Virtual reality makes it possible to pair language with the sights, sounds, and movements it describes.

A banner that says Immerse: Start your free 14-day trial today and shows a thumbs up in front of a shelf filled with books, flags, a globe, and a Quest 3 VR headset

Studies on vocabulary learning have shown learners acquire words more easily, use them more accurately, and remember them longer when learned through interaction in VR.

There appear to be neurological reasons for the improved language learning in VR - there is evidence that vocabulary learned in VR is stored differently in the brain.

A 2019 study on learners of Mandarin Chinese demonstrated that even just the ability to manipulate and move items around in a virtual kitchen led to structural brain changes in the subjects. This study shows that some of the benefits of embodied cognition can be had even by using computer screen based virtual reality (also called desktop VR). This is great news for language learners who do not have access to a VR headset or prefer not to use one.

How Immerse uniquely allows for embodied language learning

The gestures and hand controls associated with immersive VR have been shown to have positive effects on learning, and at Immerse, we have worked to create learning experiences that are embodied and strategically interactive, whether accessed through a VR headset or desktop.

Kitchen scene in Immerse, showing four avatars cooking and chatting
Learning a language through cooking in Immerse

Immerse gives you unlimited access to live virtual reality French, Spanish, and English classes, conversation events, AI practice, and more in over 40 realistic, highly interactive 3D locations. This is part of why our Members report that learning with Immerse is so effective

So if you’ve abandoned other language apps because it just felt like something was missing, you were right.

Unlike virtual reality, those apps can’t take advantage of embodied cognition to provide truly immersive learning experiences.

Because your experiences within Immerse are so convincing, your brain can use them to process language the embodied way and you can reap all the benefits.

So come hang out in Immerse for a while.

And while you’re there, remember to do lots of interacting.

Fry a few eggs, climb a tree, and even serve food at a fast food restaurant.

Make friends, gain confidence and get fluent sooner with a 14-day free trial - accessible through your Mac or PC browser, or check out our app for Quest headsets.

We'll see you there!

A banner that says Immerse: Start your free 14-day trial today and shows a thumbs up in front of a shelf filled with books, flags, a globe, and a Quest 3 VR headset