Real Life in Second Life: Spanish Immersion Learning Experience

December 1st, 2009  |  Published in Real Life in Second Life

By Sappho Zapatero

The Spanish Institute (or Instituto Español) in Second Life first caught my eyes several months ago, when my friend, who is learning Spanish, found the program and sent a photograph of himself standing at an alter.  Curiosity got the best of me and I visited the site several times over the course of a few months.  The sim itself is simple in design, with several nice colorful motifs.  On the corner, two boards list the class schedules for beginners, intermediate, and advanced Spanish lessons.  The classrooms were located in a private section of the sim.

Instituto Español provides opportunities individuals who are interested in learning Spanish and plan to travel to a Spanish speaking country.  The institute pairs students with real life Spanish speakers from Mexico, who either teach Spanish and or give cultural lessons as a cultural broker to their heritage.

I spoke with Instituto Español founder, Wilson Voight, about the program.  First, thank you Mr. Voight, for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us this afternoon.

When did you come up with the concept for “The Spanish Institute?”

“A long time before I knew about Second Life.  I’d been working on an Internet platform for Spanish lessons.  Second life became the platform about 3 years ago.”

What were your main considerations and goals in creating TSI?

“The Institutes main purpose is to get Second Life residents excited about traveling to Spanish speaking countries in real life for immersion Spanish experiences.”

How many students have enrolled in the classes, and to your knowledge, traveled in real life for the immersion Spanish experience?

“We know of four immersion vacations taken last summer.  In the fourteen months that we’ve been offering classes, well over 100 SL residents have taken at least one class.”

What were some of the challenges you faced in getting started?

“Finding a good landlord was the biggest challenge.  Getting the Mexican SL community involved has also been a challenge.”

I understand how having a good landlord could impact such a program as yours.  How has working with the Mexican SL community been a challenge?

“The goal of an immersion environment was to create a sense of cultural community.  Many in the Mexican community were not as excited about hanging out here as we had hoped.  It has taken a great deal of time to find Mexicans that truly had an interest in sharing their culture with the Second Life community.”

How many Mexicans do you have involved in the experience?  For those who have taken the trip in real, did they travel to visit their SL friends?

“There are eight individuals who are deeply involved in the project.  We have two teachers and six on the cultural team. Of the people I know who traveled in real life for a language experience, I know two were in contact during their trips with SL acquaintances’.

How do most people find out about your program?  How has it impacted their experiences here?

“Most have found us in search or by word of mouth. We find that about half of our serious students do not do a lot in SL except take our classes.  Some are very active players.”

I noticed there are classes offered at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels.  Do you “test” students to determine their levels prior to placement?

“Yes….each student interviews with a teacher for placement.”

How are classes designed to accommodate students?  What does a day of classes normally consist of?

“Most people are interested in studying an hour or two at a time, once or twice per week.  We can be as flexible as the student needs.  Class times are available throughout the day, evenings, and weekends.”

How much do classes normally run?

“The cost depends on one’s individual level and the group size.  Classes start at $4 USD/class hour for small group beginner, $15 USD/class hour for private.”

How would you say the Spanish Institute is innovative and different from other SL language programs?

“We are the only program that is dedicated to the immersion method and has gone to the trouble to create a cultural program to benefit the student experience.”

Where do you see the Spanish Institute going in the future?

“The sky is the limit.  The teachers and cultural team are so excited and have so many ideas that there is little chance that could ever implement them all.  I’d personally be happy if we were sponsoring a real life language tour each summer.”

Do you have a link to a website?  How about access to photos during class sessions?

“The exterior website is under development.  I’m short on photos of class activities.  I might be able to get one of the cultural team to help you with that, or you are welcome to take your own.”

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me about The Spanish Institute.  I wish you the very best and success with the business.

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