The desire to communicate across linguistic barriers is driving a lot of experimentation in the online world. While we wait for translation software to improve, people around the world are studying Chinese in order to get closer to the Chinese people, and Chinese are studying English. Virtual environments are starting to provide platforms for Chinese and others to learn from one another. Here are a few projects that point the way forward:
IBM’s John Tolva alerted me to the Confucius Institute at Michigan State University, which has two efforts I’m particularly interested in. The first is an MMO (massively multiplayer online game) called Chengo Chinese. From the game’s design framework, available at the Confucius Institute MSU website: The new Chengo Chinese [will consist] of four virtual worlds: “villages”, “towns”, “cities” and “cosmopolitans”. The four virtual worlds will progress with increasing complexity, advancing from ancient times to modern times and from countryside to cities. Those different virtual worlds represent a variety of cultures and living styles, and teach different cultural contents and language in correspondence with learners’ language proficiency and cultural knowledge. Learners will start with “villages” and advance into “towns” after they grasp a certain level of Chinese language and cultural knowledge and reach a certain point. [In addition,] the players can choose five career paths in this game, which include: scholar, businessman, kongfu master, officer and historian or archeologist. Players encounter different experiences based on their individual career choice. Furthermore, players with different career goals co-exist in the virtual worlds and interact with each other. In addition, the game also contains many artificial intelligence ‘robots” (i-bots) that can interact with the players.
The Confucius Institute is also in the process of purchasing an island on the online world Second Life, which they plan to equip as a kind of virtual language learning and cultural experience. (Rebecca MacKinnon notes here that Second Life doesn’t support Chinese characters as of yet).
ChinesePod, as most readers of this blog will already know, continues to be one of the earliest and most innovative Chinese language programs using podcasting. They offer free, daily podcasts with humor and intelligence, backed by careful linguistic expertise and years of experience of living in China as a speaker of Chinese as a second language. They also offer business vocabulary and a blog to discuss learning issues.