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Immersive Spanish learning

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Mi Casa is a very special sim to learn Spanish in a totally immersive environment. It was created by Calisto Encinal for his students, people who visit the sim are astonished by all the learning activities they find. I think it is the best language learning sim I have ever visited.

Calisto is not a programmer, but by the looks of his creation he is a multi-talented and passionate language teacher showing what teachers can achieve in Second Life. Mi Casa means my house in Spanish and so started the sim, with only a house, but over the years it has become a complete village where students can simulate a holiday or even a whole year as exchange students abroad. Abroad, that is in a Mexican village. Any teacher who can't afford to take a whole class to a Spanish speaking country to show students the culture and let them interact in a new environment at the same time, will realize the advantages of Mi Casa.

Let's start with the square and park in the middle where students land for the first time, there is a box containing a hud that helps students with hints needed to complete some activities. That is where they start their tour. The objects in the sim (banks, bins, fountain etc.) have their names floating on top of them in Spanish and English. Around the park there are different places to visit like: Pharmacy, market, bank, baker, flower shop, coffee shop, restaurant, hotel, church, school, dry cleaners, cinema, gallery, mine, beach etc. Those are the main places to interact, although the sim goes further and has even excavation sites, boats and other buildings at the back. Everywhere you can find activities and ideas to learn Spanish. Before you enter a building, you click on the number of the building outside and it will give you a note card telling you what kind of exercises your students can do in the place you are about to visit. Calisto really thought of everything, teachers do not need to be experts on anything when they come here, but they can leave as experts after going through all exercises. Even experts can find new ideas for their SL lessons here.

If students are beginners learning vocabulary as well as verbs, they should go to the house first. In the house you can find all objects you need to refresh vocabulary and you can start building sentences by demonstrating actions using common verbs, like "I am sitting down in the living room right now" or "I am sleeping" "Tom is having a shower" or "We are sitting at the table." You can also tell your students what they should do like "go upstairs" and they have to act. You can go round the house and just learn or review vocabulary. More advanced students can even write in Simple Past what they did in the house after visiting. Students can also pretend to be staying with a family there and can describe the house to their parents via email in Spanish or English. A bit more advanced students can start interacting at the market, bank, restaurant, etc. There is also the chance to bring two groups in and have them do conversation exercises or sketches. As Calisto has shown, there is no limit to imagination and creativity in a 3D World.

The next place I would take students to is the cinema and the mine before taking them to the verb game. The cinema is a great place to be as you can really watch films in there. The film of films to watch is how Calisto, the avatar, goes to real life to meet his creator. "Calisto Meets his Maker" The film tells a wonderful story I won't give away here. More creativity? You will find it everywhere in the sim.

One place I absolutely love is the mine because there students learn the conjugation of the Spanish verbs (which normally gives lots of headaches to students and teachers) by playing. It is a great activity to practice the conjugation of irregular verbs (stones) by putting them in different containers. That activity is more likely to help remembering endings than learning a long list by heart.  In case students are advanced and want a challenge, you can take them to the verb game (nothing for arachnophobics) In the game, students should be able to conjugate verbs fast or huge tarantulas will come to get them. I tried the game and even sat on one tarantula, nothing really happens to your avatar, but one of my colleagues in California had nightmares in the night after we tested the game. Calisto  wants to put more games in the sim. I am sure they will be as exciting as the one we tried out.

The absolute hit is the school full of interactive games in two classrooms. There is a classroom for beginners with games to practice vocabulary and essential sentences and a classroom for more advanced students with more sophisticated activities plus interactive books, lots of resources for teachers, links to homepage etc. A real treasure. I can't tell how many times I have been to Mi Casa and I still have not seen it all. There is always something new to discover.

It is hard to imagine that  Calisto's amazing work in SL is threatened to end every year. Each year, he has to find a sponsor in order to keep the sim running. It would be such a shame to lose so many years of creative work and dedication. I see Mi Casa as a role model for other language learning sims. Can we afford to lose valuable innovative education projects because of money matters? Perhaps SL can not always change RL for better, after all.

More about Calisto Encinal and his work:

Second Life, Media, and the Other Society von Phylis Johnson


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