Launchpad 2017
Lia Sauder

Lia Sauder

Language Project Specialist


Language Project Specialist: Lia Sauder

Primary Audience: Government/Adult Education

Diplomatic Language Services supports language training for adults working for the federal government. Since 2019, DLS has been building a virtual reality (VR) platform for culture-based and task-based language learning. DLS VR officially launched in 2021. A language student and language instructor visit virtual environments together during class time, completing real-life tasks like ordering a meal, booking a hotel room, conducting a business negotiation, etc. The authentic imagery in VR creates a cultural context in which students can both review their existing language and cultural knowledge while running into new vocabulary and important cultural elements. This supplements intensive classroom language training and prepares students to interact authentically in the target language.

LaunchPad Questions

During the LaunchPad, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions about the products. The Tech Center shared those questions with the entrepreneurs and here are the responses. 

What kind of tasks are students completing?

Students complete various tasks in a DLS VR module, based on their language proficiency level. Students do VR modules one on one with an instructor or with 1-2 other students of a similar level. The types of tasks they complete include:

  • Role plays: Buying food at a restaurant or street stand; ordering tickets; describing a building, the view or a painting; checking in to a hotel; having a business negotiation
  • Listen to an embedded audio about the location they’re visiting, and answer questions.
  • View a sign and determine its main message.
  • Question and Answer with their instructor about what they are observing physically and culturally in the VR module.
  • Converse about abstract topics like pollution, tourism, war, and influence of religion in society.
  • And more

Pre-work and post-work tasks are included for each VR module. These tasks can be completed in English or the target language, depending on students’ levels.

Pre-work tasks may include:

  • Study these vocabulary words you are likely to use in the VR module.
  • Watch a video about the place you are going to visit in VR and take notes.
  • Preview points of interest you’ll see in the VR module.
  • Read historical context about the location you’ll explore. Pre-work tasks are designed to build background knowledge about the place students will visit in VR (ex. Petra in Jordan, Wat Pho Buddhist temple in Thailand). This way, students go into the VR environment with some context for the culturally significant location they will be visiting in VR. This scaffolds the experience and facilitates question asking, and better understanding of audios embedded in VR.

Post-work tasks may include:

  • What did you learn about the region you visited? – Write a review about the location you visited, sharing your thoughts and recommendations as if you were rating it on a travel website.
  • Compare and contrast the target culture with US culture, based on what you learned.
  • Write a letter to a friend about the place you visited, sharing what you did and your opinions of the experience.
  • Prepare a presentation about the place(s) you visited.

Post-work tasks are designed to facilitate reflection on the VR experience and expand proficiency skills for a meaningful conclusion to the VR experience.

Any plans to make this a tool that students can use independently to learn?

Yes! This is in process. The idea is that students could use the DLS VR desktop version to complete VR modules on their own or as a flipped learning approach, before coming to class to discuss the material. Accompanying tasks would be set up in their pre-existing LMS course. We have asynchronous modules being piloted for Chinese classes.

DLS VR was designed as an interpersonal tool to facilitate cultural learning about specific locations in the target region. Currently, DLS VR is most valuable in a 1:1, 1:2, or 1:3 teacher-student ratio, with natural conversation in the target language happening as students and instructor explore the VR environment together. With asynchronous modules, more listening and reading tasks need to be built into the module to make it more independently engaging. We are working on that option to diversify availability.

Quotes can be requested by emailing

Can it be used without the VR hardware by looking at it on another device screen?

Yes! Desktop version of DLS VR is available, though it’s a more immersive experience to use it on a headset. It works on Android devices as well, through a Chrome or Microsoft Edge browser tab. Sample modules can be viewed at

Make sure to turn up your volume to hear the background sound effects while journeying through the module.

Can the students create the tours themselves?

That capability is available, yes.

Do teachers have to create all their own tasks or can they select from premade ones?

A limited number of pre-made modules are available for the languages that are currently offered: Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Thai. Lesson plans with suggested tasks are included for each VR module.

Do the tasks come with the pictures? Do the teachers create the tasks?

DLS VR modules are created from 360-degree photographs. Additional photos and videos can be embedded inside a module, which can be interacted with as a task. We provide a sample lesson plan with our pre-made modules, which offer suggested tasks to do within a module (ex. Describe the building in front of you; What colors do you notice around here?; Tell me the main point of that billboard) etc. Teachers are free to add their own tasks spontaneously during their live VR session with students. Teachers would also be able to create their own module and thus their own tasks.

Does the system require an instructor to lead activities or can students learn autonomously?

With the current setup, an instructor is required for the VR portion. Pre-work and post-work tasks can be completed autonomously.

We are piloting asynchronous (autonomous) modules where the student explores in VR and completes related tasks in their learning management system.

Does the VR journey introduce cultural diversity in each context?

Yes, culture is a big part of what is taught in DLS VR classes. Cultural objectives are listed as part of each module, along with language objectives, to tune students’ attention to cultural elements of the VR module.

Exposing students to cultural diversity in the sense of different ethnic groups or regions of the country would be achieved by students completing multiple VR modules located in region-specific places, and/or through in-class discussion plus pre- and post-work activities.

How do teachers interact with and support students using VR in class?

Teachers join the VR environment with their students, and they explore the location together. Since they are connecting live (either in-person, online, or hybrid), teachers communicate back and forth with students in the target language. It’s a real conversation. Teachers direct students’ attention to landmarks, cultural artifacts, etc. and prompt the student(s) to share their observations, questions, and opinions. They facilitate role-plays, reflect with students about the VR experience. Teachers also provide cultural and regional context for the place students will or have seen in VR using the pre- and post-work tasks and their own knowledge.

How do you evaluate language proficiency?

Language proficiency evaluation is not currently part of DLS VR itself, though we have brainstormed ways to use DLS VR for language assessment purposes. DLS as an organization would obtain proficiency level from students/schools and could also offers language proficiency tests (speaking, listening, reading) to determine a student’s level, but this is completely separate from DLS VR.

In a DLS VR module, tasks would be adjusted to suit the student’s proficiency level.

I get the whole language/culture mixture. Is that mix applicable and the same for students at different language proficiency levels?

Yes and no. We design VR modules tasks to be approximately level 1+ or 2 on the ILR scale (Intermediate High to Advanced Low on the ACTFL scale), to target the middle range of all students’ potential proficiency. In a VR module, students’ tasks are then adapted by the instructor to account for what students can do in the target language. In the lesson plans, certain tasks include an option to adapt the task for a higher level. Lower level students would focus more on colors, weather, vocabulary identification, asking simple questions, etc.

Is this accessible for low-income schools?

Due to it being originally developed for language learners of government agencies, DLS VR unfortunately is not well suited for low-income schools.

Is this compatible with desktop or mobile?

Yes! Desktop version of DLS VR is available, though it’s a more immersive experience to use it on a headset. It works on Android devices as well, through a Chrome or Microsoft Edge browser tab. Sample modules can be viewed online: Go to, then click “Explore Alone”.

It is not an app. The platform is accessible through a browser tab on a Meta Quest 2 or Quest Pro headset, Chromium-based desktop or laptop browsers, or Android phones.

Is this text learning only or voice learning ?

DLS VR focuses on speaking and listening skills as its two main modalities. This is because of the interaction between instructor and student(s) that happens live within the VR environment. Students may read signs or menus as a task within the VR module, but reading and writing are not main components of the platform.

There is a question of accessibility as this is mostly visual. Any options for screen reading or alternative presentation methods of pertinent information?

Yes, this tool relies on visual and oral abilities. We have tried to incorporate accessibility features where possible, so the navigation icons used inside the VR modules are a certain color so they stand out from the background. There is also the ability to turn on one’s video inside of the VR environment, so sign languages could feasibly be used.

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The Language Flagship Technology Innovation Center is funded under a grant from the Institute of International Education (IIE), acting as the administrative agent of the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO) for The Language Flagship. One should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. Project P.I.: Dr. Julio C. Rodriguez