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Linguae Vitae: Latin in Virtual Reality

Lissa Crofton-Sleigh

Santa Clara University

Greek and Latin have long suffered from being deemed “dead languages”. Enrollments have declined at many universities, and some students say that they do not think Latin and Greek apply to their own lives. The traditional methods of learning these languages can often have limited opportunities for student engagement. Many well-known textbooks (e.g., Wheelock’s Latin) tend to emphasize memorizing vocabulary and grammar. While very beneficial to students’ improvement of their English vocabulary and writing skills, textbooks often frustrate students due to little or no emphasis on speaking and creative/narrative writing skills, tools highly emphasized in modern languages. However, shifts in modern language acquisition, both in classroom settings and in the invention of apps such as Duolingo and Babbel, have led to new approaches in the teaching of ancient Greek and Latin at the secondary and post-secondary levels. These approaches include more oral communicative and cultural components and thinking along the lines of narrative and task-based learning. The new approaches help students to understand how important and vital these languages and the cultures which produced them are in comprehending our own place in the world as humans. Our approach is to take the concept of language immersion and apply it to a virtual immersive space, recreating the Roman Forum in 3D as it was when Latin was a spoken language. The goal is not to replace traditional textbooks, but to enhance their teachings using more modern and innovative learning strategies and tools. Through the creation of an interactive, virtual ancient environment we seek to eliminate the distance students often feel when studying cultures which thrived several millennia ago by making them feel that they have been transported to ancient Rome. We have crafted a narrative where the player takes on the role of a young poet, named Titus, documenting a military triumph in the late Republic. The player holds small conversations with a variety of characters as the narrative of the story unfolds. Through the use of narrative and interactive design we immerse the player in Latin as a spoken language.

In this paper, we will discuss the development of the project; preliminary research completed on virtual reality, education, and language acquisition; challenges we have faced along the way; the (promising) results of our preliminary user studies; and future steps. Through this project we hope to demonstrate that Latin is more appropriately a “language of life” (lingua vitae).

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