Virtual Reality and applications in language teaching for immigrants and refugees.

Today there are numerous applications and online tools that facilitate learning a foreign language. However, we have to ask ourselves whether all these tools are suitable for the needs of immigrants and refugees or for all types of immigrants. As part of the WELCOME, a solution in virtual environment has being developed to support language learning, which is an innovation in the project.

Almudena González and Marta Burgos (Método Estudios Consultores S.L), Vigo (Spain),


As initial point, the Metodo team has started to analyze and test the most popular apps on the market aimed at facilitating learning a foreign language. The apps have been tested in their version for IOs on iPhone and iPad. (Duolingo, Drops, Word of the day, Babbel and Mondly). The running of each test has had a variable duration between 3 weeks to 3 months. Mondly and Babbel have been tested in the web version through a computer as well.

The testing has been carried out taking into account the requirements and needs of the end users; in order to identify those aspects and needs that current tools do not cover. The advantages and barriers identified for each of the applications studied have been collected below.

1. Duolingo

Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning apps in the world. It offers a wide variety of languages, and its free version covers all levels. It is necessary to create an individual user profile that collects the user's personal information, native language, language to be learned, and the user's progress through the different lessons and levels.

Identified advantages:

  • The free version covers a large number of topics and levels.
  • Offers a wide variety of languages.
  • The visual aspect is attractive.
  • The user interface is simple and does not require advanced digital skills to navigate it.

Barriers detected:

  • Limit of errors per day: users in the free version have a limited number of errors in the activities each day. When the number of errors per day is reached, the student cannot continue with the course. The number of daily errors is 3.
  • There is no specific alphabet learning activity. When working with an alphabet different than the native one, it is very difficult to continue with the basic level without the help of other external materials.
  • Writing and pronunciation activities are introduced very early, so it is easy to make mistakes and not be able to continue with the activities because the course has been blocked. People with a low level of literacy will be easily demotivated.
  • It is not possible to freely navigate across the course; users must follow the marked itinerary; they cannot practice a topic of their interest freely. The user can go back to practicing finished topics; but users cannot advance according to your interests or needs.

Conclusions: Duolingo is an interesting tool for people with previous knowledge of a language and who want to expand their knowledge. Requires advanced reading and writing skills; the voice recognition functionality tends to mark the activity as an error if the student is not able to pronounce exactly the phrase in pronunciation exercises. Users with a very basic knowledge of a language may feel unmotivated with a very steep initial learning curve.

2. Drops

Drops focuses on learning vocabulary and simple expressions. It is necessary to create a user profile that collects the user’s mother tongue, their progress in the different lessons and that allows the user to configure the duration of the lessons in the paid version. In the free version, only one 5-minute lesson per day is allowed.

Identified advantages:

  • Free version available.
  • Covers a huge number of languages.
  • Covers a wide variety of languages.
  • It is very visual.
  • The student can choose the order of the topics to practice freely.
  • Includes a glossary of learned terms, which can be searched in the student's native language or in the language they are learning.
  • Includes the alphabet as an activity.

Detected barriers:

  • The free version only allows 5 minutes of practice per day.
  • Does not include complete dialogues for practice.
  • There are no explanations or opportunity to practice grammar.
  • The presentation of terms can be chaotic in some cases. For example, in the case of pronouns, not all personal pronouns are presented in an orderly way, but they are presented in a disorderly way and mixing personal pronouns with possessive pronouns, which can lead to confusion for the student.

Conclusions: Drops is an application that allows users to acquire a basic vocabulary in a multitude of languages, basic topics are worked on, from the alphabet to simple phrases, so it is suitable for users without previous knowledge. Once the user has mastered the basic vocabulary, it is necessary to complement this application with additional training to cover other aspects that the app does not work on, such as grammar or oral interaction.

3. Word of the day

Word of the day allows us to learn a new word every day in the languages we choose, for the paid version. The free version only offers English vocabulary allowing you to choose between British or American English. You do not need to fill in any registration information or create a student profile. The app has a very simple operation, the user chooses the variety of English of his preference, and every day he receives a new word to increase his vocabulary. The word of the day, a brief explanation of the meaning, and a sentence or two where that word is used is displayed; to facilitate a learning context. The app has a calendar, where the user can consult all the previous words in reverse chronological order. This application is aimed at users with a medium-advanced knowledge of a language and who wish to enrich their vocabulary in a simple way without consuming a large amount of time.

Identified advantages:

  • Installation and access are simple, as it does not require the creation of a user account.
  • It is available for both Android and IO mobile devices.
  • Offers the possibility of listening to the pronunciation of the words that are offered.
  • Provides information on the etymology of the term.
  • Offers practical examples so that we can incorporate this term into our usual vocabulary.

Barriers detected:

  • There are no levels of learning or customization, the end of the day is the same for all users.
  • Requires a medium-advanced knowledge of the language; in this case of English. Most of the terms that are presented are cultured or of unusual use. It is focused on enriching the vocabulary, even of native speakers.
  • The free version is only available in British English or American English. It is not possible to choose the word of the day in another language.

Conclusions: The Word of the day application is interesting for those users who, having a medium-advanced level of English, want to incorporate new terms to their vocabulary in a simple way that hardly consumes time. It is not recommended for users with an initial knowledge of the English language as the terms used are of unusual use.

4. Babbel

Babbel offers 14 different languages, for most of these languages it offers two levels, basic and intermediate. It is one of the most popular applications worldwide. It consists of a multi-device platform that works on computers, tablets or smartphones. When the user registers, they choose the language, as well as their motivation to learn that language (to study, work, travel, etc.), their previous level of knowledge of it (the options are: not much, somewhat, a lot) and the amount of daily time that the user wishes to dedicate to learning the new language, from 5 minutes to 60 minutes per day.

Identified advantages:

  • Up to 14 languages available, many of them offer two levels of learning, initial and advanced, in the languages that only one level is offered, said level is initial or basic.
  • At the basic level the application is mainly very visual and also offers support in audio format, which is useful for basic level students.
  • It is multi-device, that is, it can be accessed both from a computer and from a tablet or smartphone.

Barriers detected:

  • The lessons are grouped by theme, navigation between lessons is not totally free, and access to the lessons in the free version of the program is very limited. Only one lesson can be completed per day. To unblock the successive lessons it is necessary to make a paid subscription.
  • There is no initial basic vocabulary activity, or the alphabet in a structured way, which is quite important when trying to learn a language with a different alphabet than the native language.

Conclusions: The resources available in the free version are very limited. The learning curve for students without prior knowledge of the language is quite limited, in general, it is recommended for students who already have some prior knowledge of the language.

5. Mondly and Mondly augmented reality

Mondly is a language learning platform, which is complemented by an app that allows simulating conversations with bots in augmented reality. Users can register for free on the web or download the application on their tablet or smartphone. The website offers lessons in 33 languages. In its free version, students can register in one language only, to access more languages they must purchase a paid subscription.

This platform is complemented by an app for tablets and smartphones called Mondly AR. In this application, students can interact orally with a bot in augmented reality. In the free version of the app, students can only access the first lesson and practice basic forms of greetings. The other lessons are unlocked by purchasing the paid version. The app allows you to practice conversations in simulations of real environments.

Identified advantages:

  • 33 languages available, although in the free version the student can only register in one language.
  • Possibility of taking multiple lessons in the same day in the free version.
  • There is an application for tablet or mobile adapted to language learning for children.
  • Possibility of complementing traditional lessons with learning in augmented reality.
  • Offers brief grammatical explanations such as the conjugation of the verbs that are presented.

Barriers detected:

  • Impossibility of freely browsing the content available in the free version. The lessons must be completed in the order marked in order to continue advancing in the contents.
  • There is no basic activity for learning the alphabet, which makes it difficult to learn languages with an alphabet other than the native language.
  • It requires some prior knowledge of the language, even at the basic level, since sentence translation or pronunciation activities are presented immediately, which can demotivate students with a low level of prior knowledge of the language.
  • The augmented reality application offers very few functionalities in its free version.

Conclusions: Taking into account all the applications analyzed, Mondly with the Mondly Augmented Reality is the most advanced from the point of view of new technologies applied to language teaching.


As general conclusion, can be underlined that the majority of the analyzed applications require a previous level of literacy and a prior handling of technology. It can be concluded that the target audience for this type of application is above all students who, on many occasions, already know a second language and want to learn a third language or improve or refresh their language skills. Most of these applications are generalist, that is, except for the exception of Chinese or English, they are not specific to a single language, but several languages can be studied with the same application.

None of them are aimed at immigrants or refugees who need to acquire a series of language skills in order to function fluently in the host society, who may have low levels of literacy, limited technological skills or have mother tongues with a different alphabet.

As is said above, most of the language learning applications are aimed at students or people who already know a language and want to improve their knowledge and skills or want to learn another language after becoming functional in a second language. While they seek to be interactive and visual, they are not aimed at the public of migrants or refugees who have other needs and interests. In their case, they do not seek a linguistic certification or improve their knowledge in a foreign language, but rather have the knowledge and skills that allow them to live independently in the host society.

From this approach, virtual reality offers an opportunity to combine real spaces and situations, and introduce cultural issues in specific situations, making the general context much closer to reality.

Both the approach directed at migrants and refugees a with needs different from those of the students, as well as the insertion of cultural aspects constitute an innovation within the WELCOME project and we hope to be able to create in this way a useful tool for the reception and integration of the immigrants and refugees in host societies. This part of the WELCOME project has been presented by the Metodo team in different international forums related to education and new technologies, such as FORO AVA and CSE Conference, being received with expectation and underlining the added value of teaching languages tools adapted to the needs and expectations of immigrants and refugees.


support of migrants and refugees language teaching personalized embodied conversation agents social and societal inclusion decision support multilingual language technologies virtual/augmented reality knowledge processing