Doing Virtually Nothing

Doing Virtually Nothing


Massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG) are persistent three-dimensional (3D) worlds in which player controlled avatars go on quests and interact socially with other players’ avatars. At any given moment, thousands of players from around the world are communicating and collaborating with other players from various language groups and cultures in real time. However, “because millions of gamers and online socializers have been participating in these worlds for several years, complex cultures concerning in-world conduct have emerged” (Moore, Ducheneaut, & Nickell, 2007, p. 270). Most MMORPGs use text-based chat for communication with other in-world players and over the years word abbreviations, game specific vocabulary, ‘leets’ (use of numbers and symbols to write words), and emoticons (use of symbols to express emotions) have evolved to facilitate communication on various levels. In-game communication directly affects group collaboration and social interaction. The linguistic challenge that text-based chat presents to the players is overcome with various phenomena. In this research project, Moore et al. (2007) investigated the communication patterns of players and the lack of visual and vocal cues that come into play during normal conversations in the text-based chats. The main questions addressed in this paper are the phenomena of “…(1) the real-time unfolding of turns-at-talk; (2) the observability of embodied activities; and (3) the direction of eye gaze for the purpose of gesturing” (Moore et al., 2007, p. 274).

The authors used the participant observation technique of virtual ethnography that studies people, in this case avatars, in their natural setting. Whereas ethnomethodology studies real people in real settings, virtual ethnology studies avatars and their behavior in virtual settings. The authors immersed themselves in the games in order to avoid disrupting the flow of the games. Participants were not selected. As the authors played the various MMORPG games of Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), World of Warcraft (WoW), EverQuest II (EQ2), EverQuest Online Adventures (EQOA), Second Life (SL), and There (Moore et al., 2007), they video-recorded social interactions and communications as they occurred while participating in the various activities like normal players. The number of participants recorded varied over the number of hours video-taped.

The authors used the methods of ethnomethodology and virtual ethnography to unobtrusively participate in and observe over 200 hours of game play and conversations. Conversation analysis was used to identify and describe the social interaction and conversations in the games. By using these grounded theories, they were able to compare the social interaction and dialogues of MMORPG avatars to real-life dialogues. After collecting and analyzing the transcripts, the authors discussed the findings in a narrative format. They used excerpted examples from the transcripts that illustrated the specific points being discussed.

The authors used the participant observation technique to gather information about the social interaction and non-verbal and verbal cues of other gamers’ avatars. They created their own avatars, and like regular gamers, they made friends, joined social and working groups, and went on quests, etc. Because the authors wanted to observe actual interactions without having their ‘researcher role’ interfere with or affect the outcomes, most of the players were not aware that ‘researchers’ were observing them. Real-life identities were unknown to both the researchers and other players alike due to the adoption of pseudonyms and personae for their avatars. Therefore, there were no questionnaires or interviews in the study. The authors were able to download the text-based chat directly from the game and the video screen-captures (Moore et al., 2007). Field notes of visual actions were noted alongside the appropriate text.

The authors found that computer-mediated communication between avatars interrupts the turns-at-talk features of real conversations. Whereas in real-life conversations have gaps of around 0.1 seconds (Moore et al., 2007) between speakers taking turns, the text-based chat does not allow a conversation to flow naturally and it has gaps that vary from 0.5 to 7.4 seconds (Moore et al., 2007). While one avatar is typing an answer, the other avatar may already be typing another question or making another comment. Due to different rates of typing and the subsequent reading of responses, it is the norm to see conversations with at least two main threads or topics and more being discussed simultaneously. However, players quickly get used to multiple thread conversations as this has been a feature of instant-message chatting in other platforms for over a decade. The authors found that only the virtual world There had close to real-time chat systems with much shorter turn taking. These time gaps in communication affected collaboration in activities like hunting and monster killing.

Moore et al. (2007) also found that the lack of visual cues affected communication because there were no external hints as to what a player was doing when they were looking through inventories, reading books, looking at maps, or chatting with someone else in private chats. The avatars simply stand motionless ‘like zombies’ (Moore et al., 2007, p. 283). Players had to rely on explicit communication from avatars that explained what they were doing and what they were planning to do.


It is true that there are longer time lags between text-based chat compared to real-life dialogue, but the ability to maintain a conversation with multiple threads may speed up the exchange of information. In addition, with the use of abbreviations, ‘leets,’ and game vocabulary, a lot of information can be expressed in a small amount of text. Time lags are just one feature of conversation. Real-life dialogues may actually take longer to exchange the same amount of information due to having to speak in sentences, without abbreviations and symbols, and with whole words. No one talks in text-based symbols and abbreviations, but these actually speed up the rate of information exchange in the shortest manner possible. A study that compares how much information is exchanged between text-based chat versus voice-based chat in player-vs-player (PvP) and clan war activities might be interesting. Perhaps the rate of information exchange compensates for the increase in turn-taking lag time.

For group raids and wars, players are already using Skype and RaidCall to coordinate deadly activities through voice-chat. It would be interesting to compare this voice-based chat to text-based chat activities because the chaos of communicating battle instructions verbally may not be faster than text-based chat.

Threats to validity or undocumented bias on the part of the researcher(s)

The authors list six games that were played “…sometimes for as much as 12 hours per week” (Moore et al., 2007, p. 268). However, that is an average of 2 hours per week per game. Over 200 hours of gameplay were recorded, so that is an average of 34 hours of in-game playing per game (Moore et al., 2007, p. 269). Although this would allow the authors to record quite a bit of interaction among players, this would still place the authors at the ‘noob’ (rank beginner) level of the game. MMORPG games generally ‘open up’ or become more involved as the player pursues activities, completes quests, and becomes more skilled. Players typically play on average 22.72 hours per week in their MMORPG game (Yee, 2006). Other studies have similar statistics. Although the authors were measuring time lags in talking, they also focused on perceived problems with communication pertaining to lack of visual cues. While these observations may be valid for a ‘noob,’ there is the distinct possibility that if they were participating with high-level players then good netiquette would come into play. For instance, it is good and expected netiquette to advise other players that one is ‘afk’ for a sec (away from keyboard for a second), ‘brb’ (be right back), or ‘pm’ing’ (private messaging which cannot be seen in public). Experienced and/or high level players that are collaborating on a group activity usually warn their team about real-life interference that might affect the outcome. About the only times a high level/experienced player doesn’t explain his inattention to a group is when his/her computer disconnects unexpectedly (which is explained with ‘dc’ when the player manages to log back into the game), or when a real-life emergency interferes with the gameplay (such as one’s mother, significant other, or child cutting off the power). More experienced players and users of text-based chat also have a wide range of learned ‘leets’ and emoticons for quickly expressing emotions and expressions that would simulate visual cues to a great extent. ‘Noobs’ would not be aware of this because it is a part of the socialization and takes time. In addition, because of their low skill levels, most ‘noobs’ do not ‘hang out’ with high-level players and vice-versa.

The authors state that “[i]n general, entirely private player activities should be avoided. Players can better coordinate their actions when they can see what the other is doing” (Moore et al., 2007, p. 298). Although Moore et al. (2007) believe that social interactions and coordination would be enhanced, it would actually destroy the ability of players to surprise the enemy on the battlefield. Most MMORPGs include combat as a main feature of the game. While it is true that players have had to learn to communicate explicitly through the text-based chat system in order to effectively tell the other players what they are doing, broadcasting to the general public your combat preparations and plans would seriously affect the strategies in the game. In PvP and group wars, living and dying depend on the ability to keep one’s war preparations secret until the enemy is dead. To expose one’s private arrangements of armor and spells to the public view of everyone would render combat impossible. This, in itself, demonstrates a rather inexperienced understanding of the many layers of social interaction in MMORPGs on the part of the authors.

Another problem is that the combat oriented MMORPGs are being evaluated along with Second Life and There. Second Life and There are based on entirely different concepts of social interaction. Although they are also multi-user, they tend to be more social or educational than combat and fantasy oriented and players do not level up skills.

Another suggestion by the authors that clearly illustrates their observer status is that they assume players want their avatars to become fully functional vehicles of expression in real-time.

“Perhaps the most promising current approach is that of real-time motion capture in which a camera and other sensors are used to track a players body motions in real time and transfer them to their avatar. Players could then use their own bodies and faces as joysticks in puppeteering their avatars” (Moore et al., 2007, p. 301).

As observers, they may not totally be able to relate to long-term gamers. Real players come from a wide range of demographics and they multi-task. Yees research revealed that out of approximately 30,000 unique users that the median age of players was 25 with a range from 11 to 68. Contrary to popular belief, only 25% were found to be teenagers, while 50% worked full-time, 36% were married, and 22% had children. The MMORPG gamers consisted of teenagers, college students, early adult professionals, middle-aged homemakers, and retirees (2006, p. 193). The authors are assuming that players sit at the console and have the luxury of focusing only on the game. In reality, there is a high percentage of gamers that multi-task while playing. Some play more than one MMORPG at a time, while others watch TV, DVDs, listen to music, do homework, housework, or answer emails. I personally, have not met one player that did not admit to doing something concurrently while playing MMORPGs. Given that Yee’s (2006) demographics describe a wide range of people with real-life responsibilities, it would be not be unusual to find that they also demonstrate the same behavior patterns and multi-task while playing MMORPGs. Few players would have the time to hook themselves up to wires and cameras that would restrict them to one task at a time game or real-life activity at a time.


Moore, R. J., Ducheneaut, N., & Nickell, E. (2007). Doing virtually nothing: Awareness and accountability in massively multiplayer online worlds. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 16, 265-305. doi: 10.1007/s10606-006-9021-4

Yee, N. (2006). The psychology of massively multi-user online role-playing games: Motivations, emotional investment, relationships and problematic usage. R. Schroeder & A. S. Axelsson (Eds.).Avatars at work and play: Collaboration and interaction in shared virtual environments (Computer supported cooperative work) (pp. 187-207). Netherlands: Springer.






Brain Plasticity, Multiple Intelligences, and Foreign Languages

Second Language Acquisition and

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory and Brain Plasticity

Much has been written about how foreign languages should be taught and what the optimum age is for a student to begin second language acquisition. Maftoon and Sarem (2012) review the importance of the intellectual abilities that student learners bring to the classroom and their influence on the learning process. In their discussion of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Maftoon and Sarem (2012) point out that not all learners’ intellectual capabilities are equal and that the same lecture can be received and assimilated in different ways depending on the students’ intelligence aptitudes. Maftoon and Sarem (2012) point out that “according to Gardner’s theory of ‘multiple intelligences’, people vary in terms of eight types of intelligence, namely visual, verbal, mathematical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and rhythmic intelligence” (p. 1233). These different types of intelligences help to define how students will learn a foreign language, how fast and efficiently they will learn it, and how it will affect their motivation in learning it. In addition, research into brain plasticity has begun to dismantle former assumptions about when and how students learn languages. It is important to review the various findings about Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and Brain Plasticity in reference to foreign language learning in order to improve our understanding of Second Language Acquisition.

Formerly, intelligence was mainly measured by focusing on the logical and linguistic intelligence of students until Gardner proposed that there were many more types of intelligence that were just as valid. The IQ tests tend to focus on analytic intelligence because it is easily measured and easily taught with the current methods of teaching. These tests affected the teaching methods of all content areas. However, there is a lot of controversy about the IQ tests being ethnically or racially biased and their failure to capture other types of intelligence such as creative and practical intelligence. In addition, the tests are administered at one age period of time in the child’s life which does not accommodate for late bloomers, early starters, children held back a year in school, or brain plasticity. The stigma of the IQ score stays with the child throughout his/her academic career and life. People still brag or bemoan their IQ scores late into adult life, regardless of whether they have lived up to their predicted potential or have become classic underachievers.

Because of the research on Second Language Acquisition and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, teachers now incorporate different methods of engaging students in the learning process. For example, “Suggestopedia uses drama and visual aids as keys to unlock a students learning potential; in this approach music plays the greatest role in facilitating learning (musical intelligence” (Maftoon & Sarem, 2012, p. 1239). “Total Physical Response, however, emphasizes language learning through physical action (bodily/kinesthetic intelligence” (Maftoon & Sarem, 2012, p. 1239). Teachers are encouraged to stimulate as many of the multiple intelligences as possible in their lesson plans so that students will have the benefit of developing both their stronger and weaker intelligences. The better the students develop all of their intelligences, the more well-rounded they will become. It will also serve to activate many different neural pathways to the information that the students are trying to store when learning a new language. However, Gardner’s theory assumes that the student has a critical time period and a limited amount of time and intelligence to learn a second language effectively.

In addition to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence work, there have been advances in brain research and brain imaging that demonstrate that there are physical differences exhibited by the brain when learning new foreign languages and their corresponding sound systems. Schlegel, Rudelson, and Tse (2012) researched the role of brain plasticity in adult learners of a second foreign language. Previous theories held that the brain develops in childhood and adolescent and that after that period of time second language acquisition or the learning of new knowledge becomes limited because there is a critical period for learning new languages. Their study focused on eleven English speakers who took an intensive course in Chinese for nine months. Brain imaging has allowed researchers to see what is happening inside the brain instead of guessing from second hand observation. Previous theories held that language learning was limited to restricted areas in the brain. “Recent neuroimaging research has challenged this view by uncovering a widespread network of language processing areas in both hemispheres of the brain” (Schlegel et al., 2012, p. 1664). Second language acquisition theories are being challenged from all sides by different areas of science. Schlegel et al.’s (2012) research “…used longitudinal diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to track the structural white matter changes…” and “…found changes in white matter both within and beyond those regions identified in current neural models of language processing” (p. 1664). The results of the study found “systematic, learning-dependent changes in white matter tracts between known language processing regions and additionally in a bihemispheric frontal network whose axons pass through the genu of the corpus callosum…” (p. 1669). “These findings indicate that structural plasticity plays a role in language learning even among adults” (Schlegel et al., 2012, p. 1669). Therefore, the brain is not a static organ that ceases to grow and develop once a certain chronological age is attained. This adds a new dimension to the debate of Age of Acquisition in language learning and current theories of second language acquisition.

Golestani, Molko, Dehaene, LeBihan, and Pallier (2007) found that “…the ability to distinguish them [new phonemes] relies on perceptual and neural systems designed to process very rapidly changing information” (p. 575). They demonstrated that the white matter (WM) density in the auditory region of the left Heschl’s gyrus (HG) was greater with those who were faster learners of foreign speech sounds than those who were slower. Golestani et al. (2007) also proposed that differences in WM volume can be due to greater myelination and/or a greater number of WM fibers connecting HG to regions such as the secondary auditory cortex, as well as to other brain regions involved in speech and speech sound processing, such as the parietal and frontal cortices. If the differences are due to greater myelination, this would allow faster conduction of neural signals, resulting in more efficient neural processing…” (p. 580)

Although Golestani et al. (2007) demonstrated that structural differences exist in those who learn languages faster, it was not demonstrated that those differences were the cause of the faster learning or if the structural differences were developed due to learning new languages in the first place. As Golestani et al. (2007) observed, “interestingly, larger GM volumes of HG have been found bilaterally in musicians compared with nonmusicians” (p. 580). Does the learning of the new language or instrument develop the brain? Schlegel et al.’s (2012) research would seem to support that the plasticity of the brain itself changes the structure and increases the grey and white matter as the student learns new skills and information. Does the brain really cease to develop once a chronological age is reached? Golestani et al. (2007) did not address this question.

Theories of second language acquisition have held that the brain looses the ability to effectively learn new languages once the student becomes an adult. Steinhauer, White, and Drury (2008) worked with miniature versions of natural languages and artificial miniature languages to evaluate the way brains react to perceived grammatical errors. Their work concentrated on the question of age of acquisition (AoA) of second language acquisition and the so-called critical period of language acquisition for attaining native like proficiency. Their electrophysiological data addressed the issues concerning neurocognitive mechanisms and critical periods in the acquisition of L2 grammar. Their research is important because of the debate that native speaking foreign language teachers are naturally better teachers than non-native speakers. It also is important because if it is true that AoA matters, then American students who begin learning a second language in high school or university will never be able to hope to attain enough fluency to be able to use that skill and compete with native speakers in the workforce.

Steinhauer et al. (2008) examined event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to see how the brain deals with language. “Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) reflect the real-time electrophysiological brain dynamics of cognitive processes with an excellent time resolution in the range of milliseconds” (Steinhauer et al., 2008. p. 16). The article reviewed the research of Japanese-German bilinguals and French-Chinese bilinguals. It was interesting to note that the older learns who ranged in age from 12 to 36 years showed results consistent with their proficiency of the L2 language. In other words, those with higher proficiency in the L2 language showed more native-like brain responses to grammar violations “…that was statistically indistinguishable from that of the native speakers” (Steinhauer et al., 2008, p. 22). The same pattern was found with English participants learning Spanish, another study of Japanese learners of English, and another of German learners of Italian. All of these late AoA learners of high proficiency showed the same brain patterns in recognizing grammar errors as native speakers. “In summary, the foregoing findings strongly suggest that it is possible for L2 learners to elicit native-like ERP patterns” (Steinhauer et al., 2008, p. 24).

Hinton, Miyamoto, and Della-Chiesa (2008) state that ” A major contribution of neuroscience to education is the scientific confirmation that the brain develops through a dynamic and continuous interaction between biology and experience” (p. 88). Teachers must incorporate Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theories into their lesson plans in order to stimulate as much of the brain as possible and encourage its development and growth. “Skill theory recognizes that proficiency can be reached through multiple developmental pathways” (Hinton et al., 2008, p. 88) and that the brain changes and develops over time. This understanding of the brain’s plasticity and development contradicts labeling children and language learners at a given point in time and stigmatizing them with that label for the rest of their lives. As Hinton et al. (2008) explain, synaptic “connections with relatively high activity are stabilized and strengthened, while connections with relatively low activity are weakened and, eventually, eliminated. As connections between neurons are modified, the brain is gradually shaped to reflect experience” (p. 89).

Human beings are complex creations and mankind is still learning about how students learn and how the brain reacts to different learning situations. As science becomes more advanced with neural imaging, the research is requiring old theories to be reevaluated. Policy makers try to mainstream the learning experience as if all students emerge from a few molds and the molds forever determine what that student will be. However, “…data support the emerging view that the adult brain retains a robust capacity for reorganization with learning. Like a muscle that grows with use, the brain appears capable of expanding the functionality of networks involved in learning by altering the underlying anatomy through myelination” (Schlegel et al., 2012, p. 1669). Both children and adults have the capacity to learn new skills and reshape their brains. Science will probably always be striving to understand how the brain functions, learns and develops. Teachers have the privilege of helping students to develop their multiple intelligences and to learn new skills. As a tutor, I have helped many floundering students who were written off by their teachers to learn the necessary math skills to continue on to graduation. The brain is capable and the teacher must be willing to invest time and skill in helping the student to learn.


Hinton, C., Miyamoto, K., & Della-Chiesa, B. (2008). Brain research, learning and emotions: Implications for education research, policy and practice. European Journal of Education, 43(1), 87-103. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3435.2007.00336.x

Golestani, N., Molko1, N., Dehaene, S., LeBihan, D., & Pallier, C. (2007). Brain structure predicts the learning of foreign speech sounds. Cerebral Cortex, 17, 575-582. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhk001

Maftoon, P. & Sarem, S. N. (2012). The realization of Gardner’s multiple intelligences (MI) theory in second language acquisition (SLA). Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 3(6), 1233-1241. doi:10.4304/jltr.3.6.1233-1241

Schlegel, A. A., Rudelson, J. J., & Tse, P. U. (2012). White matter structure changes as adults learn a second language. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24(8), 16641670. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00240

Steinhauer, K., White, E. J., & Drury, J. E. (2009). Temporal dynamics of late second language acquisition: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Second Language Research, 25(1), 13-41. doi: 10.1177/0267658308098995



Using a MMORPG for Learning Languages – Part 1

Using a MMORPG for an Immersive

Communicative Foreign Language Activity


In May of 2009, I was recuperating from a sprained ankle and minor surgery on the shoulder. I was restricted to the couch for a while and my daughters, who are full-blown Generation Y Millennial children offered me a solution to ease my boredom. With much hesitation, they suggested that I create an avatar and join them in an immersive virtual world known all over the world as Runescape. It is a testimony to the degree of boredom, that I succumbed and complied. I had never been even remotely interested in TV or computer games. I had seen the first Ping-Pong game produced by Magnavox and was only momentarily awed. My daughters sat on either side of me and coached me through the game’s Tutorial Island where a player learns how to operate his avatar and learn what combat skills are. As a novice, I was hopeless. I almost gave up and became a permanent resident of Tutorial Island. However, my patient children donated thirty minutes to making sure I killed the chicken and got off the island intact. Thus began the adventures of FoggyDreamer. First of all, let me say that I was enthralled to find that I could chat with all of my six children when they were in-game, even though they lived in different states. My second son took me up to some magic arena and explained how to play the game. We spent a very enjoyable hour hurling spells and chatting about what he was doing in college and his part-time job. The next day, another daughter logged-on and showed me how to complete a quest that she assured me would grant all kinds of envious privileges in the game. While we trotted our avatars around the continents gathering up the quest items, she filled me in on how her new job was going where she had moved a few months before. Later, two of my daughters, who both lived in different cities, joined me on-line to complete another quest and exchange the latest news in their life. I was now totally enthusiastic about the social aspects of being able to talk to my children and relate to them on a completely different social level. The only thing that bothered me in the back of my mind was that I had forbidden my children to play any kind of computer games the entire time I was raising them. Now, not only did I find out that they had five years of history in this game, but I was envious of their ability to play together regardless of geography or time zones. What I had denounced as a waste of time had become the only way I could socialize with my children on a level playing field. I was no longer the mom and they were no longer the children. They were fellow collaborators in solving puzzles, completing quests, and locating hard to find items for tasks. If I had to fight a monster, they would rally behind me with encouragement. When my avatar died in battle, they rescued my armor.

At first, I played on whichever world the game placed me on. As I became more game savvy, I realized that Runescape had a Spanish world. I immediately abandoned the English speaking worlds and headed on over to the world with the red and yellow flag and settled in for the next few months. Almost everyone I met spoke Spanish and we exchanged information about different countries and vocabulary. As a foreign language major, I was in seventh heaven. I was living in the middle of the southern United States and yet I could talk Spanish all day with native Spanish speakers if I wanted. I made friends with college students from Kuwait, Scandinavian countries, and most of the Spanish speaking countries. I joined Latino clans that only spoke Spanish. I translated quests into Spanish for other players who couldn’t read English. In addition, I was able to ask these young people the exact meanings of various slang words that I couldn’t find in the dictionary. Quite a few of the Spanish speaking players mentioned that they had to learn English to complete the quests.

Then someone mentioned the servers dedicated to French, German, Portuguese and Dutch. As soon as I found out how to get on those, I switched worlds again. I joined a Portuguese clan and began brushing up on my Portuguese language skills. Other players were kind enough to help with translations when needed, but with a dictionary, Google translator, and BabbleFish on the screen, it was pretty fast to look up anything I didn’t know. After a while, I switched to the French server and worked on my French skills. Most of the French speakers that I met were from Quebec and were very enthusiastic about exchanging grammar corrections and vocabulary.

In the back of my mind, I kept wondering why none of my professors had ever mentioned the language learning opportunities that these immersive virtual games provide. It was apparent from my conversations with other players that they were using Runescape to practice language skills in addition to playing. My friend from Kuwait has used it for the last three years to keep his English fluent. Obviously, a virtual game cannot replace a language class. However, I never had any assignments that provided so much real-life fun in speaking with real native speakers in real-time either. I also met a lot of adults of all ages and from all walks of life that are multi-lingual. It is fascinating to chat in Spanish with so many people from around the world about a wide variety of topics.

When I teach classes of English as a Foreign Language, I wish I could tell my students to sign onto Runescape and start chatting. When you have to answer someone during the game in order to survive, you get faster and faster at producing sentences and retrieving the correct vocabulary. I couldn’t admit to playing an online game and risk being seen as frittering my time away by the unconverted segments of society, so I never suggested it to anyone as a wonderful tool for practicing foreign language skills. I lacked the evidence-based research to back up my theories and that would give me the courage to suggest the radical notion of using a frivolous game for a serious pursuit.

As I began my research for this topic, I found that I am not the only foreign language teacher who has been eyeing the commercial immersive virtual worlds that are already up and running and just waiting to be put to good use. Many other language instructors around the world have logged-on with their students and found that there is something unique about the experience that truly motivates the student to want to learn the language. As I read the literature, all the pieces of the puzzle fell neatly into place. The one thing that I regretted when I studied foreign languages is that I would never meet anyone else who spoke it and I would never be able to use it. That is a serious regret when one has dedicated an entire college career to four languages. Here was an answer that instructors in Thailand, Japan, Germany, the United States, Australia and essentially all over the globe were writing research papers about. Immersive virtual games do have positive attributes. We just need to find some more foreign language instructors that know how to play them.




Use of Audio Visual Materials in Language Learning

The Use of Audio-Visual and Krashen’s i+1 and Acquisition Hypotheses

The use of authentic materials in the foreign language classroom is encouraged because it exposes the students to the culture and the language as it is spoken and used by native speakers. Audio-visual materials provide a rich exposure to the foreign language and teachers have used different formats to introduce this material to their students. With the Internet, teachers are able to access programming from a wide variety of languages and countries. Although the language may be more complicated than Krashen’s i+1 Input Hypothesis suggests, teachers can use scaffolding, advance organizers, vocabulary lists, and the rewind button to aid the students in learning to listen to the material. Researchers have applied Krashen’s Hypothesis and Vygotsky’s scaffolding to audio-visual materials in order to improve our understanding of second language acquisition.

Wang (2012) found that many English as a Second Language (ESL) learners in China engaged in self-directed learning and used the Internet to watch English television drama (ETD) programs such as Friends, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy, among other programming. The programs had bilingual subtitles in English and Chinese. “Immersing themselves in these shows rich in authentic and functional use of the English language, ESL learners might be able to acquire skills and knowledge both implicitly and explicitly” (Wang, 2012, p. 340). Even though the students are pursuing this type of audio-visual input on their own in self-directed study, the subtitles can be considered a type of scaffolding. In addition, according to Krashen’s Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis the students are learning in two different forms. They are learning the language through a conscious process, but they are also acquiring knowledge subconsciously about meaning and language play (Dolati, 2012). The process of acquiring can be explained when students realize that a sentence doesn’t sound quite right, but they can’t actually put their finger on why it doesn’t sound correct. Advanced language students can often reach this point which goes beyond the conscious learned knowledge of grammar and memorized vocabulary. Students can “… pay close attention to pronunciation and intonation, the semantics of words in contexts and gestures and facial expressions in particular situations, which are less frequently taught or difficult to teach in ESL classrooms” (Wang, 2012, p. 340). The study found that the Chinese teachers of ESL used ETDs to maintain and improve their high levels of proficiency. The participants devised their own learning pedagogy. They would choose a program, such as Friends, and watch an episode with both the bilingual subtitles turned on. Then they would watch it again with only the English subtitles. Lastly, they would watch it again with no subtitles. With each step, they reduced the scaffolding necessary to understand the English language. Many would take notes of the vocabulary or expressions that they wanted to remember. The rewind button was frequently used “…for a close-up study of the pronunciation, intonation and tempo of a certain characters way of speaking…” (Wang, 2012, p. 344). The students were able to practice imitating the English in private without being embarrassed in front of a classroom full of fellow students. One student, Zhang said, ‘Sometimes I download the scripts and highlight the part I want to learn. I’ve been using resources shared by other ETD fans…’ (Wang, 2012, p. 344). By participating in the online forum groups with other ETD fans and sharing their scripts and notes, the students are collaborating in their learning process and providing scaffolding for each other. Others download the audio to their iPods and listen to the episodes as listening practice. “These participants attached equal importance to developing their sociolinguistic and pragmatic competence as well” (Wang, 2012 p. 344).

Fukunaga’s (2006) “… study provides sociocultural perspectives on learning from interdisciplinary studies including L1 and L2 literacy, multiliteracies, cultural studies, media literacy, and critical pedagogy” (p. 208). Many Japanese foreign language (JFL) students were first exposed to Japanese through playing imported video games. This game playing frequently led to Japanese anime and the subculture world on the Internet of fans of Japanese pop culture which also includes music and Japanese dramas. My sister and her sons started studying Japanese because of the video games. My daughter started studying it because of the anime, manga, and Japanese dramas with subtitles on the Internet. She requested and had a roommate from Japan for the last two years at her university. Fukunaga’s (2006) article delves into how the interest in Japanese pop culture and the self-forming forums and fan clubs on the Internet has affected the literacy development of students who study Japanese. He found that students were spending more time writing fanfictions and participating in forums than they spent on their class assignments. The subcultures that surround anime included animated films, TV programs, manga, video games, anime music, J-pop, J-rock, and anime-related activities that include clubs, forums, the Internet, anime conventions and cosplay. Cosplay related to anime is enormously popular. My niece regularly attends cosplay conventions and dresses in outfits that are identical to well-known anime characters. Even I follow her Facebook page to see how authentic her outfits are. She now designs anime cosplay costumes for others. Computer literacy is important for Japanese foreign language students who follow any of these types of media and that is another type of literacy that will serve the students well in their adult careers.

Fukunaga (2006) found that ” Repetitive watching of anime provides multiple advantages for learning Japanese” such as “…word recognition, listening and pronunciation, and awareness of various Japanese linguistic features” (p. 213). The participants reported that after watching many hours of anime “…they became aware of several Japanese linguistic aspects such as male and female speech endings, tone of voice, formal and plain forms of speech, slang, and good or bad translation” (Fukunaga, 2006, p. 214). Fukunaga (2006) found that the anime students had a cycle of learning between the Japanese class instruction and the anime viewing. In class, they learned and practiced grammar while the anime pre-exposed them to the language and reinforced the linguistic and cultural knowledge they had learned in class. He found that by the time they enrolled in Japanese classes “anime students have been exposed to many aspects of the language and culture of Japan through anime and its subcultures before they start taking Japanese courses” (Fukunaga, 2006, p. 216). He also found that his anime students had less anxiety about speaking in class and role-playing because they were used to hearing Japanese and its many different speech styles. He mentioned that he “…can sometimes spot secret anime students in my [his] classroom by listening to their Japanese speech in these minidramas” (Fukunaga, 2006, p. 217). He suggests that teachers should “get to know the tools” that their students are using, realize that their students are learning to “appreciate authentic aspects of other cultures,” have critical awareness discussions about what they are hearing and seeing online, and they should “be aware of the power of popular culture” (Fukunaga, 2006, p. 220).

Although watching anime and Japanese dramas may seem weird to some, “these anime students also seem to have less anxiety about studying Japanese. Japanese is rated among the most difficult languages to learn for English native speakers. To have less anxiety helps students enjoy learning Japanese” (Fukunaga, 2006, p. 220). Krashen’s Affective Filter hypothesis states that less anxiety increases the students’ self-confidence and the motivation to learn a foreign language (Dolati, 2012). This is exactly what Fukunaga (2006) found in his research. Even though the language input of i+1 was high, the enjoyment of the process kept the students’ interest and motivation high. In addition, the students were both learning concrete grammar and acquiring cultural, pragmatic, and idiomatic knowledge subconsciously.

Teachers of foreign languages must teach the culture of the target language along with the language. The Asian cultures are incredibly different from what exists in the United States. By incorporating authentic audio-visual materials into the classroom, or at least encouraging critical awareness and analytical discussion about what the students are viewing outside of the classroom, teachers can promote cultural tolerance and understanding. We should use these opportunities to learn about other cultures and their languages through their own cultural products.


Dolati, R. (2012). Overview on three core theories of second language acquisition and criticism. Advances in Natural and Applied Sciences, 6(6), 752-762. Retrieved from

Fukunaga, N. (2006). “Those anime students”: Foreign language literacy development through Japanese popular culture. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 50(3), 206-222. Retrieved from

Wang, D. (2012) Self-directed English language learning through watching English television drama in China. Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 19(3), 339-348. doi: 10.1080/1358684X.2012.704584



Self-Directed Study – The Current Trend on the Internet

Second Language Acquisition and Self-Directed Study

I have always believed that if you teach a child to read well, they can later teach themselves almost anything through self-directed study. Some theories take advantage of the natural curiosity of children and incorporate that into their learning model of self-directed studies. When I worked on my Masters of Library and Information Science, we stressed that students should be taught information literacy skills so that they could become self-directed life-long learners. Although I was educated under the stand-and-deliver pedagogy style, I actually learned more outside of the classroom through random independent reading. I believe that it is in the students’ best interests for the teacher to encourage, develop, and enable self-directed learning.

Although Grover, Miller, Swearingen, and Wood (2014) discuss self-directed learning in the context of adult ESL learners, it is also applicable to other age groups. “Nurturing this ability to be self-directed can help students take ownership of their learning in all areas” (Grover et al., 2014, p. 12). Grover et al. (2014) found that the passive watching of television dominated the self-directed activities of their participants. I have found television to be an incredible source for second language acquisition if used properly. While I watched Spanish telenovelas, I actively took notes of new expression, idioms, and vocabulary. If I didn’t catch a word or expression, I rewound the recording (I recorded all my telenovelas on TIVO so that I could rewind them as necessary) as many times as was necessary to understand it. I also picked telenovelas from different countries for the different idioms, accents, age groups, and vocabulary. I had already studied Spanish for years, so I had concrete goals about what I wanted to learn. My viewing was not passive and my ability to listen to Spanish continued to improve tremendously because I was able to set goals and implement the plan.

Navarro and Thornton (2011) conducted research that focused on the qualities that students need to posses in order to benefit from self-directed study in a foreign language. They found that skill in planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating were all necessary. Although students were able to plan, monitor, and evaluate, many actually failed to implement their plans and thus were unable to complete their self-directed studies (Navarro & Thornton, 2011). In Navarro’s study, the participants actually tended to let their previous beliefs about learning influence their planning and implementation in studying. In other words, the students needed help in acquiring new skills for independent individualized study that didn’t just copy old behavior patterns. It is important to realize that the teacher cannot solely rely on students’ self-perception of their ability to pursue self-directed study. The students must also be coached in how to set goals, devise a step-by-step procedure to achieve those goals, and devise a method to evaluate progress made towards the goals. In second language acquisition, it is easy to mistake mastery in one of the areas of learning such as reception (listening or reading) and forget that one must also be able to produce the target language as in writing and speaking.

Fukuda and Yoshida (2013) point out that teachers believe that students need to spend more time studying outside of the classroom in order to increase their foreign language proficiency. This would, of course, include self-directed study. However, increasing tests, quizzes and homework actually reduced the students’ motivation to study and to take more advanced classes. Instead of motivating the students to learn, the increased pressure from outside sources undermined the students’ learning outcomes. Most true learning happens because the student is interested in the subject and sees a personal gain in acquiring the knowledge. Fukuda and Yoshida (2013) suggested that clear course aims, strong student-teacher relationships, non-threatening classroom environments, and interactive classroom procedures were conducive to motivating students to study more outside of the classroom. In order to complete the projects and presentations, the students worked collaboratively to ascertain what they needed to know, develop a plan to obtain the information, and then create a way to present it. The projects were also directly tied to future skills that the workplace would expect of the students’ performance. Their research showed that creating projects that incorporated more self-directed work contributed to more successful outcomes in the classroom.

Self-directed studies now include more than textbooks, radio, television, and writing to foreign pen pals. The Internet has opened up the entire planet to the self-directed student. Song and Lee (2014) investigated the impact of 66 web resources on self-directed and informal language learning. Although most of the definitions of self-directed learning and informal learning referred to the common activities such as blogs, multimedia sharing and social networking, the authors also included that of learning “…serendipitously with the learner mostly being unaware of what is being learned…” (Song & Lee, 2014, p. 512). This will be returned to later because it is a real phenomenon. The Internet has made it possible for long-tail learning niches to develop and “…is contributing to the emergence of expert young people or amateur experts who have developed specialized knowledge about topics of interest using Web 2.0” (Song & Lee, 2014, p. 515). Song and Lee (2014) evaluated the websites and found that they are updated continuously and that “the feature of independent access to data enables learners to locate resources in the context of where they are needed, and to share the information with others” (p. 524). In addition, because of “…the communicative nature of language learning, informal learning websites might enable learners to improve their communicative skills by using diverse Web 2.0 tools…” (Song & Lee, 2014, p. 524).

Although I knew that there were vast resources on the Internet for language learners, it wasn’t until I became personally involved with trying to learn Korean that I found the informal long-tail niches that these authors are referring to. I began watching Korea dramas, subtitled in English, in 2010. I noticed two phenomena. Because I am bilingual in Spanish and it is my second language, my brain was actively looking for Spanish sound patterns and words for the first six months of watching these dramas on a daily basis. Apparently my brain realized that it wasn’t English and the next best assumption was that it might be Spanish. This was beyond my control and it is something that just went on in the subconscious background as I enjoyed the dramas. I constantly thought I heard Spanish words for about six months. Second, after about six months, I realized that I had serendipitously picked up over 40 words in Korean. In addition to this, I found out that I could also tell the difference when the actors were speaking Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean. This happened without my realizing it and my brain starting compartmentalizing the Asian languages separately from the Latin ones and finding word associations and similarities between the new Asian languages. It was and continues to be a fascinating study of how the brain processes language.

As Song and Lee (2014) point out, self-directed study that exposes the learner to the target language never falls on a deaf ear. The brain is busy processing the information in the background. I found that many native Korean and Japanese speakers have created language-learning corners on YouTube, Twitter, personal websites, and blogs. Unlike other content areas and disciplines, language is necessary to communicate and the brain continues to quietly work in the background making associations of sounds, symbols, and word patterns so that people can achieve their goals through communication.

As a language learner, I knew that I would need textbooks, so I bought some appropriate level Korean textbooks and joined some blogs and downloaded YouTube videos. Even though I knew the correct way to plan how to learn a language, as Navarro and Thornton (2011) found in their studies, implementing the plan was harder. Self-directed study has to compete with the demands of daily life, such as work, time, classes, other obligations and entertainment. I fell into the trap of passively listening to the Korean and reading the subtitles without a serious plan and measurable goals and outcomes. Over the years, I have acquired more Korean, but it is haphazard and focused only on the listening skills. As the articles point out, self-directed study is an important skill to learn and it can truly engage the motivation of the student. However, it is important for the teacher to be there to help guide the student in implementation, goal setting, and evaluation. It cannot be a passive activity and there has to be a way to measure the outcomes. Self-directed study is an important concept in Second Language Acquisition, and teachers need to study how to best incorporate it into their classrooms so that students can experience the most benefit from its use.


Fukuda, S., & Yoshida, H. (2013). Time is of the essence: Factors encouraging out-of-class study time. ELT Journal: English Language Teacher, 67(1), 31-40. doi: 10.1093/elt/ccso54

Grover, K. S., Miller, M. T., Swearingen, B., & Wood, N. (2014). An examination of the self-directed learning practices of ESL adult language learners. Journal of Adult Education, 43(2), 12-19. Retrieved from

Navarro, D., & Thornton, K. (2011). Investigating the relationship between belief and action in self-directed language learning. System 39, 290-301. doi: 10.1016/j.system.2011.07.002

Song, D., & Lee, J. (2014). Has Web 2.0 revitalized informal learning? The relationship between Web 2.0 and informal learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 30, 511533. doi: 10.1111/jcal.12056






Use of L1 in the L2 Classroom

Vygotsky and the Use of L1 in the L2 Classroom

One of the greatest disagreements that I have encountered among foreign language teachers is the use of the native language in a classroom attempting to teach a second foreign language. Some schools of thought advocate the sole use of the target foreign language (L2) such as the Berlitz Method. The idea is that the learner will learn to associate foreign words directly with mental or pictorial images and will skip the intermediate step of internal translation. There is, however, a lot of disagreement on the use of the native language in the classroom. The use of the native language in the class in light of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theories is worthy of discussion in reconciling this long-standing dispute among instructors.

I am especially fond of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theories because language involves people, the need and wish to interact, and the culture of the participants. Vygotsky proposes that “…learning precedes and contributes to development, and the learner’s language performance with others exceeds what the learner is able to do alone” (Shrum & Glisan, 2005, p. 21). I have found that being able to ask questions in my native language (L1) increases my understanding of the L2 language and the quickness with which I learn it. In his sociocultural theory, the use of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), scaffolding, and collaborative work greatly contribute to the learning experience.

Escandn and Sanz (2011) discuss how their study used the sociocultural collaborative method with organizers and scaffolding and allowed the students to work together to figure out and discuss the homework assignments. Initially, their Japanese students were not allowed to use their native language in the Spanish courses and therefore could not discuss the grammar points on number and gender. Japanese and Spanish are from two very different language groups and the article discusses the problem of fossilization found in Japanese students when the top-down instructional methods are used. According to Vygotsky, the students use their native language to discuss the concrete and explicit information presented in the grammar points before they can internalize it. They can only do that in their native language among themselves. “The development of logic and abstract thought is a function of language used to represent or refer to referential aspects of language use” (Escandn & Sanz, 2012, p. 347). The authors found that the students made fewer errors and showed a greater understanding of these two grammar points after using the collaborative bottom-up activities and being able to discuss the information in their native language. “Although paradoxical, the externalization of speech as part of the process of internalization of rules and concepts implies that L2 acquirers may need to rely on speech externalization in their L1 in order to achieve L2 internalization…” (Escandn & Sanz, 2012, p. 353).

Thoms, Liao, and Szustak (2005) found that students used their L1 language to establish task management strategies in collaborative pair work tasks which effectively reduced the amount of L1 used in the overall task. Their study suggests that instructors should not view L1 use as counter-productive or unacceptable in the foreign language classroom. Leeming (2011) also found that the use of Japanese, the L1 language, in her English as a Foreign Language class had “…an important role to play, both in assisting students as they work on task, and in creating a collaborative environment crucial to the success of interaction” (p. 375). The study found that the students used less of their native language as they became more familiar with the tasks assigned to them. Tognini and Oliver (2012) found that “in peer interaction students were often able to use L1 effectively to scaffold each other’s production and to manage and expedite the completion of tasks” (p. 75). It would seem that lack of proficiency in the beginning levels of learning a language can hamper the collaborative and social interactive nature of language learning. Allowing the limited use of the native language in such situations can improve the atmosphere of the classroom and the ability to learn new concepts. Tognini and Oliver (2012) state that “L1 was also used as a tool for reflecting on and resolving language difficulties and, importantly, in order to solve problems with L2 form” (p. 75).

Colombo’s (2012) research argues that the use of L1 in the classroom can be seen as a tool-mediated action when viewed through the sociocultural theory of Vygotsky. One of the uses of L1 is in the online forum/discussion boards where the students discuss the differences between cultures and their social identities. They are allowed to use their native language (L1) because at the beginning level of learning a foreign language, students do not have the vocabulary or command of grammar necessary to express complex ideas. Comparing cultural differences is one o the goals of language learning.

Code-switching involves the use of the L1 language in an foreign language class. There have been several studies in Europe about its occurrence due to the large number of bilingual and multilingual people. Falomir and Laguna (2012) found that “the main reasons for code-switching are: (a) for ease of expression and economy of speech, (b) owing to the learners’ limited competence and insecurity and (c) for translation” (p. 308). Their research suggests that the code-switching happens because students simply do not know enough of the foreign language yet to express themselves. The teacher also code-switched in order to check for comprehension and to provide direct translation. The study found that “…code-switching is a useful strategy in the EFL classroom interaction for reducing the overall comprehension burden” (Falomir & Laguna, 2012, p. 310).

In other instances, code-switching is used when the student has a gap in their L2 knowledge and they are trying to negotiate meaning by substituting an L1 word in sentence constructed in the L2 language. Often, the listener will help out the speaker by supplying the translation of the L1 word to the L2 language. This can be regarded as a type of negotiation of meaning and a collaborative effort in learning. The use of the native language as a learning tool can be successfully defended when one regards it as a learning tool when trying to acquire a second language.


Colombo, L. (2012). The role of the first language in hybrid Spanish as a foreign language classes: A sin or a tool? Ikala, Revista de Lenguaje y Cultura, 17(3), 244-262. Retrieved from retrieved from

Escandn, A. & Sanz, M. (2011). The bottom-up move within Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development: A pedagogical application for teaching agreement in Spanish as a foreign language. RELC Journal, 42(3), 345-361. doi: 10.1177/0033688211421662

Falomir, L. P., & Laguna, S. M. (2012). Code switching in classroom discourse: A multilingual approach. Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication, 24, 295-319. Retrieved from

Leeming, P. (2011). Japanese high school students’ use of L1 during pair-work. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 21(3), 360-382. Retrieved from

Shrum, J. L., & Glisan, E. W. (2005). Teacher’s handbook: Contextualized language instruction (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Thomson Heinle.

Thoms, J., Liao, J., & Szustak, A. (2005). The use of L1 in an L2 on-line chat activity. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 62(1), 161-182. Retrieved from

Tognini, R., & Oliver, R. (2012). L1 use in primary and secondary foreign language classrooms and its contribution to learning. Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication,(24), 53-77. Retrieved from



New XR iPhone and iTunes

So, I’m all happy, have a new yellow XR iPhone and I set it up. Next step? Of course, sync up the iTunes so I can listen to my favorite songs while I work or drive.

The first weekend, iTunes just won’t recognize my new iPhone and I thought it was something I was doing wrong. Since, I still have my 5C phone, I just used it like an iPod for a week until I the next weekend when I would have more time to Google how to deal with it. During the week, my MacBook laptop received an auto update and I was all happy because obviously, Apple sent through a patch to fix the XR phone problem.

The next weekend arrives, I plugged in my iPhone and iTunes gives me the message that iTunes is currently updating. Wait…. updating fordays? I spent more than 1/2 of my precious Saturday googling how to get iTunes to finish updating and recognize my new iPhone. Answers ran the gamut from rebooting, uninstalling iTunes and reinstalling, to going into the depths of my MacBook through Safe Mode to rewrite and adjust some kind of hidden files. I started to do that and spent a long time writing down the instructions longhand because, you know, once you are in Safe Mode messing with hidden files, I don’ think you can access the Internet to reread those tediously long instructions. I started to go to Safe Mode, had trouble getting there, and chickened out. I decided to wait until thenextweekend, yet again.

The third weekend of no iTunes on my new XR iPhone rolls around and by this time I had Googled a million times how to fix this problem. I was seriously frustrated and irritated that Apple didn’t have a fix already installed on my laptop. And iTunes wasstill updating. I was worried about my 3500+ songs that were carefully sorted by language, country, and drama in the iTunes metadata, so I backed up my iTunes library to an external hard drive, hoping that the metadata would travel along with the songs. The last time the MacBook updated iTunes a couple of years ago, it wiped out my iTunes library (and it happened to a gazillon other people because Google new exactly what I was looking for when I searched for a solution and the forums were packed with complaints). If I hadn’t had it backed up to an external hard drive, I would have lost my songs. As it was, I did lose the iTunes playlists which sorted them into languages, dramas, and countries. After that, I used the description field to add metadata to sort and used that field to create the playlists. It took a long time to do this by hand and I dreaded having to do it again as I’m still not quite finished.

So, back to my XR iPhone. No one has the answer on the web. A YouTube person has a video suggesting the obvious solutions, but seriously, this is way beyond rebooting the laptop, as he suggested.

By the third Sunday, I was so frustrated, I decided to just download and reinstall the iTunes app, like I do with my other phone apps when they go nuts. The worst that could happen is that I lose my library which was backed up anyways. When downloading phone apps that you already have, they usually give you the option to overwrite, so I figured that would happen since I could NOT delete iTunes, which was one of the main solutions from the YouTube video person. “iTunes is essential to the operation of the MacBook operating system” is a message that kept popping up every time I tried to do that.

So, I went to the Apple website, and started the free download. No warnings came up, no options to overwrite, nothing. It’s a tiny file, and in a few minutes it was done.

I am happy to report that I opened up iTunes, my songs and playlists and metadata were all there, and it talked to my new XR iPhone just fine. I synced up my songs and Monday morning I was listening to songs as I drove to work. So, nothing fancy, no coding necessary, no money involved.

Solution: Download the iTune app again, straight from the Apple website and move on.


The Full Heart

I was browsing through one of my favorite stores, Pier 1, when I saw a small wall art that some customer had picked up and left abandoned on the wrong side of the store. It was a small 12″ x 12″ phrase on a greyish turquoise background:

It’s funny how when I was younger, I saw this as a sad saying. Back then, all I thought about was having to leave behind so many wonderful places and people. I regretted having invested so much time into people and places that disappeared from my life. I saw it as wasted efforts on fruitless pursuits that didn’t achieve a goal that I could point to.

The baby boomer generation had drilled into my head that “those who die with the most toys win,” yuppie prairie palaces that were the biggest in the neighborhood with the right address were of paramount importance, and titles with capital letters before and after your name were signals that you had reached worthwhile goals. But I was never interested in those things, and my life didn’t measure up to those goals. I didn’t have a prairie palace, just an apartment decorated the way I wanted. Although I didn’t have a title before my name, although I did manage to acquire some capital letters after it throughout the years because I’m a little nerdy in that area. I definitely could not point to a career, and I have no material toys to leave behind when I die.

Sigh… one would think that I had failed at this game called life.

Life is very much like Runescape in that respect. So many players only look at the combat status and the expensive gear that they can buy. How many times have I heard, “What’s your bank worth?” The same values that rule the material world also rule the virtual game world, because after all, there are humans that populate both and they are going to take their values with them. Virtual life really does reflect the material world.

The way I play Runescape totally reflects how I play the game of life. Curiosity leads me into uncharted landscapes and I meet people I would have missed if I had played it safe. I’m an opportunist by nature. “Hey, I’m going to the Dark Altar to level prayer, wanna come skill with me?” has the same pull as “Hey, I’m going to Morocco this weekend, you game?” Other players have shown me how to boss fight, how to level a skill more quickly, and a host of other game strategies I might never have learned on my own. People I meet on the street quickly become friends and I get introduced to new ways of thinking, or new environments that I never would have encountered on my own.

I’m a bit superstitious in this respect because I think when we meet people, it’s an opportunity to learn from them. Their suggestions or choices could be the next curve in the road for my life. I think maybe “The Celestine Prophecy” explained it best. I bounce from one interesting experience to the next in a synergistic way due to synchronicity. When I look back on the pattern and opportunities that I had in my life, it really is due to following my heart and totally investing in the experience as I lived it.

For example, college in Missouri, university in Spain, a weekend trip to Algiers and then Morocco, talking to a monk in Thailand, TESOL in Quito, several of my degrees, motorcycle riding, spring vacation trips taken on the spur of the moment to the Yucatan and Madrid, moving to various states, joining Americorps Vista after meeting someone randomly, etc etc etc. So many of my “adventures” can be traced back to meeting someone randomly, chatting with them about nothing, and then learning of a new opportunity that I’d never thought of before but that sounded more interesting than the direction I was headed at the time. Creating a flowchart of my life is like following a ping pong ball as it bounces randomly from one conversation to the next with unconnected people.

Now that I’m a bit older, having left my heart in so many places is not such a bad thing. I have a gazillion memories of cool things that I have done and wonderful people that I have met all over the world. Memories randomly surface throughout my day and bring a smile to my face. Were there bad memories? Of course! But there are also memories that broaden my inner space, and make me more empathetic to other people, cultures, and events. I can relate to so many different types of experiences due to having followed the opportunities presented by random people that crossed my path. Would I do it again? When I talk to people that are still living the same life after 20 years of wishing for something different, but who have more “toys” than I do, I can say “YES!!” which all my heart.

My heart is fuller, not smaller, simply because I DID risk leaving it in so many places. I am richer through the experiences I shared with others. I believe that the heart grows in its capacity to love and befriend other people the more that you use it. It’s a muscle and I firmly believe that it has cellular memory (read “The Heart’s Code” by Paul Pearsall). As the memories surface and I smile at all the inane, pathetic, adventuresome, and cool stuff I did over the years, I am so glad that I was opportunistic and allowed my heart to follow the curving road. The memories, both good and bad, are totally worth it.


Failure vs Success

I was watching The Taoism Grandmaster (2018) Chinese drama and the 2nd male lead character, Kun Lun, made a comment about failure that seemed so at odds with American culture. I enjoy watching Asian dramas because bits and pieces of their eastern thinking permeate the dialog and give a brief glimpse into their way of thinking which can be so different from typical Western belief systems.

At some point, Kun Lun had failed in one of his attempts to obtain a coveted piece of the armor in the drama. His comrade was commiserating on his failure, but Kun Lun’s reply was so point on. He said, “Failure is a part of the process, not the end result.” And it’s so true.

I had a clan-mate who failed to defeat Jad in Runescape 17 times. What did he do after getting mad? He looked at the mistakes he had made in his strategy. Did he need a different kind of armor? Different food to restore energy? Different weapons? Perhaps he should try with mage instead of range. Or, did Jad just spawn in the most difficult spot? He took each failure, adjusted his plan of attack, and went back into battle. Did he eventually succeed? Yes, eventually he did. No one likes to fail, but it is a part of the process and can provide valuable information that can be worked into the strategy of succeeding the next time. Evaluating failures rationally can help us improve our future chances of success.

I’m a little more cautious. I studied how to defeat the boss, Nomad, and watched many Youtube videos before I dared to confront him. I looked up the best strategies, weapons, food, and followers. Then, before I even tried to do battle, I entered his cave with no gear over 20 times just to get used to seeing him and get over the paralyzing fear of confronting one of Runescape’s most challenging bosses. I am a chicken, and take dying personally. I like to increase my chance of success and minimize the risk of failure. I realize that failures are an inherent part of life. However, forewarned is forearmed. Preparing the strategy and evaluating the odds for battle, or the recital, or the test, play just as much a part in achieving one’s goal as looking back on one’s mistakes after a failure. One can learn vicariously from other people’s failures and accelerate one’s progress towards success in achieving one’s goals.

Although I like to succeed just as much as the next person, I don’t really fear failure all that much. It just isn’t possible to be great at everything, and there are learning curves involved that must be respected because we are human and learning all the time.

When I look at history and other people’s personal stories, it is evident that although one might be born with talent, absolutely everyone MUST DEVELOP that talent over time. Geniuses still have to study and apply their skills in order to increase their talent. Musicians still must learn pieces, study theory, and develop their expertise. Inventors have hundreds of failure before they invent something worthwhile. When we read about amazing people with incredible achievements, we often forget about the tens of thousands of hours of practice that stand behind those inventions, musical masterpieces, great novels, or outstanding paintings.

So, I have come to realize that success is largely due to sheer perseverance and bullheadedness. Failure is a natural byproduct of pursuing a goal of any kind. The worst scenario would be to lose out on the possibility of success by letting the fear of failure prevent the attempt in the first place.

“Don’t fear failure.

Rather, fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.”


To all new bilingual mommies out there: relax

I know you want to do the very best for your baby, but there is no one right way, and there is no right and wrong in parenting. There are many cultures on this planet and children throughout the centuries have survived them all: different customs and languages.

True, it’s wrong to let a child starve or sleep outside in the cold without shelter, but I don’t see that as the specific problem. The problem is that parents are so concerned about doing the “right” thing and not confusing the baby that they risk creating an artificial cocoon around the baby that may interfere with his development. And, it’s driving them nuts with unnecessary worry. Babies can learn to adapt if presented with choices and different situations.

For example, as adults, it is important that we know how to adjust to the personalities of our supervisors, team leaders, coworkers, and top managers. Will they all be on the same page, all the time? Will they all have the same personality? Will they all be ethical like robots preprogrammed to only act in a certain way? Nope. They will each be an individual with all the idiosyncrasies that implies in the normal workplace, school, or community gathering.

Now, how does that concern a several months old baby or a toddler and cultural and linguistic differences? Some books insist that the baby sleep in the same place every night, their bed, and on their back. Daddy thinks that the baby loves sleeping on his arm all night, mommy is sure that the baby is safer in a crib like the books advise. So what’s up? The baby has learned at the young age of a few months that granny who smells of jasmine puts him on his tummy on her lap and he feels safe and falls asleep. His daddy lays him on his arm in an awkward slant, but his heartbeat and shaving cologne are wonderful, and he sleeps just fine there. Mommy puts him on his back, but he is right beside her and can hear her heartbeat. But, the baby is sleeping in all those positions. In other words, the little fellow has already learned to adapt to different situations… just like he will have to adapt when he eventually leaves the house and enters the wild workforce with different personalities and expectations.

There is no wrong way to be a parent, if the baby is fed, feels safe, and has adequate shelter. Different cultures sleep in different beds: the floor, hammocks, slings on mommy’s back, expensive yuppy cribs, daddy’s chest, granny’s lap, and mommy’s arms. And different cultures speak one, two, or three languages routinely in the household. Mommy might speak a couple, the grandparents a couple and the daddy a third or fourth. Differences in the baby’s environment create resilience and mental flexibility.

There is a long-standing debate on when to introduce a child to a second language. Previously, many academics and specialists thought that speaking more than one language confused the child unnecessarily. Many of these studies seem to have originated in the notoriously monolingual culture of the United States. Now, research is “finding” what multilingual cultures have known for centuries, thatNot only is bilingualism not bad for you, it may be really good. When youre switching languages all the time it strengthens your mental muscle and your executive function becomes enhanced (Nauert, R. 2013). Leikin (2012) found that “…there were definite distinctions between monolingual and bilingual children, to the advantage of the latter, in terms of creativity in problem solving, and the differences became marked and statistically significant with an increase in the children’s age…” (p 442).

What is wrong is that people in our mono-linguistic culture can make a living writing books that proclaim there is a better way to do everything and it is stressing out the parents. Dr. Spock drove a generation insane with his theories on child rearing. Thank goodness the children survived him.

Even if the parents are not on the same page, it is an opportunity for the child to measure the pros and cons of the situation and think outside the box and find the advantageous spot for himself. Let the little fellow experience different situations and learn to roll with the flow. Let her learn that life has ups and downs and unexpected occurrences that she will have to think about and accommodate into her repertoire of reactions. “Successful management of two languages on a daily basis requires an effective cognitive mechanism to manage attention to two active languages and constant recruitment of this mechanism by bilinguals leads to better behavioral performance on executive function tasks that measure cognitive control for both verbal and nonverbal stimuli” (Luik, G., Bialystok, E., Craik, F., & Grady, C. L., 2011, p. 16812).

The child knows that you will always be there for him and that is what is most important.


Leikin, M. (2012). The effect of bilingualism on creativity: Developmental and education perspectives. International Journal of Bilingualism 17(4), 431-447. doi: 10.1177/1367006912438300

Luik, G., Bialystok, E., Craik, F., and Grady, C. L. (2011).Lifelong bilingualism maintains white matter integrity in older adults.Journal of Neuroscience 31(46),1680816813. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4563-11.2011

Nauert, R. (2013). Bilingual speakers develop mental flexibility. Psych Central. Retrieved from