A new immersive classroom uses AI and VR to teach Mandarin Chinese

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Students will learn the language by ordering food or haggling with street vendors on a virtual Beijing street.

Often the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in an environment where people speak it. The constant exposure, along with the pressure to communicate, helps you swiftly pick up and practice new vocabulary. But not everyone gets the opportunity to live or study abroad.

In a new collaboration with IBM Research, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), a university based in Troy, New York, now offers its students studying Chinese another option: a 360-degree virtual environment that teleports them to the busy streets of Beijing or a crowded Chinese restaurant. Students get to haggle with street vendors or order food, and the environment is equipped with different AI capabilities to respond to them in real time. While the classroom is largely experimental, it is being used for the first time in a six-week, for-credit course at the university this summer.

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