Whether it’s apps like Duolingo or the ease of travel, there are plenty of ways technology has made it more straightforward to learn a second (or third or fourth …) language. Now, IBM Research and New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have come up with an entirely new high-tech approach — and it totally reminds us of the Vulcan school from 2009’s Star Trek movie.
Called the Cognitive Immersive Room (CIR), it pairs an A.I.-powered chatbot smart assistant with a 360-degree panoramic display system to place users into a variety of immersive locations to try out their language skills. Currently, it’s being used for Mandarin, which is widely considered to be among the more difficult languages for Westerners to learn. The CIR setup drops students into scenarios like a restaurant in China and a tai chi class, where they can put their Mandarin to the test.