Goethestrasse 56 – Learning German with Virtual Reality

With the virtual reality learning environment Goethestrasse 56, a new approach to learning German at the A1 (beginner) level was realized in cooperation with the Goethe Institute Washington. The application, finalized at the end of 2021, allows primarily young users to immerse themselves in the everyday life of the Kramer family and playfully solve various tasks. The setting is the Kramer’s apartment at Goethestrasse 56 – here, you help mother Claudia in the home office to make an appointment with a customer, daughter Maren is supported in learning adjectives for school, father Khaled cooks spaghetti and needs a kitchen assistant, and you sing “Hänschen Klein” with son Tobias. Once you have completed all the tasks, the family gets together for dinner as a reward. In addition to the various playful missions of Goethestraße 56, most objects are stored with their English and spoken German names, which you can explore interactively and thus expand your vocabulary. Technically, Unity 3D was used as middleware, and the Quest 2 is used as a VR headset – porting to other platforms is technically unproblematic.

Goethestraße 56 pursues an experimental and creative approach. Together with the research provider – the Goethe Institute Washington – existing learning tools, both analog and digital, were evaluated and examined for interesting complementary and supplementary aspects. Based on the existing project idea of creating a freely explorable “story space” in VR, various elements from the Goethe Institute’s inventory were adapted and adjusted accordingly. For example, the vocabulary used is based on the official curriculum for pupils at the German A1 level. The fundamental question is, of course, to what extent a highly immersive environment can positively support learning a foreign language – this should at least be answered in principle as part of this project. Therefore, the focus of the project completed so far has also been to realize a playable prototype and test it directly in the field. As part of numerous deployments in Washington and at events and other occasions at other locations in the USA, users were asked about the learning and playing experience in a standardized survey and examined for strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation has not yet been completed, but it can already be stated that there is great interest in immersive technologies, especially among testers between the ages of 8 and 18, and that interest in language acquisition using gamified VR environments can be increased per se. The evaluation of user feedback is currently being completed, and a continuation of the project is planned. The aim of Goethestraße 56 is to make it possible to experience the entire apartment building with various parties interactively and to tell stories from the lives of the multiple protagonists in episodic form. This creates a multi-layered narrative world that enables potentially interesting approaches for implementing language learning-oriented scenarios beyond the logic of traditional learning media.