Introduction: Spanish Immersion (done in Collaboration With Spencer Chun)

The problem we aim to solve with this project is the difficulty of learning a foreign language outside of the country where that language is mainly spoken (in other words, outside of an immersive environment). We created a mock store where language learners (in this case learners of Spanish) can participate in a simulated yet life-like experience of grocery shopping in a Hispanic country. This version of the project is really a prototype of things to come, using little technology. However, the hope is that this could be turned into a virtual reality (VR) system with many other scenarios and languages so that learners could be immersed in their target language without the expense and difficulties of traveling and living abroad. For a more in depth explanation and walk-through of our project, see the video.


Since this is just a prototype, the tools/materials needed to create it are limited and include the following: fake or real food items that would be for sale in a grocery store (you can use as many or as few items as you would like); a basket; something to create a grocery list on (i.e., paper and pen, phone, tablet, etc.); toy cash register or cardboard, scissors and tape; circuit playground (we used this but it is entirely unnecessary, the project could easily be completed without it).

Step 1: Instructions for Setting Up the Store - Determine Which and How Many Foods You Will Use

Determine which and how many foods you will use (we used 4-5 foods to keep it simple). These can be anything you already have on hand or fake food if you have it available to you. This keeps the cost to a minimum (free), it also allows you to use whatever is available to you. Set the food out on a table, counter, desk or whatever are you have. If you have shelves you could put the foods on different shelves to better simulate a store environment.

Step 2: Instructions for Setting Up the Store - Create the Grocery List

Create the grocery list. Include one item less on the grocery list than you have placed in the mock store (for example: if you have 5 items on the counter for the mock store, include only 4 on the list). This forces the user to determine which item is the one s/he actually needs to ‘purchase.’ Again, the list can be on paper, phone, tablet or whatever medium you choose to use. Make sure the list is in the chosen target language (for us it was Spanish).

Step 3: Instructions for Setting Up the Store - Set Out/create Mock Cash Register

Set out/create mock cash register. If you happen to have a toy cash register (or desire to purchase one) you can simply use that. Alternatively, you can create one out of cardboard to look however you want; we simply used a box to act as one (see photo below). You could also potentially use any household item, or even a kitchen drawer to act as a cash register. Consider adding a sign (in the target language) indicating to the user where to push the button (see photo). Again, the important thing here is following the instructions for use, not as much for the setup, hence the flexibility in the setup. Place the cash register somewhere in the same vicinity of the food, indicating a place to checkout/purchase the food.

Step 4: Instructions for Setting Up the Store - (Optional) Program the Circuit Playground to Make a Sound When the Button Is Pressed.

(Optional). Program the circuit playground to make a sound when the button is pressed. This serves as notification to the store attendant that someone would like to check out (it is common in Hispanic America for little stores that ours attempted to simulate to be in the front of the owner’s house. The attendant (most often the owner or a family member) will often be back in the private space of their house and need to be signaled that someone desires to make a purchase). In other cultures, this part may be completely unnecessary, so this can depend on the target language chosen. Alternatively, a bell could be used, or simply, the human voice (a shout). Either way, see our Circuit Playground code below for how we programmed it to make a noise when the button is pushed.

Step 5: Instructions for Setting Up the Store - Create Fake Money or Set Out Real Money.

Create fake money or set out real money. The user will need to ‘purchase’ the items on the list. This can be simulated using either fake money or real money, whichever you prefer. The best option would be to use money that is similar to or exactly the same as the money used in a country where the target language is spoken for more accuracy.

Step 6: Instructions for Setting Up the Store - Determine the Prices of Each Item.

Determine the prices of each item. Depending on the culture in which your chosen target language is spoken, set the prices of the items to be similar to reality. Or, make up prices. Again, it is the interaction of the user with the items and the store attendant that is essential here, not the actual price of the items.

Step 7: Instructions for Setting Up the Store - Create Instructions for the User

Create instructions for the user. These can be written, oral or both. Preferably in both the user’s first language (L1) and the target language. For beginning learners, instructions can be given in the L1 while for more advanced learners, instructions can be given in the target language. See below for the instructions we designed for our project:

Instructions to user (English version): Task: Purchase all of the items on the grocery list. Put the various items in the basket and place the basket on the counter to indicate that you are ready to checkout. The attendant will then help you with the transaction. You will pay with the fake money you have been given. If you have questions while shopping, you may ask the attendant for help. The attendant may try to small talk with you, so be prepared for that.

Instrucciones para el usuario (versión en español): Tarea: Comprar todas las cosas en la lista de compra. Pon los varios artículos en la cesta y pon la cesta en la encimera para indicar que estás listo(a) para hacer la compra. El empleado te va a ayudar a hacer la transacción. Pagas con el dinero falso. Si tienes dudas al buscar los artículos en la lista, puedes hacer tus preguntas al empleado. El atendente tal vez te platique, debes estar preparado(a).

Step 8: Instructions for Setting Up the Store - ​Determine Who Will Act As the Store Attendant.

Determine who will act as the store attendant. Clearly, the person acting as the store attendant needs to speak the target language fluently. Be sure that the store attendant is familiar with the instructions given to the user and the process, as well as the type of language and scaffolding s/he should use when interacting with the user. See below for an explanation of what the attendant is to do and say in our project:

Explanation of the role of the attendant:

If the attendant sees that the user is confused he may approach the user and ask: "Can I help you?"/"¿En qué te puedo ayudar?" Based on the response of the user a conversation may ensue. When the user places the basket on the counter the attendant will greet the shopper: "Good morning/afternoon/evening, how are you?"/"Buenos(as) días/tardes, ¿cómo está usted?"

Based on the user’s response a conversation will ensue as the attendant scans the items. When the attendant finishes scanning the items s/he will tell the user how much s/he owes. The transaction will take place and the attendant will dismiss the user: "Have a nice day!"/"¡Que tenga un buen día!" OR "Thank you, have a good one!"/"Gracias, ¡que le vaya bien!"

Step 9: Instructions for Using the Project - User Instructions

Give the user the instructions (either orally, in writing or both) and the written grocery list. Be sure that they understand their task.

Step 10: Instructions for Using the Project - Prepare Attendant

Be sure the attendant is in their place. This can be wandering the store, in another room within earshot, behind the cash register, etc. It just depends on where the attendant would be in the target culture.

Step 11: Instructions for Using the Project - User Carries Out Task

Instruct the user to carry out the task according to the instructions given.

The user will read the list, find the various items, take them to the cash register, call the attendant via the indicated means (if the attendant is not already present) and ‘purchase’ the items from the attendant. The attendant will interact with the user and give them the final price. The user will determine how much of the money they need to give to the attendant to pay for the items. The attendant will dismiss the user. All of this is per the instructions given to the user and the explanation of how the attendant will interact with the user (see steps 7 and 8 under the Instructions for setting up the store section.

Step 12: Instructions for Using the Project - Analysis

The user will then have completed the experience. If desired, analysis of the experience may take place under guidance from the creators (this is intended to help people learn language. It is assumed that the person recreating this project is a language instructor. This person can help the user analyze their experience according to their own desired criteria.) This is not a step we followed, but rather a suggestion for teachers. Each teacher will have specific criteria they wish to analyze with their students and thus we do not provide any examples here. Since this project is essentially a prototype, we asked users to fill out a survey to provide feedback on the project (see image):

Step 13: Additional Tips and Ideas for Customization

This project is designed to be extremely flexible and have the ability to be altered in many ways according to the needs and desires of the teacher (assuming a teacher is recreating it). As previously mentioned, it can be created in any language and varied according to the target culture/circumstances of the teacher and learners. Our project was created and tested in a kitchen because of COVID-19. But this could be done in a classroom, business or anywhere else. Expanding the project to include other scenarios beyond a grocery store is also recommended. Such scenarios could include: purchasing a ticket for a concert, play, musical, sporting event, plane, train, bus, etc.; navigating an airport; checking in at a hotel; ordering food at a restaurant and many others.

Other ideas for tweaking the store project include: adding in other shoppers who may ask the user questions; increasing the number of items on the list; including items on the list that cannot be found in the store, forcing the user to ask the attendant about such items.