Carling Sun, an American high school student of Chinese origin, was invited by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) to be a special speaker and to introduce her AI+VR situational Chinese teaching method to foreign language teaching experts and teachers around the world, and share her three-year teaching experience. She stands out among thousands of foreign language teachers worldwide and becomes the youngest “foreign language teaching research and development expert” of ACTFL.
Carling Sun was born in Los Angeles, California, but her parents are both Chinese. Growing up in Beijing, her parents placed her in kindergarten at the British School of Beijing (BSB) to become bi-lingual. She spoke Chinese with a Beijing accent and English with a London accent at age 6. When she was in primary school, she chose to study Spanish as a foreign language. Although she had a teacher who was a native Spanish speaker, she couldn’t express herself confidently even after four years of learning Spanish because she didn’t live in Spain and had no one to practice Spanish with. For the first time in her life, she felt that it was challenging to learn a language and realized the importance of a language environment to foreign language learning. She went to a primary school in Los Angeles in fifth grade and found that most classmates were forced to learn Chinese by their parents. However, the Chinese teaching methods there were old-fashioned, and the teachers had accents. Her classmates learning Chinese always complained about how hard it is to learn Chinese.
When she was 14, she began to benefit her community by teaching Chinese voluntarily. However, she wanted to invent a more interesting and less painful way to learn Chinese. When she saw her male classmates play games through VR glasses, it suddenly dawned on her that VR glasses could be used to create a virtual reality 360-degree video environment in which students could immerse themselves to learn Chinese and that the AI-based machine-talk conversations and speech recognition feature allow students to learn entirely by VR glasses.
It was rather difficult for a middle school student to invent this “VR-based teaching method” since this was the first time for her to do this and she needed to do everything all by herself. The first problem to solve was what to teach. She led her team of teenagers to produce daily Chinese conversational videos based on their encounters in China. The team designed the ten most practical scenes where actors and actresses talked to one another in Chinese as if they were in China. The second problem was how to shoot. In order to produce high-quality videos, she needed to learn how to operate a professional VR camera. To give the students full and realistic immersion, she needed to solve three problems regarding the VR camera: distance, angle, and actors and actresses’ eye contact with the learner. After rounds of adjustments and tests, her team finally achieved the expected quality.
After more than a year of exploration and research, with the help of her uncle engaged in the AI industry, she finally established her “AI+VR” Chinese teaching method at the age of 15.
This method not only helped learners overcome shyness and the lack of confidence, but also solved the problems of the shortage of qualified Chinese teachers and high tuition fees. “Students who use my language learning method do not need to learn from actual teachers. Instead, they only need to follow four learning procedures: learn, practice, test, and read through VR glasses.
After repeating these four procedures several times, I guarantee they can speak Chinese fluently and confidently.” Carling added, “Language competence is achieved not only through learning but also practicing with native speakers.”
This innovative teaching method has been used in her community library for three years and led to her becoming the founder of Immersion Talk, a Chinese language teaching program. This project has been extended beyond just communities and helped underprivileged students at Chandler School in Pasadena learn Chinese for free. American universities have also recognized her invention. In 2018, the University of Southern Iowa adopted this teaching method for a semester of experimental teaching, accompanied by excellent learning results. Thanks to her contribution to foreign language teaching, she became a teenage member of The Chinese Language Teachers Association, USA, Inc. (CLTA) and American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) as an exception. Thus, she stepped into the academic domain of Chinese teaching.
In China, this new Chinese teaching method has also been used experimentally in some Chinese universities, including the University of Suzhou, and was recognized by the teachers and students. In 2019, she was invited to Beijing Language and Culture University, the highest international Chinese language teaching institution, to present her teaching methods. Experts and professors have affirmed this innovative Chinese teaching method in international Chinese teaching in China. Teachers from several universities came into contact with her and expressed their hope to apply this technology to international Chinese teaching courses of Chinese universities. In 2020, Carling received two honorary awards in China’s education industry, CCTV Education Industry Craftsman and Tencent Education Industry Influencer.
When the 17-year-old talked about her ideal, she said confidently, “My idea is to make the world free of difficult foreign languages, believing that one day AI technology will develop to such an extent that it can completely solve communication problems and that there will be no need to learn any foreign languages. I will specialize in AI and language teaching in university to explore new directions for human’s free communication.”