The Wayfinder startup company tackles a new virtual reality frontier for learning a new language

Immersing language learners through virtual reality, UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder incubator program is home to a startup that’s leveraging commercial VR tech to revolutionize language learning.

UCI connects new technologies with the marketplace through UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder Incubator, a program dedicated to progressing UC’s startup companies. Immerse, one such tech startup, is using virtual reality (VR) to disrupt the vital field of language learning.

Says Immerse CEO Quinn Taber, a UCI Continuing Education alum, “One of the best ways to maximize retention is to have as many different memory pathways as possible.”

Continues Chief Product Officer Jacob Furnari, “It’s effective to learn through video chat. Our thought was, ‘How can we take that to the next level?’ Virtual reality is the natural next step.”

Both Immerse executives experienced firsthand the advantage of total immersion in gaining language skills.

“I was in a street market, and this Bedouin woman said ‘apple’ in Arabic,” says Taber. “I was like ‘huh?’ and then she takes a bite and then sticks it in my mouth…for the rest of my life, I never will forget that term.”

Through utilizing the Oculus Go wireless VR gaming headset, Immerse enables students to learn language skills in a 360-degree virtual environment. The headset is affordable for most learners, and works without a computer.

Equipped headsets are sent to students the world over. Right in their homes, learners can interact with a trained instructor in virtual locations across the globe. “As a Japanese student to be transported to California for an hour to practice English – that’s pretty powerful,” says Furnari.

The Immerse team works out of UCI Beall Applied Innovation offices, where they enjoy the support of fellow entrepreneurs and assistance of an army of energetic UCI interns. They also call upon the sage advice of the program’s Innovation Advisors. “You realize quickly how much you don’t know when starting a startup. And the innovation advisors have been integral to filling in the many gaps we had as a company,” says Furnari.

The program has also afforded the cofounders the chance to present at university-sponsored investor events. One such presentation lead to their largest contract yet with a Chinese company. In fact, Immerse sees Asian corporations as its primary growth market, due to the region’s high interest in learning English.

It’s fitting that Southern California is the site of the next wave of language education. California is the country’s most diverse state. Its population speaks at least 220 languages, with over 40 percent of households speaking a language other than English. Through helping birth innovative startups like Immerse, UCI is keeping the Golden State on the leading edge of an ever-shrinking world.