Yalun (Helen) Zhou

Associate Professor & Graduate Program Director, Communication and Media

Yalun “Helen” Zhou has an interdisciplinary background in Applied Linguistics and Education. With a focus on second language acquisition (SLA), her research involves the learning, teaching, and use of Chinese and English in various settings, social contexts, and environments. Zhou believes that SLA theory can be informed by empirical studies in second/foreign language classrooms, and conversely, second/foreign language classrooms can benefit from the advancement in SLA theory. She investigates how people of different ages and different backgrounds acquire additional languages and how their native language and culture influence their acquisition of other languages. She also studies how different learning environments (traditional, virtual, VR, and XR, immersed, or mixed) can best assist the target language acquisition. Besides, Zhou explores how curriculum design can enhance the second language (L2) learners’ academic literacy and transformation from L2 learners into L2 users.

Before joining RPI, Zhou worked at Michigan State University and led the online Chinese program involving massively multiple player online role-playing games. At RPI, in addition to teaching, she is among the core faculty of The Mandarin Project, a research initiative between Rensselaer’s CISL (Cognitive Immersive Systems Laboratory) and IBM. She is also an affiliate with the Games & Simulation Arts & Sciences (GSAS) Program, supervising student's language game design research projects. With CISL, she oversees the content development and instructional design of The Mandarin Project. She collaborates with virtual immersive learning environments teams in the design of 360-degree panoramic language interaction, multi-modal conversation with embodied AI, game narrative, and pitch tone contour analysis system. Her multi-disciplinary faculty and student researcher collaborators come from diverse disciplines, including computer science, cognitive science, games, simulation arts, and architectural acoustics.

Zhou is currently the Editor of the Journal for Distinguished Language Studies. Her scholarly work has been published in a wide variety of academic venues, including Learning Environment Research, System: An International Journal of Educational Technology and Applied Linguistics, Journal of Technology and Chinese Language Teaching, Immersive Learning Research Network, ACM DIS, HCI International, AAAI, The Journal of the Acoustic Society of America, and Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching.

Helen Zhou was the recipient of Rensselaer’s Class of 1951 Outstanding Teaching Award in 2017.


Ph.D., University of Missouri-Kansas City

Research Focus
  • Applied Linguistics
  • Second Language Acquisition
  • Immersive Language Learning Environments
  • Technology-Assisted Language Learning
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