Two Kerikeri High School students have topped the world in the first international virtual reality language competition.

Gillian Toala, 16, didn't just beat 10,000 students in six countries to win the top prize in the ImmerseMe Games, she also won first place for Greek, a language she'd never studied before, and Spanish.

Another Year 12 student at Kerikeri High, Nimish Singh, also 16, placed second worldwide and took out the prize for Mandarin Chinese.

The competition was based around virtual reality language learning software developed by Kiwi company ImmerseMe.

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Competitors were dropped into a series of pre-recorded virtual reality situations in which they had to test their language skills with real native speakers, for example by ordering a baguette in a Parisian boulangerie, visiting the Great Wall of China or booking into a hotel in Indonesia.

The competition ran from May 21-28.

ImmerseMe Games winners Gillian Toala and Nimish Singh, of Kerikeri High School, with ImmerseMe founder Scott Cardwell (testing virtual reality goggles). Photo / Peter de Graaf
ImmerseMe Games winners Gillian Toala and Nimish Singh, of Kerikeri High School, with ImmerseMe founder Scott Cardwell (testing virtual reality goggles). Photo / Peter de Graaf

ImmerseMe co-founder Scott Cardwell, who presented the awards at the school yesterday morning, said it was the world's first virtual language learning competition.

''To have the two winning students from one school is a pretty huge achievement,'' he said.

Originally the competition was to have been held during the Tokyo Olympics but it was brought forward to give students a challenge during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The competition between Gillian and Nimish was so intense their eight-hour-a-day efforts crashed the company's servers.

''We had senior developers around the world furiously trying to work out a way to get the server back up. Then they completely crashed it in the last four hours of the competition.''

Year 12 student Gillian Toala receives her award from ImmerseMe founder Scott Cardwell. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Year 12 student Gillian Toala receives her award from ImmerseMe founder Scott Cardwell. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Gillian studies Spanish at school and is fluent in Samoan, which she said helped her learn other languages.

''It was awesome being able to practise different languages and feel like I was in the country in real life and real time.''

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Year 12 student Nimish Singh receives his award from ImmerseMe founder Scott Cardwell. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Year 12 student Nimish Singh receives his award from ImmerseMe founder Scott Cardwell. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Nimish also takes Spanish at school and learns French and Chinese in his free time.

''I absolutely love learning languages. Language is the door to culture and ImmerseMe is the key,'' he said.

Both are heading to Spain on a school trip next year. They were to have gone in April but it was postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The software offers Chinese, French, German, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and English as a second language.