The Complete Guide to Language Immersion
“Being involved, learning firsthand and observing the craft and absorbing all you can makes it easier to define what you want.” – Giada De Laurentiis
Think about how you learned to ride a bike, swim front crawl at the pool, or play hoops in your backyard.
You learned it though immersion.
This applies to nearly everything we want to learn, from cooking to starting a business, and especially learning a new language!
The fundamental concept of immersion is quite obvious as it’s something we naturally act on without much thought. Most of us learned how to speak our native language because we grew up around people (family, friends, etc.) speaking it around us. In other words, we didn’t consciously decide that we were going to immerse ourselves in a language in order to learn it, it just happened.
Immersion > Classroom setting
A study was done by researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center, where subjects were divided into two groups, and were observed using a technique called electroencephalography (or EEG), which measures brain processing.
The two groups were both asked to study an artificial language, where one group studied the language in a formal classroom setting, while the other was trained through immersion.
After five months, the results clearly showed that the immersed group displayed the full brain patterns of a native speaker. This is mind-boggling, since 90% of committed language learners are still learning a language using the traditional classroom setting (and paying a premium price for it).
The researchers also concluded that for foreign language learners to become a native speaker, they simply must think like a native speaker, adding that adults who were immersed can just as easily become a native speaker as well.
However, the same fundamentals of immersion are not well set-up for us when we try to learn a new language. This is mostly because the location we live in prevents us from being immersed in the language, due to the limited number of people speaking it around us.
4 ways to immerse yourself
1. Want vs Need
There is a big difference between want and need. While “want” is a nice-to-have, a “need” is a must-have.
“Want” can often be confused for external needs, such as impressing those around you, versus a “need” that comes from within and serves as intrinsic motivation that is longer-lasting and sustainable.
Ask yourself: Why do you “need” to speak your target language?
Then come up with at least 3 powerful reasons. These should be powerful enough to make you want to take immediate action in learning the language.
Listening to the stories of language learners, here are some powerful stories:
-“Need to be able to communicate with my family members”
–“Need to speak Spanish to have a deeper connection with my spouse”
-“Need to teach my child so they can be grounded in their cultural roots, before they forget the language.”
–“Need to learn in order to communicate with my boyfriend/girlfriend’s family.”
–“Need to get around safely and avoid being taken advantage of as a foreigner while traveling”
–“Need to learn in order to have a deeper cultural experience, and make the most of my travel experience”
–“Need to learn so I can meet friends without worrying about being alone.”
–“Need to expand my knowledge because the world is becoming globalized, boosting international business opportunities”
–“Need to learn a second language to improve my resume for career advancement and additional opportunities”
–“Need to work with clients who speak the foreign language, or I’ll be out of a job.”
2. Absorb all information in your target language
Start by making a list of all the sources of information you draw from throughout the day, from the moment you wake up to hitting the sheets for bed time.
Some examples include:
-The newspaper (during breakfast or at work)
-Radio in the car
-Movies you watch (i.e. Netflix)
-Music you listen to
Now think of how you can change everything into the target language you want to learn.
-Change your smartphone language setting
-Watch movies on Netflix with foreign language audio and English subtitles
-Listen to podcasts in the foreign language
Some changes will be small at first, but these changes accumulate into providing an immersive experience for you as time passes.
The key to this strategy is not to go out of your way to immerse yourself in activities that you normally don’t do. Follow your daily routine to the minute, but just change the language.
This means that if you don’t like reading newspapers, don’t go out of your way to read them. If you enjoy watching movies, continue to watch the movies you enjoy (don’t even change the genre), and use tools like Netflix to listen in the foreign audio with subtitles.
Forcing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy is one of the fastest ways we’ll stop persisting in our learning journey, because our brain will associate the foreign language with negative associations, rather than positive ones.
Of course, if you’re just starting to learn, this may seem confusing for you at first. But as you accelerate your learning journey with a professional coach (or another method), you’ll start to make out a few words, then a few sentences, and before you know it, you’ll begin to understand a good portion of the foreign information you’re absorbing.
3. Keep a daily or weekly journal (or blog)
This may seem to be mainly beneficial for your writing skills, but improving your writing skills (in any language) will help you become a more effective communicator in written and oral forms.
If you already have a daily or weekly journal you write in, continue to write in the same frequency, but do it in your target foreign language.
If you don’t, then start writing on a weekly basis to start with, then you can gradually increase the frequency as you feel more comfortable with the process. You can write about anything from: how you feel, what you’re most excited about, what you plan to do today, and what you learned.
If you’d like more of a structure, you can borrow the five minute journal format:
When you wake up, take five minutes to answer:
- a. 3 things you’re most grateful for today
- b. What will make today great?
- c. I am… (happy, strong, fearless, intelligent, a supportive friend, a great boyfriend/girlfriend, an entrepreneur, etc.)
Then at night before you head to bed, answer:
- 3 amazing things that happened today (and why)
- How could I have made today even better?
*Feel free to adjust the questions as you wish. No length limit.
The best part about following the five-minute journal format is that you’ll not only improve your language skills, but you’ll feel happier, more grateful, and excited to explore your feelings.
4. Work with a professional (or accountability partner)
Language is learned with people, and used with people. This means that immersion in language learning doesn’t happen alone.
For most of us who are not living in a foreign country, this leaves us with two options:
- Find someone who speaks the foreign language (and wants to learn your native language), and try to help each other out by spending half the time speaking one language and the other half speaking the other.
- Work with a qualified teacher online, who is 100% dedicated in helping you succeed.
In summary, the biggest differences between the two comes down to money and time.
Cons: Sucks up your time, unsustainable, and reduces learning speed.
Conversation exchange can take a significant amount of time in finding the right partner (who is fluent in your target language, AND wants to learn your language; personality; location/time zone; time availability). From there, scheduling and keeping a consistent schedule to practice is also a big burden, and from personal experience it is rarely sustainable. You also have to keep in mind that 50% of your time needs to be dedicated in helping the other person, so in a 60-minute session, you’re actually practicing for only 30 minutes. Lastly, your conversation exchange is simply a native speaker, not a professional trained to help give you proper feedback, correct your mistakes, and guide you to the fastest way of learning the language.
Pro: Faster learning, guaranteed accountability & success, and saves you time.
Con: Costs money
Working with a professional language teacher allows you to receive 100% attention focused on helping you succeed, a seamless scheduling experience to guarantee availability when you’re free, immediate feedback, and constant accountability.
We’ve seen that working with a professional will not only save yourself from wasting time by accelerating your learning speed, but you can focus on what matters in your life, whether it’s your work, family, or your hobbies, instead of coordinating schedules.
Websites like Rype, offer unlimited private Spanish lessons, with a dedicated professional teacher. You can have your lessons at home, at your office, and at any time of the day. It’s an easy way to learn without distracting you from your busy schedule.
Through following these steps, immersion can happen within the comfort of your own home. All it takes is a little creativity, dedication, and help from a coach.