Critical Thoughts on Immersion and Language Learning

We live in a global, integrated society where perhaps more than ever before fluency in a foreign language is key to success and progress. The benefits are clear and measurable:

  1. It is becoming not just desirable, but essential to many professions.
  2. Fluency facilitates travel. It doesn’t matter if you are completely fluent; native people appreciate that you took the time to learn to converse in their language.
  3. Once you have learned a second language, the brain has memory skills called metalinguistic awareness that make learning another language easier.
  4. Speaking more than one language boosts the neural pathways of the brain, allowing more channels for information to process.
  5. By experimenting with new words and phrases, your brain’s creativity and logic increase.
  6. Learning and speaking another language boosts self-confidence.
  7. You become smarter as your memory, attention span, and concentration improve.

It has always been clear that immersion is the best way to retain a language, however, almost every school student takes two years of a foreign language but never achieves fluency. So why are more students not pursuing actually learning a foreign language not just as a satisfied requirement, but as a true skill?

One problem has been the inability to afford or the opportunity to go abroad and live in a place long enough to converse freely. That has changed with our digital age. There are ways to immerse a student more completely than ever before using technology as a help.

Immersion Strategies

  1. Why watch TV in English when it is simple to change the language to the one that you are studying?
  2. Your computer, smartphone, and almost any digital device have language options, as well.
  3. Strange but true, soap operas in another language can also help fluency. They have predictable plot lines and repetitive language, making them a helpful choice for practicing your understanding.
  4. Find a conversation partner, preferably one who is native to the country of your language. This person can help with colloquial speech and slang, too. This is much easier in a big city, but you can find a partner online, too.
  5. Use an app like Nextdoor or Meetup to set up a conversation club where many people can come to talk together and socialize.
  6. If you live in a larger city, shop at the stores where they speak the language you are learning and limit yourself to speaking only in that language.
  7. Keep a journal in your target language.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book in 2008 called the Outliers in which he stated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become good at something. His message was that most people are not born geniuses, but are deliberate “practicers.” He says, “The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time to be made manifest.”

Many schools today have classes that are taught partially or completely in the immersion language but unless students decide to become deliberate practicers, regardless of the opportunities available to them, they won’t truly benefit from learning a foreign language.

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