You’ve probably heard that learning a language is a lot easier when you live, study and/or work abroad. So why is immersion so special and how can understanding what makes it work help us achieve our language learning goals?
1. You are motivated to communicate
Chances are, if you are living in a country where the target language is spoken, you will be highly motivated to learn in order to talk to the people around you. Whether it is to master the day to day exchanges e.g. I’d like a croissant please! or laugh along with the native speakers at dinner party jokes, using language to communicate brings social gratification and helps you meet your basic needs. To create the same effect at home, make friends who speak your new language either online or through local exchange groups and join a social media site where posts, likes and comments are in the language you are learning.
2. You are familiar with the context
Meeting unknown language in a real-life environment cues the brain as to the potential meaning. Picture yourself in a desert and someone comes up to you saying water and dangling a cup. You will guess at the meaning and more often than not, you will be right. In the same way, you may not necessarily know what the woman behind the counter has said but you can tell it was similar to thank you and have a nice day. To simulate context at home, choose content on topics that are likely to be familiar to you. Whether it’s a recipe for chocolate cake, an article on economics or a video about whales- you can apply your prior knowledge to make good guesses about what’s being said.
3. You encounter language often
The most obvious plus to an immersion environment is you are surrounded by examples of natural language. This means you are likely to encounter the most frequent words over and over and over again until you can’t help but learn their meaning. It can be difficult to simulate this aspect of immersion at home but you can certainly try. Go around your home and label everything you can see, leave foreign language newspapers and books on every coffee table and keep a running soundtrack of music and/or radio chat in the language you are learning to keep your ears and eyes busy.
4. Sights, sounds, tastes, smells
We find it easier to remember new language when it is wrapped into a dynamic memory or experience. After all, how stimulating are a group of letters on a page when you can hear the word for cookie, smell the butter from the bakery and see a sign labeling the tasty French treat you are about to eat? Give yourself a chance to make dynamic memories at home by creating opportunities for contextualized learning. Follow along to a cooking show or get creative with a DIY project in the language you are learning. You’ll find yourself concentrating hard to understand what’s being said and the physical nature of the activity will give your memory a boost!
While not every language learner can travel abroad, it IS possible to simulate an immersion environment at home via your digital world. Try setting your electronic gadgets to the language you are learning, take virtual field trips to foreign language websites with a browser extension and put together a learning plan where you dedicate a certain amount of time a day to your target language study. Make sure your environment is full of stimulating input and keep Lingua.ly mobile on hand to look up new words in the dictionary, create flashcards to practice and read article suggestions from the web that peak your interest and fuel your learning.