You’ve heard the term ‘immersion’ before on your quest to learn a new language. And you think you’ve got a pretty good idea of what it means.
But there’s one big misconception about language immersion that confuses learners.
In this post, we’ll help you get clear on the concept of immersive language learning and explain its benefits. We’ll also share one way to take immersive classes you’ve never thought of.
What exactly is ‘Language Immersion’?
There are many ways to structure a language-learning program.
But one of the most effective ways is immersion. The idea is that by engaging in the language through conversation and media, your brain becomes accustomed to the language faster.
Thanks to modern technology, this can be done both in person or online. In a best-case scenario, you’ll learn in both environments.
Language immersion is typically defined as a “technique used in bilingual language education in which two languages are used for instruction in a variety of topics, including math, science, or social studies.”
We call the student’s native tongue the “L1” and their target language the “L2”.
Different programs use varying levels of the L1 and L2 depending on their chosen method of instruction or their goals.
A total immersion or submersion program-also known as a “sink-or-swim” program-for example, throws students into classes taught in their L2.
The benefits of language immersion
More people today are bilingual or multilingual than monolingual. Research shows this offers a slew of benefits to your mental functioning and health, including:
– Better attention and ability to switch tasks
– Easier adjustments to new environments
– Less cognitive decline with aging
Language immersion programs help to maximize these advantages. They also help offer students an opportunity to experience the culture of their target language, develop a foundation for communicating in the L2, and appreciate different languages and cultures.
But visiting a country where the people speak your target language is not the only way to reap these benefits for your brain.
The science behind immersive language learning
In the 1980’s, Elaine Horwitz was one of the first professors to study and identify foreign language anxiety. In her article published in the Modern Language Journal, she suggested that students who struggle with anxiety get out of the traditional language classroom.
Her study lended itself to the benefits of being surrounded by the language you are learning. Obviously, this isn’t possible to do all the time unless you live in a country which speaks that language, but that actually doesn’t really matter.
The practice works so long as you’re immersed during the learning process. So, while you’re mind is occupied with learning Spanish, it shouldn’t be also trying to process English.
This helps the mind absorb the material faster, and can drastically reduce typical anxieties that accompany learning a new language.
The big misconception: language immersion and location
When most people think ‘immersive language lessons’, they assume you must physically go to a foreign country where the locals speak your target language to get the full experience.
While this is one way to immerse yourself in a culture and a language, it’s not always the best way. In fact, researchers suggest study-abroad programs often fail to offer participants enough exposure to their target language, resulting in an undeveloped “language awareness.”
But there is another way to take immersive language lessons without leaving the comfort of your home:
Language immersion online
Online immersive language lessons, typically taught via Skype or a similar video conferencing platform, are a particularly effective way to learn a new language if you are planning to travel – or even relocate – to a country which speaks the language you are learning. By conversing with a fluent speaker, you’ll have a basic familiarity by the time you set food on the ground. Being there in person won’t be the first time you’ve heard rapid-fire conversation in the language.
This means if you’re receiving lessons from an instructor whose native tongue is your target language (your L2), you’ll experience the benefits of immersion. No plane ticket required – at least, not yet.
Your teacher will also expose you to his or her linguistic norms, slang, and culture each time you have class together for a more fully-developed language awareness. The main thing you, as the student, need to look for in a teacher is that they are familiar with your learning style and can tailor a lesson to best fit how you learn. If you aren’t sure what your learning style is, take this fun and easy quiz to find out.
One of the biggest services you can make yourself is to learn another language. Not only will being bilingual help your career, it will broaden your horizon, and even keep you healthy. One of the best ways to improve your target language is immersing yourself. Lucky for you, you now don’t even have to leave your house (although you certainly can) in order to achieve the best results from language immersion.
Author bio: Tim Wenger is a travel journalist, author, and entrepreneur based in Denver. He serves as the Content Manager at Live Lingua, the web’s first fully-immersive online language school. After finishing a BA in Communications from Fort Lewis College, Tim jumped into the back of a Ford Econoline and spent a few years playing guitar in dark bars while falling in love with travel, good food, and local drink. He’s been unable to rest his pen (or his feet) ever since. Check out his work in USAToday, Matador Network, and Fodor’s.