Take a quick peek online, and you’ll find countless language blogs, instructors, schools and influencers espousing the one weird trick that will have you conversing comfortably in your target language in no time at all.
And while certainly we’re in agreement that the right teaching framework will accelerate your progress, we also can’t deny that one of the very best things you can do to achieve effortless fluency is immerse yourself in the language you’re learning.
Most multilingual individuals will tell you that immersion is what makes the difference between understanding a language’s concepts and structures, and using it in a way that feels like second nature.
But before we get into our tips for learning through immersion, it’s important to clarify what language immersion actually is.
Immersion-based learning involves plunging yourself into situations in which your target language is prevalent, which can facilitate a “sink or swim” response to learning. This can take the form of an actual immersion program—for example, schools that teach all subjects, not just language instruction, in your target language—or living or working in an environment in which your target language is the primary language of communication. It can even be as simple as participating in an activity or taking a class in that language, or making friends with whom you can practice the language.
Now that we’ve established what immersion-based learning entails, let’s get on to our tips for making the most of it—without getting in over your head!
Perhaps diving in the deep end is your style, but for most language learners, we’d recommend establishing something of a base before plunging into full immersion—whether that means taking a short course or a few private lessons or even spending some time on a language app.
Immersing yourself in conversations you wouldn’t even find interesting in your mother tongue isn’t going to help you develop lasting associations in your target language! Take a class in an activity you enjoy, join a club for a favourite hobby or start posting in an online forum—and then watch how much easier it becomes to discuss those topics in your next language class!
Immersion is all about pushing you outside of your comfort zone, but there’s only so much that a pre-intermediate speaker is going to get from a university-level course in astrophysics, for example. Start with situations and environments that challenge you and leave you (somewhat) straining to follow along, but avoid those in which you find yourself completely lost!
When you’re learning through immersion, the people around you—your target language-speaking friends, colleagues, classmates and so on—become your language teachers. Take advantage of their inherent “expertise” by asking them to correct you when you make mistakes, or offer alternatives for vocabulary you sense is overly simplistic.
As we’ve already noted, immersion is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to build fluency—but that doesn’t mean it’s helpful, or even necessarily healthy, to completely cut yourself off from your native language. Language learning can be exhausting, and just like you need rest days from physical exercise, it’s also crucial to take a break after putting yourself through mental strain. In fact, studies have shown that maintaining a strong connection to one’s target language actually boosts self-confidence in the classroom!
Ready to take the leap into immersion? E-QIP’s Explore 30 and Connect 15 programs allow students from around the world to join us here in Montreal to improve their English (through a combination of classroom learning and real world activities) while living and socializing amongst locals!