How to immerse yourself in a language most effectively
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! After taking a look at several of the immersive learning options available to you, there are some things to keep in mind after having chosen. While the experience offered to everyone is generally the same, there are a few things you can do as an individual to make your experience even better. Even simple things can turn language immersion programs into something so much more where you walk away with a new language, a better understanding of other cultures, lifelong friends, and more. It is also possible to squander the opportunity and there are a few things you can actively do to avoid that.
Patterns Across Language Immersions Programs
One of the things many people neglect to think about when they are taking off for an exchange or language immersion program is what the potential pitfalls are. While these are not the only things to look out for, they are a great starting point to set yourself up for success in immersion environments.
Avoid other expats
This is particularly important when it comes to learning a new language when living or staying in a new country. While I understand the draw, it is vital that you resist it if you truly want to progress your language skills. Having a few expat friends to speak with and bond with as you experience the same trials and tribulations is great, but it can stunt your growth indefinitely.
Being able to speak your native language will stop you from developing your skills in the local language. You will miss out on making friends with locals who can show you things no tourist will ever get to see. Most importantly, you can carve out a place for yourself in the lives of those you come across. One of my favorite things in the world is visiting my host family almost a decade later to catch up and pick up where we left off. Those who gravitate towards other expats generally don’t have the privilege of experiencing this.
Not only that, but as many people have been recently pointing out, many expats are prone to sex tourism which is no way to travel. Ideally any energy focused on romantic relationships will be aimed primarily at developing a long-term, highly fulfilling relationship. Of course, this is much easier said than done, so avoiding it is often the better option.
That said, if you really must seek out a romantic relationship, use it as an opportunity to get some immersion learning done in your target language. While you're at it, try to go out and experience as many things as you can, because that is the best way to go about learning your target language.
Get out as often as possible
As I have said before and as I will say again, the best way to learn a new language is by using the language. If you are living on the ground in a new country, getting out and meeting people, experiencing the culture, and making memories is vital. That's where this simple piece of advice comes in:
Say yes to EVERYTHING (within reason).
While localized immersion is phenomenal and a great way to practice learning a language at home. While abroad there are so many more options that are not always available to you where you live. That said, this is something worth practicing irrespective of where you find yourself reading this. You may just find a new hobby or passion project you would have never known about had you not been studying a new language.
When I was living in Belgium, I did my best to take this advice to heart, it was given to me by a German exchange student who happened to be living with us. He told me to say yes to everything, so I did my best. Because of that advice I was able to:
- Learn archery
- teach my host family to play piano
- Visit Paris and stay in the Sacré Coeur for free
- Ski in the alps twice
- Visit 11 countries in 12 months
and so much more that it would take far too much space to recount. These are opportunities that were available to almost everyone, but the only ones who were able to partake are those who said yes and showed up. That said, it might seem like saying yes to these things is a no-brainer, how could anyone say no to going to the alps?
Well, as anyone who has been abroad will tell you, doing things in a language you don't know fluently is exhausting. Especially early on, you will not be motivated to even leave your room because the idea of going outside and not understanding anyone is daunting. However, as you continue to progress and adapt things do get easier, even if at times it seems like they never will.
The rule isn't say yes to everything, it's say yes to adventure, even when you don't think you want it. Beyond that, the focus should be on securing more adventure and there is one sure fired way to do that.
Most people don't want to risk bringing someone along if they think that person will be a liability rather than an asset. This is true in friendships, business, and while traveling abroad. But demonstrating competence can look different for everyone, especially while studying abroad and learning a foreign language. There are some things you can do to set yourself apart, though:
- Speak every chance you get
Most exchange students will never speak their immersion language. It doesn't make sense, but it is the reality and so simply by doing what most others will not do you can have what most others cannot have. Irrespective of how many times you mess up, how many verbs you conjugate incorrectly, how many horribly insinuative things you say, people appreciate effort. Not only that, but demonstrating your willingness to improve will result in people being more willing to help you improve.
Whether that is through more exposure to the the new language, more time practicing with native speakers, more opportunities to communicate, honest feedback about your fluency level, or help planning out next steps to avoid making mistakes, a willingness to learn makes all the difference. However, improvement is also important.
- Make improvements consistently
After a certain amount of time, helping someone who is not improving with the second language acquisition can be difficult. It is impossible for a native speaker to teach someone a language if that person refuses to put in the requisite effort. Demonstrating the ability to progress even with all of the challenges of everyday life is powerful when trying to establish yourself amongst the locals during an immersion based learning program.
The best part? If you are using the language and meeting people and trying new things, it is next to impossible to not make improvements. With that in mind, since you will be exploring all of these new things, consider inviting some of the people you've met, even if they are acquaintances still and not necessarily friends.
- Invite people to do things
Something that is often overlooked is the ability to invite people to do things you enjoy. Yes, it can be good and often fun to do what others invite you to do, but it is not the only way. In fact, if the relationship feels one sided, this is a great way to turn that around. Whether it's watching films, a culture excursion, or inviting them to explore a topic about which you are passionate, sharing your life with people will give them confidence to share their lives with you.
While there isn't really a correct way to approach an immersion program, there are certainly many ways not to go into them. It may be exhausting, but saying yes to things people invite you to do is a superpower and not many people realize this. If you are being invited to do something, there is probably a reason for that and you should do everything you can to take full advantage of that. Using the above strategies you will be able to maximize your language immersion programs and ensure that you leave nothing on the table when it's time to turn around and go home.
Learning a language is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. But you can do difficult things and be great, so continue to do difficult things and be great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same.