Are you thinking of taking your language learning journey a whole step further by learning through immersion? If you are, I salute you! You’re about to join the tribes of people who have had the courage to step out of their comfort zones, enrich their lives and the lives of others around them.
But before you go boldly on your learning through immersion voyage, there’s several things you’ll need to keep in mind. Especially if you want to get the best possible results from your time away.
You see, there are many rookie mistakes to make when considering learning through immersion. Not least of all, planning a trip with your best buddies, hanging out with crowds of expats, or setting up camp in places where English is widely spoken.
Sure, there’s no denying you’ll have a blast in the process. But, learning through immersion should be exactly that -- being immersed. Completely surrounded, living and breathing the language. Not taking constant breaks, speaking in your own tongue and ordering in restaurants where locals speak your language.
So, before you pack your bags, be sure to check out these top five things to consider when learning through immersion.
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1. Do Your Due Diligence
Before you decide to head off to Madrid, Buenos Aires, or another major world capital to become fluent in Spanish, consider this--is there somewhere a little more off the beaten path that you can go?
There are hundreds of thousands of expats living in Madrid. And Buenos Aires is one of the most popular places to learn Spanish. Deciding on one of these hot spots makes it all the more likely you’ll be breaking bread with fellow Americans before the end of your first day.
What’s wrong with that? Well, nothing, except that you risk delaying your learning through immersion process. So, consider your goals before you go. Are you actually looking to come back fully fluent? Or are you merely seeking a fun experience abroad? If it’s the former, consider taking the path less well trodden.
Look for smaller towns that are safe and still have the infrastructure you need, like running water and WIFI, but that will force you to put yourself in situations of need. You will have no other choice than to speak the language and you won’t be able to fall back into your safety zone of English, which will greatly speed up your learning.
If you’re worried about being lonely, don’t. You’re certain to find that the locals are friendly, especially if they’re not used to having foreigners around. In fact, having little or no contact with foreigners will make them naturally curious to talk to you, unlike the large cities where you’re no longer a novelty.
2. Become an Avid Note Taker
A note taker? You might be thinking that paper notebooks are so last season (or last century, in fact), but taking notes is invaluable to learning through immersion. Try a method that works for you. Whether it's a notepad, your iPhone, dictating voice notes into a recorder, or jotting down phrases in the back of a book, don't allow learning opportunities to pass you by.
When you see a sign, hear an expression, a popular song on the radio, or ask for recommendations for places to go, note them down and come back to them later. You might think that you’ll remember them at the time, but it takes between 15-20 exposures to a new word before you learn it, so the more you see it the better.
Everyone has different ways of learning new things that work best for them and learning through immersion is the same. You may be more visual or prefer to learn via listening, so pick the practice that suits you best.
3. Go to Class while Learning Through Immersion
Go to class? Okay, so you might be thinking that soaking up all those language vibes when learning through immersion means you won't need to go to class. But making sure that you study is the best way to really get the most out of language learning abroad.
If you’re not a big fan of staring at the textbooks, make the most of your teacher and ask them any questions you have about the language you’re learning during the day. This way, you’ll get to clear up any doubts and learn in a fun and relevant way, putting real life examples into practice.
And, you'll be able to ask for help when it comes to communicating with the cute guy or girl you keep seeing on the subway! Trust me, getting a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t speak your language is a sure-fire way of speeding up learning through immersion!
You’ll be invited to more family gatherings than you could have ever dreamed of and soak up the culture as well. Seeing as culture and language go hand in hand, this will also provide a richer experience when learning through immersion, as you can taste and touch the language, rather than just speak it.
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4. Swallow Your Fear
Heading abroad alone can be scary, so you’ll need to learn to swallow your fear when deciding on learning through immersion. Yes, it can be tough when you’re on your own and people don’t speak your language. It might sound like they’re angry or annoyed when they speak with raised voices and use overt body language.
But it’s all part of your learning process. People are people wherever you go, you will find good ones and bad ones, just like at home. Don’t walk in dark alleyways at night and don’t do anything foolish that you wouldn't do at home. Learning through immersion is meant to enrich your life, not see you on the cover of the tabloids or converted into a dismal statistic.
And while we’re at it, swallow your fear of speaking in a foreign language as well. Far too many people keep quiet because they don’t want to make a fool of themselves. Don’t be one of them! Mistakes are the best way to learn and can also make for some seriously funny situations, which serve to break the ice and lighten the conversation.
5. Keep an Open Mind
Last but most definitely not least when learning through immersion, is to keep an open mind. Expect to do things that you wouldn’t do at home. Be open to eating new foods, drinking new drinks, dancing new dances and singing new songs.
This is the best part of learning through immersion--discovering different ways of doing things, tasty flavors, sultry dances, interesting opinions and new tastes and styles!
If you’re too set in your ways and expect everything to be like it is at home, you’ll never get to experience the real fun of learning through immersion, or the value of the time you take out.