Close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting at a café in Paris. What do you hear? What do you see?
If the conversations you’re eavesdropping on don’t sound familiar and you don’t understand the menu you’re holding, then congrats! You’re immersing yourself in French! (Well, in your imagination anyway.)
But in reality, language immersion is the same. Immersing yourself in a language is putting yourself in an environment that only uses the language you want to learn. And yes, you can learn immersively without traveling to another country.
We’ll let you get back to daydreaming in a few minutes. For now, stick with us as we share how to immerse yourself in any language.
What does it mean to immerse yourself in a language?
First, what is language immersion? Immersion-based learning is a language learning method that surrounds you in your target language. In a fully immersive environment, you and everyone around you only use the new language without your native tongue. Simply put, you live and breathe the language you want to learn.
Sounds intense? What if I told you that babies do it all the time? And that you’ve successfully immersed yourself in a new language before? Immersion is how you learned your first language as a child: hearing words, repeating them, and making connections until you ultimately understood their meaning.
While adults don’t pick up new languages as fast as kids do because of native language interference, language immersion taps into the same process for all ages.
Unlike other language learning methods, immersive learning doesn’t rely on memorization. Language immersion constantly exposes you to the language in real-life situations, allowing you to pick up words naturally. And applying what you learn immediately through trial and error speeds up your brain’s acquisition of the new language.
Is immersion the best way to learn a language?
There’s a reason why experts agree that immersive learning is the best way to learn a language—it works. Decades of research on language immersion schools show that the immersion approach is the most effective method for language acquisition.
Compared to students in other types of language programs, language immersion students:
- Achieve higher levels of second-language proficiency
- Display more confidence when using their new language
- Show more improvement in their native language simultaneously
Not only does immersion help you learn better, but it also helps you retain better. A 2012 study found that students who participated in immersion programs for only 4-6 weeks still displayed higher fluency levels than non-immersion students two years after the programs ended! This suggests that the benefits of immersive learning persist well beyond the immersion period.
6 ways to immerse yourself in a language
Now that you know how language immersion works and that it’s worth the effort, let’s dive into how you can immerse yourself in a language. The best ways to experience total immersion are to enroll in a language immersion program or live in a region where people speak your target language.
But if neither sounds realistic right now, don’t fret. You can create partial immersion experiences in your everyday life, even if you’re learning a language on your own. Here’s how to surround yourself with a new language.
1. Learn from native speakers
When you’re surrounded by locals in a fully immersive environment, you’re given ample opportunities to learn from the best. Though it can be hard to replicate that immersive experience without traveling, you can still interact with native speakers from wherever you are.
Here are a few resources to explore:
- Sign up for a conversation club. Many libraries and colleges offer social clubs where you can meet others learning the same language. These groups allow you to practice your target language and learn from others in a casual setting.
- Join an online language learning community. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to befriend native speakers around the world. Explore language exchange sites or Facebook groups, such as this one, to find a conversation partner.
- Find a tutor. Tutors can take your language skills to the next level with expert feedback and personalized tips. If you’re looking for 1:1 language support, try Rosetta Stone’s Live Tutoring.
All of these learning opportunities increase your exposure to your target language and encourage you to speak the language as much as possible. Even if you aren’t comfortable participating in every conversation, you can still gain a lot from listening to advanced speakers! As in a full immersion setting, you’ll learn colloquial phrases and hear how the language is actually used by locals.
2. Immerse into the right level
If you were lost in a foreign country and didn’t speak the language, the locals probably wouldn’t add to your confusion with advanced phrases. Instead, they’d guide you through simple language, talking slower, and body language.
Similarly, you shouldn’t throw yourself into the deep end just to expose yourself to the new language as much as possible. If you’re a beginner, trying to immerse yourself by reading a novel in a new language can result in frustration and hinder actual language learning.
For effective immersion, your learning content should match your knowledge level or is just slightly challenging. For example, children’s picture books are perfect for beginners as they tend to use straightforward vocabulary that is easy to understand through context clues.
3. Actively engage in learning
Some popular immersion methods include labeling things around your home or listening to music. While naming household items and learning by listening can be highly beneficial, they don’t count as immersive learning if you’re not actively engaging with the content.
For example, if you enjoy listening to podcasts, active learning can include:
- Writing down common phrases that you hear
- Repeating out loud any new words
- Slowing down the speed to analyze pronunciation
- Summarizing the main points
While there’s no harm in listening to podcasts in another language just for fun, practicing active learning will optimize your language immersion.
4. Practice all language skills
There are four primary skills to build when learning a new language: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Even if your goal is to comfortably converse in casual conversations, you should still practice reading and writing. Diversifying your learning resources and strengthening all skills will increase your exposure to your target language and its culture.
Here are a few different ways you can incorporate each language skill into your daily routine.
|Speaking||Chat with your conversation partner|
Talk to Siri, Alexa, or Google Home
Record yourself improvising
YouTube and TikTok videos
Movies and TV
|Writing||Text a language exchange partner|
Write your to-do list in another language
Start a blog or social media account in a new language
5. Try to forget your native language
As you probably understand by now, the key to immersion-based learning is picking up words without translations in your native tongue. This can be difficult for adults who have mastered their native language since their brains are already accustomed to thinking in one language. It takes time to unlearn what you already know.
Luckily, we’ve uncovered proven strategies to help you speed up that process! Learn how to stop translating in your head so you can start thinking in another language.
6. Dive into the culture
Can you learn a new language without understanding the culture of the people who speak it? Sure. But that’s like playing a video game without the sound—you’re not getting the full experience.
A country’s language often reflects its history and beliefs, which can help you make sense of new and strange words. If you were already aware of how important it is to respect elders and people of higher status in Korean society, then learning that the Korean language has a complex honorific system shouldn’t surprise you.
Reading up on the culture connected to the language you’re learning can help you dive deeper into the meaning of words, acquire the language faster, and navigate social situations better.
How long do you have to be immersed in a language to learn it?
How long it takes to learn a new language depends entirely on what you want to achieve and how much time you can dedicate each day. While it will only take a few weeks to be able to hold basic conversations, it can take up to 88 weeks to become fluent.
With Rosetta Stone’s personalized learning plans, you can reach your language goals in as little as six weeks! Our Dynamic Immersion approach combines structured lessons and immersion principles to maximize exposure to your target language. You’ll be reading, hearing, and speaking a new language from the first lesson.