How to Learn a Language Through Immersion
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In my many years living abroad, I have learned a lot. One of the most valuable tools I have is my own method of how to learn a language. Of course people learn in many different ways but I will tell you how I do it and hopefully, you can take something home with you.
SO…off we go.
I am lucky enough to have a lifetime of travel, I come from a diplomatic family so we were travelling a lot. I won’t go into that so much but I recommend checking out my post How to be an International Chameleon.
This travelling around means I was exposed to many different languages and people from all sides of the world so I learned a lot of languages but even more than that – I learned a lot about languages. Priceless bits of information which I picked up made it easier to transition to a new country.
So let’s get on with it:
Don’t take classes!
Sounds stupid, huh? Quite possibly the worst piece of advice anyone could give. Well, I have never taken a language class in my life. OK so I don’t really recommend this, if you find that you learn well in a classroom then go ahead, language schools are fine…I guess.
It’s just that we live in a day and age where there is so much access to the information you need to learn a language and get a grip of the nuances. I also firmly believe that taking classes often (not always) results in the student shying away from the other vital components that are needed to truly learn a language.
Immersion is the key. Immersion and discomfort were what I needed to learn the three languages I speak. The most invaluable part of my learning experience was being surrounded by friends who would constantly speak the language. It’s all good and well learning a language but if you leave the class and then don’t use anything you have just learned then what’s the point? You need repetition to remember.
You also need what I refer to as ‘landmark moments’ to perfect the language. Let me explain. If you associate a certain building or landmark with your knowledge of an area then as soon as you see the landmark you know where you are. The same principle applies to learning a language; if you’re chatting to someone in German and the person corrects your grammar or word choice – it’s a landmark moment. From then on you will probably remember to use the correct word.
Bathe in the language.
Immersion. Immersion. Immersion.
It’s no good moving to a country and then not interacting with the locals or making friends. It’s not only no good, it’s downright disrespectful. I mentioned that it is vital to mastering a language and it is because if you are not making friends with locals then you’re wasting a significant part of your day not speaking (i.e. practising) your new language. Plus you get awesome new friends with a different culture entirely.
Next. Watch TV…listen to the radio…read newspapers in the language you want to achieve. The way I do this is by watching my shows in English with the language underneath as subtitles, this has truly been invaluable as a technique to build up vocabulary. Newspapers are also super resources, there’s fresh content every day, you can read them slowly and it’s like a game to decipher the weird words. Eventually, you can digest the whole article. Now that’s a great feeling!
Seems unnecessary to say this but I have seen it all too often. One of my international friends who has been living here for ages turns up to the party and says: “Do you speak English? My [insert language] is not so good.”
What’s more embarrassing: Not speaking the local language after living there for a long time or trying your best and making a couple of errors?
People LOVE when foreigners make a genuine attempt to learn and speak their language – especially if they are native English speakers. It shows respect, confidence and a good, intelligent character. It’s not that locals are tired of English speakers not making an attempt, it just puts us to shame when Alejandro from Madrid speaks impeccable English and we speak no Spanish.
Also, as stated, the only way to know if your language learning is going well is to test it out! The best you can hope for is a circle of friends who correct you. Many people don’t want to correct foreigners’ mistakes but you should ask them to and if you’re not sure, you can ask them that too!
The key to learning a language through immersion lies with the hundreds of thousands of people around you who speak the language. You have all the tools you need around, all the resources to read, places to practice etc. You would be silly not to use them!
Go and speak tongues.