Immersion language training is quickly becoming a staple method for learning or studying a new language. As with all learning environments, there are pros and cons to this method.
The Good Stuff
There is no better way to authentically and intensively learn a language than to throw yourself headfirst into a place where every street and every corner offers a lesson, and every person is a potential teacher. In immersion learning, you have access to the tools and means to swallow the new language whole, 24 hours a day. Armed with a bilingual dictionary or translating device the world is your authentic and fully contextualized classroom.
They say, “necessity is the mother of invention”. This saying applies brilliantly in immersion language training. You speak and you learn a new language when you have no other options but to speak and to learn a new language (which often involves “inventing” or experimenting with using new words and structures, before you have perfected the delivery in the safety of a language classroom). Your listening comprehension will jump 300% when you have to understand this immigration officer (who seems to be yelling at you), if you plan on returning to your mother country again.
Immersion language schools and programs specialize in giving the necessary assistance and pointing students towards the information and resources they need to maximize their learning and travel experience. They typically arrange class schedules and group outings in ways that connect you to other nervous newbies in the same position and allow you to balance direct instruction of the language with spontaneous immersive learning.
You will learn words that you will never learn in a traditional language classroom like:
blister, rotten meat, indigestion, altitude sickness, urinary tract infection, and all of the most popular bad words of your host country!
So Much More:
Immersion training not only offers the ideal “classroom”. It also offers the cultural experience essential to learning the language on a deeper level and to expanding our own personal growth. Spending a period of time in a different country with the sole purpose of learning the language and culture of that country allows us to shift our limited perspectives and attitudes and see the world through a different lens.
Immersion training not only offers the ideal “classroom”. It also offers the cultural experience essential to learning the language on a deeper level and to expanding our own personal growth.
You will eat new foods…some mind-blowingly delicious, some stomach-achingly disgusting. The best part is, you won’t even know what you ate because your language level is not that advanced yet! (When you realize years later that you willingly ate stewed frog’s eyeballs, you will at least be able to brag to your friends.) You will probably increase your Facebook “friend” total by 15 to 20%, who can be your regular “pen-pals” to help you continue progressing with the language even after you’ve returned home. You may even meet your future ex-spouse, like I did!
The Not So Good Stuff
Ok, I admit. While it’s a great experience–it’s not all fun and games.
Cost and Logistics:
Immersion language training is prohibitively expensive. You must pay for flights, transportation, taxes, living arrangements while there, food, excursions and entertainment, language instruction, phone calls to nervous mothers, souvenirs for family and friends, and more in addition to the regular expenses you maintain in your homeland. Plus, it takes time. Immersive training is best with a chunk of time–a month minimum, ideally more. Not everyone can take that much time off-though if you can-you won’t regret it.
While the intensity of the language experience is great, unless you’re independently wealthily, or an Australian on a gap year, your immersion experience may be short. Language skills sky-rocket when being used, and decline sharply when abandoned. If you become fluent in arabic in the 3 months you spend in Saudi Arabia, but never speak or hear a lick of the language again, your language training may have been a waste.
World travel is wonderfully stressful. Especially if you barely speak the native tongue.
Try to minimize this stress by preparing adequately before you leap.
Sometimes international travel can be dangerous, especially if you look or sound like a foreigner and/or do stupid things. Contrary to what my parents fear, a single woman can travel abroad safely alone. Just don’t be a knuckle-head. Take the proper precautions like not walking around by yourself in a mini-skirt, full of bling through dark alleys at 3 in the morning. Oh, and don’t be afraid to wear a wig, or for males, a hairpiece, to blend in more easily.
Not Everyone Wants to Talk to You:
While you are there to speak with and learn from everyone you cross paths with, put bluntly, not everyone wants to talk to you. Your efforts to speak your chosen language (despite clearly having no ability) are noble. However, while the people who are curious and interested in you and your world outnumber those who openly can’t stand your presence in their country, some people will simply get annoyed by the painstakingly long time it takes you to ask for a coffee. Ignore these people. And keep trying–after you’ve left that cafe, of course.
Cockroaches and Rats
You may meet a cockroach or rat or two in your travels. These might be literal, like in the low-budget hostels and hotels you may need to submit to. Or these might be symbolic, like in the case of unscrupulous local “business people” capitalizing on foreigners who want to do immersion language training. In the case of the former, you can’t do much except bring a small water gun and fill it with Raid ant and roach killer and work on your aim. Conversely, you can just embrace the reality and make a little extra room for them in the twin bed. Regarding the latter, do your due diligence. Research before hand. Make phone calls and live contacts with schools and accommodation providers. And for God’s sake, get referrals. While the stories of malicious grandmothers running low-grade brothels with their foreigner language students proliferate, don’t worry, that’s just the sensational media trying to increase their ratings. The untruthful 3 generation family of women (granny included) that “swindled” me a little, also unknowingly connected me with about 4 other solid people that I still maintain regular contact with.
In addition to these, there are many more pros and cons to immersion language training than the ones detailed above. However, despite all the cons, I would highly recommend the experience to anyone even mildly considering it. It’s a wonderful, messy, beautiful, stressful, and important way to self-educate. And the good and the bad, in the end, all make for a good story.
–What immersion language tales, good or bad, can you share?