Friday, July 31, 2015

How to Survive Full Language Immersion

If you have the chance to go abroad, and want to learn a language, the best and quickest way to learn a foreign language is full language immersion.

It's a no-brainer why - you're constantly surrounded by the language everywhere you go, and with that comes being able to practise it all the time, soaking up everything like a sponge.

When you're living, eating and breathing another language, however, it is not easy (stating the obvious).

It is, in fact, challenging, tiring, excruciatingly embarrassing and isolating at times, and it is hardcore (big respect to everyone who does it).

Whilst, language immersion is all of the above, it is also an amazing and fascinating experience. I am so, so, so glad I pushed myself to do it, despite all of the above challenges.

You get an insight into the language and culture you otherwise wouldn't have, getting to learn everyday language and slang. You practise every aspect of language, you're reading, writing, listening and speaking - it's particularly great for perfecting your accent. Full language immersion is a one big language learning lesson.

How do I know? Well, I've done three full-on language immersions now, one in Brittany, France for 6 weeks and one in Valentano, Italy for 6 weeks (I have sadly replaced Italian with Spanish, for now) during my gap year, and then two years ago, during my year abroad, I lived in a student residence for 3 and months, in Medellín, where I was the only foreigner.

With my language immersion experiences under my belt, I decided it was high time to give my top tips for surviving full language immersion:

#1. Prepare yourself

If you can familiarise yourself with the language pre-immersion, it will help you feel more prepared before doing it. Obviously, it is impossible to learn the entire language, but learning basic phrases and grammar, listening to the radio or music will help give you a head start to learning the language.

#2.  Ask lots of questions

It's likely you will find yourself at loss for words, or struggling to keep up with the conversation, especially in big group situations. Ask lots of questions, especially when you meet people so you can 1. dictate the conversation and have a better chance of following it and 2. it lessens the burden of you having to talk!

If you're lost in a conversation, don't be shy to interrupt it every now and then to ask what is the conversation topic. It can be difficult at times to keep up, and it will feel like you're watching a game of tennis, as you have to look at the person who is talking to focus on what they're saying. Even if you feel completely lost, rest assured that all of this practise is going somewhere, so don't feel downhearted.

#3. Rest

Constantly speaking and having to consciously think in another language is tiring work. This will seriously sap your energy levels, and you will want to go to bed a lot earlier than usual. This is completely natural, so embrace it, rest up and over time, you will stop needing to have your nanna nap and get your energy back. This may be subject to friendly ridicule by friends or your host family, but let them know that learning a language is a knackering business, because the struggle is real.

#4. Find a native language escape

Sometimes the frustrations of learning a language will get too much, so being able to express yourself in your own language is a great escape. When I was living in the student residence in Medellín, I would go to the Wandering Paisa language exchange every Thursday and just speak English the whole time. It was great to vent and not feel conscious of speaking and relax with a beer. Make sure you give yourself a language learning break too, whether it's having a Skype with a friend back home, catching up with someone for coffee or watching your favourite TV show.

#5. Revise what you've learnt at the end of the day

This is something that I'm admittedly not brilliant at, but revision is key to language learning. If revising at the end of the day is too much, make sure to regularly revise the new vocabulary and grammar you have learnt, or remember the corrections from any mistakes you have made. Revision is also a great way to reinforce the fact that you have learnt something new. There are times when you can feel like you've learnt nothing, or even somehow got worse, so it's a positive reminder you're improving.

Which brings me nicely onto the last point...

#6. Stay positive

As I've mentioned above, learning a language can sometimes feel isolating and frustrating. But, always remind yourself why you want to learn a language, how great it is, and that the end result will be worth it. You are doing an amazing thing, and it is an incredibly brave thing to live in another language. Keep up the hard work and, trust me, you will see unbelievable results, especially when you can impress people with your sh*t-hot language skills.

Have you done full language immersion? What are your language immersion tips?

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