immersion language learning

4 Hacks for Learning a Language Through Immersion Without Breaking the Bank

Complete language immersion is within your grasp.

That’s right.

You have the ability to learn a language by being immersed in it, whenever and wherever you want.

Whether or not you’re in college, or going to college anytime soon.

Whether or not you can afford to go abroad.

In either or both of the above scenarios, you’d get to learn a lot, meet new people and often…pay a lot of money.

We might wish that we could go on being college students forever, but the sheer amount of time and money needed probably means this isn’t going to happen.

Similarly, a long stay in a foreign country to learn a new language is out of the question for many.

There are ways to work (literally) around the costs, but we may have jobs, families or other obligations that require us to stay put for the time being.

But that’s okay.

As Scott Young demonstrated at TEDx when he challenged himself to learn the whole MIT curriculum for computer science without actually enrolling, you don’t necessarily have to go to a specific place to get a quality education.

Believe it or not, the same idea applies to language learning.

If language immersion in a foreign land is what you’re seeking, but you just can’t seem to make it there, never fear!

If, on the other hand, you’re already in a foreign land or enrolled in a course to learn your desired language, you can still benefit from what I’m about to tell you.

Either way, you have everything you need right where you are.

So stay where you are, and read on.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)


What Is Language Immersion, Exactly?

I’m sure we’ve all heard the term thrown around quite a bit and are familiar with it, but its popular meaning has changed quite a bit from its original meaning.

While you might think of language immersion as actually living in a country where they speak the language you’re learning, the term was actually originally intended to describe classrooms where the target language (the language being learned) was used exclusively.

That’s right.

Language immersion from the very beginning has been about learning a language outside of its spoken areas. 

Let’s focus on that for a minute, because it’s really important. Language immersion is just using the language you want to learn all the time.

Somehow, we’ve come to think of living in a foreign country as some sort of mystical experience, whereby the language will creep into our brains and slowly grow itself, like some sort of beneficial tapeworm.

First of all, gross.

Secondly, the truth is that to learn a language you just have to practice. And immersion, whether at home or abroad, is one way to do a lot of that quickly.

The 10,000-hour Rule

You may already be familiar with the 10,000-hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s come under a lot of flak lately, but the research on neither side is definitive, so I think it still serves as a handy guideline.

Basically, the rule says that if you study something intensively for 10,000 hours, you’ll have a good shot at being a pro. Language is no different. Study for 10,000 hours, no matter where you’re living, and you’ll be at the top of the heap.

But never forget that these 10,000 hours have to be focused. If it’s not difficult, you’re probably not learning. Watching 10,000 hours of anime with the subtitles turned on has, I think it’s safe to say, produced no masters of Japanese listening skills.

This is why you should carefully form a detailed plan, allocating a certain number of hours each day to the four main skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Some time should also be set aside just for nailing down grammar and vocab.

While everyone wants to emphasize different things in their learning, it’s a good idea to be well-rounded. Working on one skill set will reinforce what you’ve learned in another.

But what should you actually do? And how can you really achieve total immersion?

Read on.

4 Hacks for Learning a Language Through Immersion Without Breaking the Bank

1. Technology: It’s changed everything

Well sure, you might say. That sounds great, but language is a different kind of knowledge. You have to speak to people and most of the people you need to speak to live far, far away.

And yes, many of them will most likely live far, far away from you. But that’s starting to matter less and less.

Common pieces of technology that you use every day can be repurposed for language learning.

For example, your iPod or iPhone can easily be converted into a handy listening immersion tool. All you have to do is take a movie or television series and convert it into an audio file.

Then, when you’re out walking around, turn on the file and disappear into a world of foreign sounds. Continually finding new files and converting them might be a bit time-consuming, but it’s worth it to have your surroundings take on the tones of a distant language.

And if you’d rather skip the hassle of compiling appropriate material and get right to learning, you always have the option of using FluentU, an online immersion platform that caters to all levels of learners and now offers an app for iPhone or iPad.

FluentU takes real-world videos created by and intended for native speakers—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

Speaking is probably the hardest skill to practice when you’re not living in a country where the language you want to learn is spoken, but by having online language partners it suddenly becomes possible to get speaking practice anywhere and at any time.

If you’re looking to connect with native speakers, there’s a long list of websites that now offer language exchanges online.

Some websites, like Livemocha, will even help your language exchange along by offering guided conversations.

There are similar platforms for writing. Take Lang-8, for instance. Here you can submit a piece of your writing in whatever language you like and have it corrected by a native speaker. All you have to do in return is correct someone else’s writing in a language you speak.

2. Letting the people come to you

Globalization. For better or worse, it seems like it’s here to stay. For language learners, this is undoubtedly a blessing.

In both the USA and the UK, there are significant pockets of recent immigrants and long-established ethnic communities that continue to speak a foreign language.

Of course, some languages will be easier to find than others. Obviously, if you live in the United States and you want to speak Spanish, the odds are pretty good that you can find someone to speak with.

But don’t rule out the less common languages! I’m currently living in Prague in the Czech Republic, but I’ve managed to meet dozens of Japanese people.

Oftentimes, you just need to meet one speaker of the language you’re learning and they’ll connect you to a whole community of speakers of that language.

One of the easiest ways to find these groups, if you’re not already in the know about a local ethnic community, is to go looking for local foundations or cultural centers.

For example, for Japanese there’s the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center as well as the Japan Foundation operating inside the USA.

Others examples include the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Goethe Institut and the Korea Foundation.

While you’re at it, be sure to hit up your local universities for any cultural clubs or international exchange programs they might run. If you can speak their language at all, study abroad students will happily befriend you and help you out in exchange for help with their English.

3. Your very own immersion mindset

If you have the right mindset, you can live anywhere and learn a language.

If you have the wrong mindset, even living in the deep Siberian wilderness surrounded by country folk who’ve never heard a word of English won’t help you learn Russian.

Many an expat has lived years outside of their home country without learning much more than “Hello” and “Thank you” in the language of their new country, relying solely on English or a native spouse to translate for them.

So if that mindset is what we want to avoid, what mindset should we have?

Well, we should start with a “no English” language pledge.

This is famously used by the Middlebury College immersion program, but it’s something you can do by yourself. If you work or have one of many other legit reasons for being unable to spend all day every day avoiding English, then choose clear goals that are challenging but not impossible to accomplish, like setting aside four hours each day to read, write, speak listen and even think in another language.

Don’t forget the last item on that list.

Being able to internalize a foreign language is incredibly important to learning languages and learning them well.

If you want to have an immersion mindset, then naturally that mindset should be in your new language.

4. Letting the immersion come to you 

If you do want to go all out and have the classical immersion experience but still can’t quite find a way to make it abroad, there are numerous language immersion programs that can be found throughout the U.S. and elsewhere.

While many of these immersion programs are intended for younger learners, there are also some for adults.

The program at Middlebury College in Vermont, already mentioned above, is particularly well-known and has a long track record of having students take a “no English” pledge for their time at the school.

You can also check out your local universities to see if they have any public immersion classes up for offer.

This type of classical immersion experience would undoubtedly be beneficial for any language learner.

But remember, if you put in the effort, you can flip your everyday life inside out, leaving English safely tucked away for only when it’s really needed.

All you need is motivation, a computer, some adventurous friends and a new way of thinking.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)


And One More Thing…

If you’re digging these immersive learning strategies, you’ll love using FluentU. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from real-world videos—like music videos, vlogs, news and inspiring talks.

With FluentU, you learn real languages—the same way that natives speak them. FluentU has a wide variety of videos like movie trailers, funny commercials and web series, as you can see here:

FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.

Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.

You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.

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