Tired of classes and tones and characters?
What if learning Chinese was more about tasting tea than memorizing stroke order?
That’s what immersion is about.
You might still have to memorize stroke order, but one of the best language learning techniques is to do fun stuff in Chinese. AKA immersion.
But what if I’m not in China? What if I have a job? What if I can’t meet Chinese people?
Creating immersion opportunities is about creativity, not just where you live or work.
There’s no app that you just click on for instant immersion. By definition, immersion in Chinese should come from a variety of sources. You need different types of interactions in Chinese throughout your day.
It’s obvious that you’ll have to work at Chinese immersion if you’re not living in China, and if you’re surrounded by people who speak your language. If you plan, it’s not difficult to create an immersion environment no matter where you are.
On the other hand, some might assume that just being in China is enough to be immersed in the language. Not true! Even if you’re in China or Taiwan, you need to put in the effort to get the linguistic benefits of immersion.
However you decide to take the plunge, we’ve got some ideas that’ll surely help!
Why Learn Chinese Through Immersion?
- Whether it’s time spent in self-study or in less academic pursuits, immersion increases your exposure to Chinese and accelerates the language learning process.
- You’ll learn faster if you’re not constantly switching between languages. The key to becoming fluent is to be able to think in Chinese without translating. Immersion helps you focus entirely on the language you’re trying to learn because you’re completely surrounded by it.
- As you build an immersion set-up for yourself, it should be based on things that pertain to your life, like your profession, your hobbies or your family situation. You’ll learn the words, phrases and sentences that are the most relevant to your life first.
- Immersion isn’t all or nothing. It’s about spending as much time as you can interacting with people in Chinese, and exposing yourself to Chinese within the constraints of your lifestyle.
Chinese IRL: How to Learn Chinese Through Immersion at Home or Abroad
There are two broad categories of immersion situations for those of us not in China. There are virtual immersion activities, and “in real life” (IRL) activities that’ll get you out of the house and seek out Chinese speakers who live near you. We’ll give you tips on some things you can do at home or in the community that’ll get you speaking in no time.
For those who are fortunate enough to study abroad, we have some ideas for you, too! Read on to know how to get the most out of your Chinese immersion program at home or abroad.
Read on to know how to get the most out of your Chinese language immersion program at home or abroad.
Virtual Immersion at Home
You’re a busy professional with lots of obligations and little time to go out and meet native Chinese speakers. Luckily, there are tons of options available at your fingertips to help you learn Chinese.
Watch movies and television in Chinese
Watching movies or television in Chinese is a great way to learn and, because it’s relatively passive, is still a great way to relax. You get both the linguistic and the cultural benefits of immersion by just flipping on the TV.
There are more options than ever to help you find Chinese viewing material. Here are a few:
- CCTV. A free resource with a wide selection of videos, China Central Television is programming produced by the Chinese government. You’ll find loads of choices from documentaries, children’s shows, news and entertainment. CCTV also has Learn Chinese programs that are specifically geared to those trying to become fluent in the language. Take some time and get to know this website. It has a lot of great resources that will appeal to learners at different levels.
- FluentU. FluentU has interesting and entertaining videos from a huge variety of sources. It takes these real-world videos and turns them into language learning lessons. You can watch movie trailers, commercials, music videos and more. Watch the videos with interactive captions you can click to see definitions and example sentences.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos, as you can see here:
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how they’re used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.
FluentU’s Quiz Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You have a 100% personalized experience.
- YouKu. This Chinese version of YouTube has videos you’ll typically find on social media including uploaded videos by users. It also has a huge video streaming library with a large selection of movies and Chinese TV dramas. You’ll also find American movies dubbed in Chinese or with subtitles. The site is free to use and you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy.
- ChineseClass101. While the video lessons on this site are more straightforward and educational than the authentic material resources on this list, they’re still an easy way to get a daily dose of Chinese, and since they cover a variety of levels and topics, they can help you out with more targeted learning. Combining them with some of the other options on this list will allow you to fully immerse yourself in video without completely losing track of the more instructional side of Chinese learning.
- DramaFever allows you to stream content for free or for a subscription of $4.99 USD per month. What started out in 2009 with just one Korean drama, has grown to include Latin American telenovelas and a huge selection of Asian TV shows and movies. The site offers thousands of titles searchable by genre, date of release and popularity. Be sure to download the app so you can keep up with your new favorite show on the go!
If you can’t find anything that catches your eye on the sites above, maybe one of the options listed here will get your attention.
Use Chinese social media
Is something on your mind that you’d like to share with the world? Maybe you’re more of a “here’s what I had for breakfast” social media user? It doesn’t matter. Write about what you had for breakfast, or your profound thoughts on the state of the world, on Weibo (similar to Twitter) in Chinese.
Twitter and Facebook are both banned in China, but both have huge numbers of Chinese users, so you don’t have to use Weibo if setting up an account is too onerous. What you should do, though, is engage. Practice your increasing vocabulary and use those slang words you’ve been itching to try. See if your breakfast post gets any comments. Respond. Respond to others’ comments.
Follow current events in China
It used to be very difficult to get a Chinese newspaper unless you were in China. Not anymore. Keeping up with the latest news from China makes it easier to talk to Chinese-speaking people when you have the chance, and the process of reading the newspapers or watching news shows will help your language immensely. Try Caixin for a reputable and interesting news source. A couple of other sites to practice your reading skills include BBC News podcast and Radio Taiwan International.
Read Chinese blogs
Blogs provide more of a sense of community than a newspaper. They also allow you to tailor your reading to your specific interests. If you follow a blog or blogs, try to be as active as possible, including commenting on posts. Take a look at some awesome blogs here, where you’re sure to find something you’ll like.
Chinese Language Immersion “In Real Life”
The initials IRL are used on the internet to let others know that you’re referring to things outside of the virtual realm. Now, getting out of those comfy PJs and leaving the safety net of the virtual world to practice Chinese seems be a little threatening, but it’s the best way to put those newfound language skills to the test.
Find group activities
One of the biggest hurdles a language learner has to jump is simply speaking the target language to others. Whether it be to native speakers or to other learners, we hate making mistakes. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it. You’ll make mistakes, but the more you put yourself out there, the easier it will become and the less you will care.
- Join a Chinese conversation group. Check out Meetup to find a group near you to practice Chinese. By far one of the easiest IRL immersion ideas if you don’t live in China, it’s also less intimidating since you know people are there to learn.
- Attend Chinese language events at the public library. You can find Chinese cultural events, conversation groups and even story times for kids in Chinese at local public libraries. If not in your city, then check the library websites of the surrounding areas. These are often, but not always, book-related. Regardless, they are a good way to meet Chinese speakers in your community. Check out the community web page and attend some.
- Pay attention to the Chinese calendar. Many Chinese cultural associations have elaborate Chinese New Year celebrations, as well as events around other important holidays. Some events are public, some might be private. Find out what the Chinese cultural associations are in your area and contact them (in Chinese!) to see what the options are.
Add Chinese locales to your weekly routine
Shop at a Chinese grocery store or eat at authentic Chinese restaurants. When you shop, try not only to pay attention to labeling or the menu (which should be in Chinese), but maximize your interaction with the staff and other customers. Ask questions about how to cook an unfamiliar vegetable. Order your meal in Chinese.
Host a Chinese student in your home
If there’s a university in your area, there are probably Chinese students. You could simply rent out a room in your house for international students, or work with an agency that specifically places Chinese students in homestays. Whether you agree to host a student for a few weeks over the summer or an entire year, it’ll be an experience you’ll always remember.
Chinese Immersion Abroad
You’ve taken the leap! Now you’re abroad and you have no trouble finding opportunities to practice. A little nervous? Here are some ideas for getting out and talking to people!
If you still haven’t considered exactly how to get yourself abroad, consider the many options offered by Hutong School. You can choose between courses or internships and find whatever program is best for you. Then you can additionally take advantage of any of the options below to enhance your experience abroad.
Get a roommate
Instead of finding an apartment alone, find a Chinese roommate! It will save you money—and you’ll have someone to talk to that can explain aspects of Chinese culture you might find baffling. You can find apartment shares on ganji.com or 58.com, which are both similar to Craigslist.
Take a class
I mean take a fun class, not a language class. One that interests you. Learn to cook, or learn to play the erhu (Chinese violin). Ganji.com or 58.com are also good spots to look for classes. Alternatively, you could just join in something that you like that’s open to the public, like a group of Tai Chi practitioners in the park, or some older women doing a dance routine in a public square.
Put your kids in a local school
Don’t go the usual expat route of putting your kids in an international school. Enroll your kids in a local school with Chinese kids. Bonding in the schoolyard isn’t just for children. It’s also a major way that parents around the world make friends with each other. So not only will your kiddos learn more Chinese, you will too.
Hang out in tea shops
Many tea shops are like impromptu gathering areas. You can learn about tea, learn about life… and learn Chinese. If you want to continue to be welcome, buy some tea occasionally. As a bonus, tea really is an important part of Chinese life, so as you’re learning about the tea ceremonies, you’ll also be learning important cultural knowledge.
This is just the beginning! If none of these ideas speak to you, use them as a springboard to come up with immersion ideas that fit your life.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.