7 Immersion Activities for Language Students

Want to make your classes even more immersive and motivational than actually flying into the country and living among native speakers? You can!

Through the seven immersion activities I’ll share with you below, your students can be instantly transported into the country where the target language is spoken, without purchasing plane tickets.


1. Native Speaker Visit

If a Spanish class were to go on an in-country immersion in Spain, they’d be flooded by the sights and sounds of native speakers going about their business. Good times! But that would make a huge dent in everybody’s budget. So why not bring a native speaker to class instead?

You may be a native speaker yourself, but count yourself out. Bring some new faces to stand in front of the class. There’s just something more effective about a fresh face.

Here are some tips for making the process run smoothly.

  • Pick somebody who’s outgoing, a natural extrovert who loves interacting with people and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Ask him to prepare a short talk of about 15 minutes. And he can really talk about anything—so long as he does it in the target language. He can tell his personal story, talk about his job or share some interesting quirk about his culture.
  • Brief your guest beforehand, explaining there will probably be times when he and a student will have miscommunications and have to try to decipher what the other is saying. Let him know that you’ll let these moments play out and allow the student to figure things out, intervening only when absolutely necessary.
  • Assign one student the task of briefly introducing the guest before the presentation. The rest of class time will be spent engaging and interacting with the native speaker, with little regard for grammatical perfection. Let the class do a Spanish Q&A with him, for example.
  • Assign some students the task of asking some questions after the presentation, but don’t dictate what the questions are going to be. These have to come from the students themselves. Listen carefully, because they’ll clue you into what your students are most interested in.
  • Assign one student the task of expressing thanks to the native speaker on behalf of the class at the end. And be sure to invite him to visit again if he should ever find the time.

Do this often enough in the course, and your students will have more time interacting with native speakers than learners who fly all the way to the target country without engaging in serious discussion with anybody there.

2. Audio Immersion via Transcription

Being in the target country means the moment language learners switch on the TV or the radio, they get to listen to native speakers talk. So over time, their ears become attuned to the rhythm and rhymes of the language.

For a class immersion, you need to actively feed your students something to listen to. This transcription activity is a good one to give as homework.

  • Choose an audio clip that’s about one minute in length. It can be anything. It can be a news clip, a short narration of a scene, a brief dialogue, an excerpt of a speech—anything! Just don’t tell them what it’s all about. They’ll have to figure this one out for themselves.
  • The students will have to listen to the clip and transcribe what they hear. This creates an active listening experience for them. They have to carefully listen to what’s being said. They have to make out the exact words and also figure out if the sentence they end up with actually makes sense.

You can always let them listen to songs, podcasts and radio shows, and let them consume the very same content that native speakers themselves listen to. But then there’s always the danger of passive listening, where the sounds go into one ear and escape through the other, without any meaningful processing in between.

To address this, the transcription exercise compels students to wrestle with the language. It’s not just passive and unconscious reception. They’ll have to exercise auditory and mental agility.

3. Video Immersion with FluentU

FluentU takes authentic videos and turns them into personalized language lessons for your students, like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks. You can utilize FluentU for immersion in many ways.

  • You can easily use the videos as material for the audio transcription exercise shown above.
  • With a teacher account, you can assign some videos as homework, so that when students come into class, they come in with a little pre-teaching for a lesson.
  • You can use the videos as supplementary material and lift examples of actual usage so your students can hear how native speakers actually use their language.
  • FluentU videos can scaffold your lessons and ensure that students get a full multimedia experience in class.
  • You can also let your students interact with built-in quizzes, or create your own quizzes, basing your questions on what the videos present.

In summary, FluentU is an awesome teaching tool that makes your classes truly immersive.

4. Food Safari

One of the first things a language learner or traveler often does when immersing themselves in a foreign country is to go on a tasting tour of the cuisines that the local culture has to offer.

In this activity, your class can have a literal taste of what the culture is all about by focusing on certain dishes. It goes without saying that the class presentations your students will prepare will be done in the target language.

  • Each student is assigned a dish native to a culture that uses the language. For example, if it’s a Japanese class, then sushi and ramen could definitely be on the list. Let the students draw slips of paper to see who will be preparing what dish. When a student, for example, is given sushi, the most basic thing she can do is obviously to bring some of it in and share it with the class. 
  • The student who cooked the dish will then be asked to make the dish come to life. She’ll be given full range and absolute freedom to present the dish in class. She can do a cooking demonstration and talk about its history, or the different recipes developed over the years. If there’s a play or movie based on the dish, she can share that as well. Anything remotely related to her dish, she can do. 
  • Hold yourself back from making corrections and let the students do their thing. Some presentations will be replete with grammatical errors, like those linguistic errors committed by learners immersing themselves in the country. An uninterrupted presentation will give the students confidence and the self-assurance that they’re making progress in the language.

If the native speaker activity developed students’ curiosity and their ability to ask questions, this one will hoist them to the other side of the communication process—that of making statements of fact, sharing information and delivering a message.

These are the types of language lessons that are very hard to forget because they’re tied to a rich, memorable context. Imagine, if you have just 10 students, the class can have a taste of 10 different authentic dishes! It’ll really help make the culture come alive for them. 

5. Historical Flashback

In the target country, language learners swim in the culture and the history of the people who speak the language. They can walk around historical buildings or visit ruins of historical significance.

In this activity, we make that history even more palpable. Instead of passively listening to a guided tour, we let students do their own research and find out as much as they can about a famous person in history, learning the language along the way.

  • Students get to pick a historical figure whose story they’d like to share in class. The advantage of presenting famous historical figures is that they’re already quite familiar to the students and their lives have plenty of interesting stories, incidents and facts that the students can use for the activity.
  • This activity has two elements to it: a written and an oral one. The written element of the activity will be helpful in fine-tuning their grammatic understanding, especially of usage and syntax. The oral element compels them to actually have a go at the language themselves as if talking to native speakers.
  • The students should write down fifteen interesting, coherent and grammatically sound sentences. They’ll write these sentences and their translations on a sheet of paper which they’ll submit to you. For advanced classes, encourage the students to go for more complex sentences. 
  • They’ll then present what they wrote in front of the class in five to seven minutes. During their short presentation, they won’t just be limited to their fifteen statements. They can expound and add a few more details if they so wish. The use of costumes, props and visual aids is highly desirable and will definitely get some bonus points.

In a German course, for example, you might get the likes of Luther, Marx, Bach or Merkel. Having several students pick the same person is fine, but for any culture, there should be lots of varied possibilities to choose from, and they can include people who are well-known or of historical interest for any reason.

For example, depending on the language and maturity level of your students, an infamous figure like Hitler shouldn’t necessarily be considered off-limits.

6. Ritual Investigation

This is a homework assignment designed not only to familiarize students with the distinctive traditions of the culture in question, but also to build students’ individual vocabularies.

Because of the context provided by a ritual or cultural celebration, your students will find the words easier to remember. So they’ll not only have gained interesting insights into the culture but a new set of vocabulary in the process.

  • Students pick a ritual, a tradition or a feast day celebrated by native speakers. The goal is to find out as much as they can about the tradition, why it’s celebrated, how it all started or how it evolved over the years. In a Chinese class, for example, somebody might choose to read up and investigate Chinese New Year celebrations.
  • Students should find seven to ten vocabulary words associated with the whole ritual or celebration. This could be a set of vocabulary words that are used in this celebration that are also used on a daily basis by native speakers. For the Chinese New Year, these words might include “luck,” “new,” “year” and even the names of certain animals.
  • The students will write these down on paper and create a two-sentence English definition for each of the words. They’ll submit this as homework.

After this assignment, you can then help process the whole activity by explaining how cultures might be different on the surface, but as a whole experience a shared humanity.

Take the opportunity to teach students about the importance of respecting cultures different from their own. Because you’re not simply a language teacher, you’re a cultural guide.

7. Site Visits

For this last one, you’re actually going to step out of the classroom, but not to go to another country. It’ll only be to go to a different part of your town or city.

Site visits are important in that they already contain the visual, auditory and kinesthetic prompts that your students might experience if they actually go to the target country.

  • Your students’ only assignment in this case is to interact with the environment: to ask questions about where stuff comes from, touch the goods on sale, taste the samples, etc. No handwritten work, no oral presentation in class. 
  • Think of the whole environment as a visual aid and prop for a class lesson, with everything already in place. All you need to do is to point everything out to your student. Tell them that it’s a slice of the culture they’re learning and the best thing they can do is to luxuriate in it and take it all in.

You can arrange for your class to visit Chinatown if you’re in New York, Little India if you’re in London, expat organizations, ethnic museums, embassies, even the homes of native speakers.

For example, Chinatown would in many ways sound, look and smell as if you are indeed on the other side of the world. As a cultural area, it’s arguably just as “real” and “authentic” as China itself.

How Does Immersion Work?

You don’t need to take your class out of the country and into some foreign land to experience linguistic immersion. As I’m sure you already know, immersion can be had inside the four walls of your classroom.

Here are some ways your students can benefit from language immersion.

  • Immersion puts focus on the language itself and students get to actively practice. They’re not just learning about the language, its different usage rules and such. They’re actively engaged in its use, even if awkwardly at first.
  • The target language is used in some engaging activity or in a communicative way. It fundamentally changes how your students think about the target language. The language ceases to be a separate entity, something that needs to be memorized or mastered, whose vocabulary needs to be learned rote. 
  • The language becomes an instrument with which students are gradually able to think, express themselves and accomplish tasks. This real-world, rubber-meets-the-road, close-quarter experience with the language effectively mimics how native speakers learn their mother tongues.

And guess what, you don’t have to send your students to get passports in order to have that experience. You can simulate those things in your classroom so that the target language isn’t just an amalgamation of five unconnected sentence examples at the end of each chapter in some textbook.

Instead, it can become so real and so useful that it becomes the medium with which they ask a question, meet somebody new, make a purchase or watch a movie. It can guide their senses and inform how they look at things.


So there you have it! Seven activities that make any language come alive.

They’re much cheaper and sometimes even more engaging than being in the country where the native speakers live.

Paired with your creativity and pizzazz as an educator, your classes will truly be an immersive experience.

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