Learning a new language can take thousands of hours.
It’s a process that can stretch on for months or even years.
Heck, if you aren’t using language learning techniques that work well for you, it’s a process that might never end.
Sometimes, though, you need to learn a language and you need to learn it fast.
Or maybe you’re just the impatient type, and you want to get your results sooner rather than later.
Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for your language learning to be a short, intense sprint rather than a long, drawn-out slog, look no further than foreign language immersion training.
Immersion involves putting yourself in situations where you’re forced to speak and understand a language you don’t yet speak or understand.
Immersion is the sink-or-swim method of language learning, and it turns out that because people are wired for language learning, they almost inevitably swim rather than sink. (Note: The sink-or-swim method works better for learning a language than it does for actually learning to swim.)
Immersion language training doesn’t just work faster than traditional classroom language training—there’s mounting evidence that it works better, too.
Research has shown that the brains of adult immersion language learners process new languages in a more “native-like” way than the brains of adult classroom language learners.
Immersion training also leads learners to learn language in a more natural way and prepares them for dealing with real-life situations in real time.
Finally, immersion learning allows learners to immerse in both the language and the culture simultaneously.
In its purest form, immersion learning involves basically spending all day every day focusing intensely on language learning for short periods of time.
If your schedule doesn’t make this kind of intensive language learning experience possible, there are also various resources that can help you add an immersive element to a more textbook-driven learning strategy.
Either way, if you’re looking to get in on immersion language learning—and I’d highly recommend it because you’ll be hard-pressed to find a faster, funner, more effective or more stimulating way of learning a language—here are some of the best immersion language resources out there.
Putting Together an Immersion Language Training Strategy
Of course, there’s no reason you have to stick to a single one of these immersion methods or resources. You can mix and match as you see fit.
For instance, if you’re totally new to a given language, you might start by getting your hands on some immersion software. As you build up a basic knowledge of the language, you can start up some language exchanges to speed up your progress towards fluency. Then, when you’ve reached an intermediate level, you can sign up for a total immersion program to turbocharge your language learning.
You can draw on these resources in any number of ways. One thing is for sure, though: If you want to get a new language under your belt in as little time as possible, it’s hard to beat immersion. And the more intense the immersion, the better.
7 Intense Resources for High-speed Immersion Language Training
Berlitz is a language education company with hundreds of centers around the world. Their Total Immersion program comes with a hefty price tag (think several thousand dollars per week of instruction) but provides an intensive immersion experience involving personalized training with multiple coaches from 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. every day.
If you can afford it, Berlitz Total Immersion is a way to put a serious dent in your language learning in a very short amount of time. Each week of training is intended to advance you one Berlitz “proficiency level.”
For a taste of how Berlitz Total Immersion works, check out this 1987 New York Times article about Roxana Robinson’s experience with the course. The specifics of the program have changed a little since then, but the general principles do seem to be time-tested.
If you don’t have the time or money for a total immersion program, a way to get a great learning experience at home is to immerse yourself in videos, music and news in the language you want to learn. FluentU offers a streamlined online immersion experience made up of all those resources by curating rich collections of authentic foreign language media content. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
As it doesn’t just offer a great immersion experience but also a boatload of handpicked native material bound to be useful to any language learner, FluentU is worth checking out even if you do decide to go for an in-person immersion course.
And unlike your run-of-the-mill video player, FluentU’s system makes things easy by letting you read captions, pause, look up words, get translations, track vocab and personalize your learning experience.
Several centers in the United States offer immersion language programs where students live in a completely immersive language environment for several weeks.
Middlebury Language Schools offer intensive immersion courses at different levels in several languages. Participants take a “language pledge” that they will speak only in the language they’re learning during their stay at Middlebury.
Most courses take place in Vermont, but some are also available in Oakland, California. Middlebury’s programs are highly respected. Like Berlitz Total Immersion, they run at several thousand dollars, but they do offer some need-based financial aid.
If you’re up for a trip to Minnesota, Concordia Language Villages offers full immersion language “camps” for kids, adults and families. They also have specialized corporate and government language programs. Check out this article in Parade for Catherine Price’s take on her Concordia experience.
One thing to keep in mind if selecting a full immersion program is that Berlitz Total Immersion centers on individualized instruction while Middlebury and Concordia offer a more communal immersion experience.
Local Immersion Language Training Programs
While full immersion programs are great if you can afford them and get to the right location, you don’t have to rely on destination language learning to get a real-life immersion experience. There’s a good chance you have local options, too.
An easy way to find out is to go to Yelp and search for “immersion language” in your area. Considering immersion language training takes a significant commitment of time and money, it’s also nice to be able to read through the reviews to know that you’re making a good buy.
It’s also worth seeing whether you have a local university that offers immersion language programs, although you should be sure to check that the class is structured in a way that will really offer you the intensive experience you’re looking for.
Immersion Language Software
One way to get a flavor of the immersion experience at a discount is to opt for language learning software based on immersion learning. Although immersion software can run on the expensive side compared to other language courses available for purchase out there, a couple hundred dollars is peanuts compared with the cost of a total immersion program.
Rosetta Stone is probably the most well-known immersion-based language learning software program. It includes few of the exercises you might expect in a traditional language course and instead tries to facilitate a sort of automated immersive experience by heavily using images.
Another popular program that uses immersion learning techniques is Fluenz. Fluenz offers more of a hybrid between immersion and traditional learning and relies on direct comparisons between the language being learned and the learner’s native language to speed up the learning process.
Finally, Pimsleur is worth a look if you want more of an auditory emphasis. Their listening- and speaking-based courses are a great way to internalize a new language using the ears instead of the eyes.
Another good way to get language immersion on a budget is to use the Internet to find conversation partners in the language you’re trying to learn. There are a couple ways to do this.
One is to check Meetup to find language groups meeting in your area dedicated to the language you’re working on. You can find everyone from fellow learners to native speakers this way.
However, you can also find a conversation partner without even having to step out your front door by doing an online language exchange, where you find a native speaker of the language you’re studying to talk to you in their language in exchange for you talking to them in your native language. A couple popular places to find language exchange partners are italki, Speaky and MyLanguageExchange.
Although the prospect of not being able to fall back on your native language in the language learning process is intimidating at first, if you try an immersion program, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you adapt.
Immersion language training may be the sink-or-swim of language learning, but after a few weeks of total immersion you’ll probably feel like you’re not just swimming but flying!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.