We’ve all heard envy-inspiring stories of someone who jetted off to a foreign country.
They took an intern position, volunteered or became an au pair to get where they were going.
That adventurous soul was surrounded by speakers of a foreign language, sans English, and they returned home completely fluent in whatever language they lived with 24/7.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
It does, because it is. But many of us can’t do that for a variety of reasons: time, money, family, pets, studies. So, if we crave language immersion, we’ve got to find a different method of achieving it.
I see your chin drooping already. Think it can’t be done, right?
Don’t despair—it’s possible to achieve language immersion at home and we’re going to give you the skinny on how to do it!
There’s no reason your home can’t become a language learning oasis, a place where you immerse yourself in the culture, ideas, aromas and sounds that permeate the places where your chosen language is widely spoken. Believe me, it can be done—and it’s not difficult, either!
What’s language immersion?
The term “language immersion” gets tossed about a great deal, especially among would-be polyglots. Everyone nods, as if they fully understand the concept. Honestly, many people don’t.
So, what’s the definition of language immersion? It’s the process of learning a language when the target language is used exclusively for a specified time frame. That means no native language skills are used for communication of any kind.
Think of it as an exercise for the brain. The mind is forced to stretch to respond to the foreign language.
Learning is facilitated in part due to necessity—to survive, one must learn the language they’re surrounded by. It’s sink or swim, so you swim.
So, actual language immersion happens when the target language is used exclusively for a specific time period. And that time period can be hours, days or even months, depending on personal schedules as well as lifestyle constraints.
Where can language immersion happen?
The first thing that comes to almost anyone’s mind when the concept of immersion is mentioned is “hey, I’m going to a foreign country!”
Living abroad may be the optimal situation for learning a language, yes. And it’s sweet if you can make it happen.
The truth? Maybe you can’t afford it. Maybe you don’t want to leave behind pets, friends, family or your job. Maybe you could swing a move abroad, but you like living where you live and you’re not looking to relocate indefinitely to a foreign country.
So there’s another, more easily accessible situation, and that’s the old, tried-and-true immersive classroom setting, where the teacher speaks only the language you’re learning. This is also a great mode of immersion if it’s an option.
We all know, though, that taking courses in a classroom isn’t always feasible either. Schedules, financial constraints and any of dozens of other issues keep many would-be learners from classrooms.
We live in a high-tech age. When you can’t go to the classroom, the classroom comes to you. That’s right, online learning is yet another option.
But what if you want to immerse yourself in a less technical way? A more grassroots way, where you fall into the lifestyle, sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the language? Where you can feel the heartbeat that drives a language?
This also may sound appealing, but you might assume that anything short of actually going to a foreign country won’t allow you to truly surround yourself with the language and culture of interest.
Hang on—it’s not as difficult as you might think. A bit of planning, some commitment and—bam!—you’ve got yourself some at-home immersion!
The SMART Guide to Achieving Language Immersion at Home
1. Set a SMART goal
First, set a SMART goal.
A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
Let’s take a look at this goal setting thing before we go any further. Specifically, let’s investigate the acronym to be sure we understand exactly what’s going on.
A Specific goal is just that, specific. Some people get tripped up on this one because they don’t make the goal specific enough.
“I want to learn a language” isn’t a specific goal. There are no details. What language? When?
“I want to learn to speak Italian, and be conversant by this time next year” is specific. You’ve got a target goal. There’s no gray space. By this time next year, your intention is to be chatting in Italian. Check!
Measurable goals define the way you plan to get to the overall end goal. They’re a kind of blueprint for learning.
“I will study” isn’t a measurable goal. Heck, it’s barely even a commitment to anything, is it?
“I will read two chapters a day in an Italian graded reader” is a measurable goal. Two chapters, every day. Done and done.
Attainable goals require a bit of thought as well as some sense of self. They’re personal in that only you can determine your ability to attain something.
“I will speak Italian so fluently that I will dazzle everyone” is super optimistic, but is it an attainable goal? Probably not—at least not for a beginning learner.
“I will speak only Italian when I am at home. Additionally, I will not speak English when I speak with the Italian family down the street” is attainable. If you put your mind to it, speaking a target language in those instances is something you can feasibly do—without too much difficulty, even!
Relevance is important in almost every area of life. I mean, why do something if it’s not relevant?
Relevant goals aren’t “I’m doing this because I have spare time on my hands” but instead, “I’m doing this because I want to further my ability to travel and communicate in Italian-speaking countries.”
A relevant goal establishes the “why?” of the process.
Timely rounds out this SMART goal setting exercise, and in my opinion it’s the most straightforward part of the whole equation.
Again, this isn’t a vague, maybe-someday kind of goal.
Timely means just that—set a time frame for yourself. No English during the hours of X to Y, or no English on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Whatever works, commit to it.
The boundaries aren’t negotiable. You’ve now prioritized language learning by setting this SMART goal. This is how to start learning a language effectively!
2. Explore and Immerse
Second, explore options to help you achieve your SMART goal. Fill your home with floor-to-ceiling, non-stop language. You’ve made your SMART goal, now’s the time to implement the methods that will make achieving this goal a reality.
Have you set aside time to explore online courses? So many other items can fill your time, but most of us benefit from a bit of high-tech learning. Plus, we’re always on our gadgets anyway. YouTube, anyone?
I know, it can be a major time suck, but does that apply if we’re actually learning while watching? I think not! Now when you find yourself procrastinating or wasting time watching silly YouTube videos, you can switch over to something educational and language-oriented.
Innovative Language is a YouTube sensation, producing language pods that make the endeavor interesting and fun—and they’re so short it’s like taking a cultural jaunt!
Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Russian and thirty other languages are offered on the video sharing site. Each YouTube collection has hundreds of language videos. And if you like what you see there, you can opt to use their full language courses.
Want to kick that YouTube learning up a notch? FluentU starts with authentic videos from native speakers, learners and teachers, and then it adds more pizzazz. And by “pizzazz” I mean handy features that enable you to understand everything, learn faster, store vocabulary and track progress.
Not only does FluentU offer video and audio, but it offers scaffolding that isn’t available anywhere else; students will find all this authentic content approachable and within reach.
The videos and audios are all carefully annotated so that learners have plenty of support. Every word comes with an in-context definition, image and multiple example sentences. You can even click on a word to see how it’s used in other videos across the site. Say goodbye to spending hours searching for good videos on YouTube and hello to focusing on actually learning!
One lovely way to immerse yourself in a language is through music. It soothes savage beasts, right? Well, at least that’s what we’ve always heard. But it also provides a backdrop for our lives.
Think about some of the important events in your life. Now, try to pull up the sounds that accompanied those events. I’ll bet some of them were set to music! When you hear certain songs, do you drift off to memories that you’ve got connected to them? Music is a powerful thing. It’s part of the human experience, and our brains just latch right onto it.
So, it’s always a good idea to have foreign language music playing as often as possible. Meet your new white noise. When you’re working or doing stuff around the house, play music. The first step is just getting a solid playlist that you can pop on when you’re ready to listen.
CDs of popular music can be readily found for download or purchase via Amazon, and Spotify. Install them on your phone or tablet and take the tunes with you.
In the car or at home, set your radio to a foreign language station with a site like TuneIn. Listening to music directly from a country where the language is spoken lets your mind become accustomed to the nuances of the language and culture. You’ll pick up words, expressions and phrases without even realizing you’re learning.
Troll library racks for free music, check it out and bring it home to enjoy. And when the music’s playing, sing along! Don’t be shy. Remember, it’s all about immersive learning, so immerse yourself in the lyrics even if you can’t understand them fully.
One of the best ways to slip a bit of language and culture into your leisure time is through movies. Stop watching movies in English, and start watching them in a foreign language. Whatever interests you—horror, drama, comedy, romance or anything else, there are sure to be films in that genre that will entertain. Bonus, while you’re being entertained you’re also immersed in the language!
If you don’t want to invest a cent, libraries stock them and they’re available to borrow for free.
When in doubt, The Vore offers free foreign language movies and television shows, and their catalog is diverse enough to satisfy most tastes.
But remember—turn off the subtitles!
The pulse of a nation and its people can be felt through their news and videos. Why not catch up on current events, scroll through some topical articles or browse some videos?
Newspapers showcase culture, and again libraries often stock periodicals and newspapers in foreign languages. Checking out sales, comparing home prices and finding the details on politicians and celebrities, all of this facilitates language immersion. And when you’re ready to visit the country, you’ll be an expert on the cultural bits!
You can find more culturally-relevant reading and viewing material in the library that comes along with the MosaLingua web app, which is available for Spanish, Italian, French, German and Portuguese. In addition to the pre-made flashcards you can get on each of the separate language mobile apps, you can enhance your learning by creating your own flashcards from the authentic content in the MosaLingua library, which includes e-books, articles, videos and more.
Feeling the immersion, aren’t you?
But wait—we’re not done yet. There are still more ways to turn your home into a language immersion paradise.
When you were a child you played games all the time, didn’t you? Most parents don’t let on as they’re providing an assortment of games that they’re also educational. That holds true when you’re working on learning a language, as well. By playing educational games, you’ll sneak the hard work right past your brain.
Duolingo language games are fast and fun. They’re great games for anytime, anywhere immersion. Portable and rewarding, they encourage learning with almost no effort at all. Believe me, I’m no stranger to the little Duolingo owl. Currently I have Italian, Irish and Spanish on my phone and play whenever I’m waiting for someone or puttering around the house with nothing to do.
If you’re a more serious gamer type, you can download the latest, coolest games in foreign languages quite easily. Then you can satisfy your video game cravings without sacrificing a single minute of language immersion time.
Don’t hesitate to make your own games, as well. Think flashcards, matching games, translated board games and even the silly rhyming games we played as kids. Only now, you’re all grown up and taking them to a new level—and a new language!
The culture of a country is a sure-fire immersion tool. And what’s more important to a culture than its food?
Try your hand at a new recipe from a cooking site written in your target language, or buy an authentic cookbook written in your target language. Prepare foods common to the countries where normal dinner conversation takes place in the language.
While you’re eating, speak talk naturally about what you’ve prepared, how your day went or anything else that pops into your head. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to your best friend, your dog or thin air—just talk! Imagine yourself being where the food is usually served, and act accordingly.
The most common way to add a language experience to your home is to put labels on everything, with the vocabulary words in your target language. Stick a note that says “table” in your foreign language on the table, and so on.
The trick is spending the time making the labels—it’s a great linguistic exercise to write everything out by hand yourself, but you might be pressed for time or energy. If that’s the case, you can outsource your label-making for the most important words by using a Vocabulary Stickers set, which gives you well over 100 words to put on items you use and see every day around your home and office.
It’s even more fun to jazz up your whole house! Anywhere you might sit and listen to music, keep a USB or CD with foreign language music on it. Wherever you might find yourself sitting or lazing around, slap posters nearby on the wall with grammar tables, vocabulary lists or pictures matched up with words. If you see something in your native language, make yourself a label that you can stick over it with the translation into your foreign language.
You can also hunt for items in the foreign language online that can be scattered around your home to serve as decoration and language exposure, such as books, artwork, band posters, event fliers and so on.
If your immersion was taking place in an exotic locale you’d probably attend cultural events. There’s nothing stopping you from looking for local events, things like dinners at cultural centers, concerts or dances.
Look for interest groups (think book clubs, fitness classes, cultural centers) where foreign language speakers congregate. Join a group! Socialize!
This may not be fully “at home,” but it’s in your hometown. And you can bring your experiences—and new friends—back home with you.
If you’re not living in an area that has these kinds of events, you can scout for videos of them online and immerse yourself through your computer screen.
Gatherings at Your Place
Once your home is filled with language opportunities, you might want to invite others in to share the learning. It doesn’t have to be real-life visiting, although I think that finding a learning partner to share the process with would be dynamite but, unfortunately, that’s not always possible.
A good friend may love you enough to take interest in your linguistic trinkets around the house, and might find it entertaining if you speak to them in your new language or serve them some new, authentic dishes you’ve learned to cook.
Skype also gives you the chance to speak face-to-face (virtually, anyhow!) with someone who speaks your target language. Who knows? You may find a friend!
If you’re an introvert, the last two options are something you should push yourself to try every once in a while. After all, what’s the point of learning a language if you’re not going to interact with people?
That said, you’re welcome to retreat back into your at-home immersion paradise and be all alone afterwards.
After dinner, why not pick up a good book—in the immersion language? You may not understand all the words initially but keep at it. Remember, you’ve made a SMART goal and that means not slacking even when there are pitfalls. And libraries are again your best friends. They carry reading material in several languages, so you’ll probably find something to hold your attention without spending any money at all.
3. Follow Through and Make It Happen
Finally, implement the plan and evaluate your SMART goal. Following through is easily the most important part of all this. If you don’t follow through, it has all been for naught.
Language immersion is a fluid business. Stick to the goal but prepare to add or subtract a learning tool when necessary.
Need help in one area? Concentrate on that point. Give yourself extra time to savor the journey.
Make mistakes—lots of them, but don’t give up. You didn’t learn your native tongue overnight. Don’t plan to learn this new language that fast, either. Remember, you’ve set a goal. Be persistent.
Learning a language isn’t necessarily easy. If it were, we’d all be polyglots. But it’s worthwhile, and if you set a goal, surround yourself with the chosen language and keep at it, you’ll be speaking, thinking and even dreaming in the target language before you know it.
Sure, it’s a blast if you can fly off to parts unknown and swim in the sea of foreign language to your heart’s content, but for most of us, we need to bring the language—in as many forms as possible—to our doorsteps.
Who’s to say we can’t become fluent in our own backyards? It’s absolutely possible, especially when we go for the immersion-at-home learning style!
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