Remember all the fun you had at summer camp?
Well, now you can relive that while reaching fluency in a foreign language.
The outdated common wisdom holds that adults are mostly useless at languages, but nowadays it’s safe to say that’s just not true. Under the right conditions, not only can you learn a language like your younger self, but you can also attain native-like brain processing of your new language.
And what are these “right conditions”?
The right conditions involve immersing yourself in a foreign language.
While modern technology and pedagogy are giving us fantastic new tools every year, one thing remains certain: Immersion works.
And immersion works every bit as well for adults. Adults and children are both clearly capable of learning new languages to high levels of fluency, but one big thing separates us from our childhood selves: Our cumbersome, super-structured, always-demanding adult lives.
But today, hardworking adults are among those who stand to reap the most benefits of learning a second language.
In a job market that’s globalizing all around us, added language skills can make you not only an asset to your company, but also a better participant in your own community.
Fitting Language Immersion into Your Adult Life: It’s Not as Hard as You Thought
A gap year before or after university is a great time to take a language immersion trip, but mid-career or between careers can work just as well for many.
On the list of things that get in the way of adult language learning, a career is usually number one. But it doesn’t have to be.
Nowadays, foreign language training is registering on corporate agendas. In some parts of the world, companies even fund in-house or independent language training as part of employee professional development.
If your employer hasn’t jumped on the language learning bandwagon yet, maybe they’re following the trend of flexible and even unlimited vacation policies that’s spreading across tech startups and other innovative businesses. Under many of these arrangements, three months off for a language immersion program that’ll make you even more of a company asset can be an easy sell to your boss.
And, if all else fails, it’s not really so drastic or bohemian to quit your job and go learn a language these days. In the era of career-hopping, what better reason is there to end job number three than to spend a year at home or abroad learning a language that makes you a competitive candidate for job number four?
Even if you don’t see a practical opening in your adult life for a language immersion program now, don’t be surprised if you see it come next year. You might find that a newer and more disruptive program will extend you the chance to immerse yourself in a language. Take any opportunities that come your way!
Before we get into some immersion programs you can consider, let’s first look at a couple of alternate options you can use for immersion if you’re lacking the time or the funds right now.
Creating an Online Immersion Environment
In the digital age, immersion exists in spectrum.
Sure, you’re more thoroughly immersed while navigating the chaotic Tokyo metro, but you can still immerse yourself in Japanese at home. For those times before, after, between and even during traditional immersion programs, technological tools can help make sure you keep your target language on your mind.
One way to create a home immersion environment is with your favorite language learning apps and immersion software programs. You can use these digitally-enhanced approaches to add some extra practice during your immersion trip, or to fill your every waking hour with the language you want to hear without even leaving your home.
FluentU does just that. With carefully selected video content in languages from around the world, FluentU online language immersion is one of the most effective programs for starting on your language before starting an immersion program, continuing to learn after one or to add a dose of digital practice wherever you are, no matter what language you’re working on.
Language Immersion by Working Abroad
As we mentioned before, employers are more and more willing to foot the bill for your language learning, but the opportunities for work immersion abroad go much further.
If you’re already working for a multinational company with offices overseas, explore your options for transfers and see if those options include free or subsidized language immersion courses on the ground.
If you’re not too committed to your current job, then the world really is your oyster and the immersion opportunities are endless. Sites like Idealist and Overseasjobs.com offer listings of jobs overseas; if you’re lucky, bigger employers may include language training programs in your employment package, but if you’re not, you’re still living abroad, one of the best ways of getting the total authentic immersion experience.
For those focused on building their professional profile abroad, skills-intensive volunteer trips can do just that while giving you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a language. Many of the projects on sites like Workaway and HelpX are more like informal internships than traditional volunteer projects, including roles in everything from marketing and business development to construction and community development, and their terms are often flexible. Twenty hours a week in exchange for room and board still leaves you a lot of time for language exchanges and chatting up strangers during the off hours.
9 Language Immersion Programs Perfect for Busy Adults
The constantly increasing demand for language skills and multilingual people means more options and, over time, more affordability, leaving the modern adult language learner with an overwhelming number of options.
Depending on your goals and constraints, you can choose from both domestic and foreign immersion programs, and within these traditional categories there’s a slew of traditional and non-traditional programs available.
Here’s a sample of nine highly recommended ones. This will give you an idea of what the world of adult language immersion looks like and where your next language learning trip might take you.
Concordia Language Villages is a language immersion program in Bemidji, Minnesota focused on “building globally minded communities” through language and cultural immersion trips.
Concordia’s adult immersion programs are all designed for adults, whether you’re looking for professional advancement or personal enrichment, including courses designed specifically for educators and companies. The “villages” are offered year-round in nine different languages, perfect for the busy adult to squeeze into a hectic work and family schedule.
Lingua Service’s language immersion programs are, as the company’s name suggests, available all over the world. This agency works with schools and programs worldwide in a variety of languages, offering maximum flexibility for even the choosiest learners among us.
The agency primarily works with programs that are designed for maximal language learning in minimal time, which will be appealing especially to business professionals looking for a quick jump-start or brush-up on a language before heading back to the office.
Lingua Service offers courses for adults, professionals and programs for seniors and older adults.
This Texas K-12 private school has a knack for educating today’s youth for a global tomorrow, but their summer immersion school is designed with adults in mind.
The program offers 3-6 weeks immersed in French, Spanish or Chinese in which attendees spend half-days immersed in formal instruction, supervised language labs and conversation practice.
And it’s perfect for families. The adult program is run concurrently with youth immersion programs, creating a unique opportunity for the whole family to learn a language together without booking a single international flight.
A newer name in language immersion, Road Scholar has drawn headlines for its success in particular with older adult learners. On the Road Scholar website you can browse and book various “immersion experiences” that fit when, where and how you want to learn your language.
Road Scholar describes its typical customers as solo travelers or couples who are “passionate lifelong learners, usually over the age of 50,” which may be part of why their all-inclusive model works so well. With lodging, meals, transportation, expert lectures and field trips included in the price tag, all you’ve got to worry about is speaking and listening.
If you’re more of an independent learner or you can’t get out of town any time soon, private immersion classes under Berlitz’s Total Immersion program might work for you.
Berlitz is one of the largest companies offering private language classes in the US and the world at large, and its Total Immersion program pairs you one-on-one with a language coach for about 40 hours a week. It’s personalized, conversation-driven and available in a variety of languages in 36 locations across the US and even more abroad.
FLSAS is an organization that arranges foreign immersion programs and homestays for adults, teachers and professors.
FLSAS brings a couple of benefits to the table that other organizations miss out on, like its specific programs developed for different groups of language learners, such as its programs for solo female travelers, family immersion trips and executive language immersion for business professionals. Add these custom courses to its emphasis on less commonly taught languages and you’ve got an organization that’s filling in a lot of the holes left by others in the industry.
Alongside the global giants in language immersion programs, you have providers like Anders Languages, a smaller company offering four languages in the US and three more locations abroad.
Anders caters to, as they put it, “a more mature public.” The average age of their clients is 45, and about half of their customers are from the US and Canada, making for culturally diverse experiences that adult professionals might not otherwise have.
Anders prides itself on offering a personal touch. Promising personal attention from the company’s owners in developing your language immersion program, Anders offers an experience that many may find warmer and more intimate than those offered by other immersion companies.
Age is just a number.
It often says a lot about what your professional, personal and family life looks like, but as far as your ability to learn a language is concerned, it’s got nothing useful to say.
Now more than ever, adult language learners are in a position to reap the benefits, both personally and economically, of their linguistic efforts, and one of the most efficient ways to put in that effort is through immersion.
With growing flexibility in the workplace and growing necessity in the world, we’ll only see more and more adults taking the time to immerse themselves in a language.
Whether you’re setting out to find the perfect Spanish immersion course, take a language learning trip to Germany or tide yourself over with an online oasis of French immersion, take a look at the programs we’ve listed here and bookmark them, because the future is looking more multilingual for folks of all ages.
And One More Thing…
If you just can’t wait to begin language immersion at home right now, FluentU is here to help. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, 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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.