We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.
Educators and schools often approach languages as a subject — like geometry, math and social studies. In most classrooms, students read textbooks and study flashcards to grasp the basics of Spanish, French and other tongues — but this is nowhere near as effective as immersive language learning.
When students study languages with rote memorization, trying to tuck away vocabulary like fun facts, fluency can never happen. Language learning should be approached not as a lesson, but as an experience.
Immersive language learning, or immersion, allows you to learn another language by being directly involved in and surrounded by the language’s culture — a method that not only solidifies understanding and fluency, but deeply etches language into the brain’s hardwiring.
What Is Immersion?
Let’s say you want to learn Japanese. You could learn the basic concepts in a classroom, but a trip to Tokyo, a study abroad experience in Osaka or even daily communication with Japanese speakers would be infinitely more effective — because these experiences would immerse you in the culture and conversations of your target language.
The point of immersion is to become bilingual by submerging yourself in the day-to-day. You conduct regular activities, like errands and small talk, all while communicating through a second language. When you insert yourself into a cultural community, it’s not long before you can hold a conversation, even if only in a practical manner. Constant use of the language for regular purposes provides reinforcement in a way textbook learning never can.
The idea of immersive language learning took root in North America, where educators believed it could boost bilingualism and biliteracy. Many people believe knowing more than one language is necessary for students’ future economic and social prosperity.
Immersion is a way to interact with the world through a different language, but it’s still possible without traveling to a foreign country. No matter where you live, you can integrate cultural interactions into your existing routine. Do you have a pen pal or friend who’s learning the same language? Is there a local cultural market or store you can frequent? Think of the ways you can go about your life while actively using new phrases.
How Does It Work?
As children, we start to learn our native languages as soon as we’re born. What people around you speak is what you’ll learn first. Remember, no one teaches babies syntax and gender nouns – they pick it up on their own through frequent communication. Immersion works in the same way. When you place yourself in situations where people speak a new language, your brain will naturally begin to incorporate it into your understanding of the world.
Compared to traditional methods, those who use immersion can pick up on terms and phrases much more quickly, making the process of learning a language much quicker. Plus, they gain instant feedback through interactions.
Benefits of Immersion
Immersive language learning has multiple benefits, especially when compared to traditional methods. Most importantly, immersion offers new experiences. When you learn a language in a classroom setting, you likely won’t be exposed to other elements of the culture’s origins. You’re learning the words, but you’re not applying them across various areas of daily life — like grocery shopping, listening to radio and music, watching movies and TV, or communicating with friends and strangers. Immersion grants the opportunity to dive deep into the practical and everyday use of the language you’re learning.
This technique has plenty of academic-based benefits, such as improved literacy and cognitive skills. In many cases, those who take part in language immersion build upon their ability to solve math problems, communicate orally and perform better on standardized tests. Studies have shown that learning another language even changes the way you think and behave.
Ways to Learn
You can learn a new language through immersion in several ways, such as:
- Traveling for education or pleasure to a country that speaks the language you’re learning
- Participating in a foreign exchange language program
- Online courses with immersive elements, like video sessions with your instructor or native speakers
- Local classes through cultural organizations
- High school and college study abroad programs
- Regular exposure to media in another language
Be sure to research your options and compare the opportunities available to you.
Why You Should Pursue Immersive Language Learning
If you really want to speak another language, what better way to learn than through immersion? You’ll quickly work your way towards fluency and, at the same time, experience the diverse aspects of a different culture. What language do you plan to learn next?