The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. To surround yourself by the language and the culture it creates, provides the learner with a deeper understanding of the words and their gentle subtleties.
This may seem like an obvious fact, still people spend thousands of dollars on university classes, computer learning programs, and tapes in their home countries without getting the language knowledge they desire. A trip to a foreign country at first may not sound as feasible, but learners can spend less time, less money, and see greater results in an immersion learning atmosphere. Trust me, take that month leave from work or the next semester off school and spend it not only studying a language but experiencing a trip of a life time.
Why is immersion learning so successful?
First and foremost, because learners engage in conversation. Conversation, the practice of speaking and listening, is the most important tool in language learning. The conversation does not end at the end of class, but rather continues to the marketplace, to the dinner table in your homestay, and out for a beer at night. You will quickly learn that you are your harshest critic, that the people of these countries do not care that you didn’t congregate that verb correctly. They are just interested in you and what you are doing in their country. The more you talk, the more you’ll learn. This is no time to be shy.
Second, immersion helps with memorization and retention. As you learn new vocabulary you are putting it into action. This is true for learners of all levels. The new learner studying food vocabulary, can use these words in restaurants or at their homestay. Being able to communicate for the first time “I don’t like tomatoes” can be very rewarding, both for your confidence as well as your pallet. For the more advanced learners, knowing the connotation of words, how to be polite, and local slang make one truly fluent. All of these more advanced language skills cannot be learned in a classroom in your home country, but need to be experienced through conversation with native speakers.
Lastly, the immersion learning experience lets you get to know the culture of your host country as well as the language. Dancing salsa in Colombia, drinking wine in Spain, laughing with Guatemalans are experiences that go beyond language. I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment I received after making a room full of people laugh at my first joke told in Spanish. The lessons that you will learn from an international exchange go far beyond just vocabulary and grammar.
Whether you want to learn a foreign language for work or just because you have a passion for it, whether you are just starting out or nearly fluent, whether you are a student or a grandparent, completely immersing yourself is the most successful way to master a language.