7 Rules for Immersive Language Learning

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Immersive language learning is about learning by doing and experiencing. It’s about talking to people, it’s about listening hard and it’s about making the process of learning part of your daily routine.

Mastering a new language is not a quick or an easy thing, so it really helps if you enjoy the process.  Learning needs to become a habit, a part of daily life and a joy! Immersive learning can make this happen because it’s all about learning in context; it’s about looking and listening to what’s going on around you, and actively picking up associations from what you see, hear, smell and feel.

To do it right, you need to need to plan how you get your inputs and how you make the most of them. So here are 7 ESSENTIAL RULES for how to ‘do’ immersive learning right:

1. Understand your motivation

Immersive study is about learning a language the way you want to. It’s important to understand your core motivations and to make sure that what you learn is relevant to this desire. As toddlers, we have a powerful need to express ourselves and be understood. Learning to communicate is our top priority – central to everything we want. 

As adult learners, we have other goals and distractions, but we still need to make our language learning as relevant to our lives and desires as we can. If we want to be able to communicate with our new partner’s family, we need to study conversational speech; if we want to learn how to communicate with clients, we must master phrases and vocabulary appropriate to business interactions. When we can see a direct line between study and desired outcome, we’re much more likely to stick at it.

2. Choose your location

The truth is, we can be surrounded by people speaking a different language and never pick up a word. Nobody learns a language by osmosis. We need situations in which we can understand others and be understood.

No beginner is going to get much from a trip to the debating society, but a brief interaction with a sales assistant could be useful. Above all, we need to feel safe and relaxed. When we’re at ease, we listen well, make associations that stick and we’re more likely to ask when we don’t understand.

Virtual learning is good at creating a safe place to practise. Rosetta Stone provides an immersive learning environment without the presence of fear. Technology allows us to bring real-life situations directly to learners so that they can make visual and aural associations in the place where they feel most comfortable. 

3. Narrow your focus

It’s an oft-quoted statement that for most languages in the world you only need two or three thousand words to take part in 90% of conversations. This seems like a fairly manageable amount, and it’s certainly a tiny fraction of the number of words in most major languages (English has over a million). But there is no definitive guide to which ones you need. The trick is to find the right three thousand words for you.

Immersive learning is great for this; it helps you to think about what you are doing and why. For example, don’t learn all the words for different types of meat, if you are a vegetarian. – this might sound obvious, and yet… this is very often what traditional teaching methodologies will have us doing.

4. Role play your way to success

Make-believe you can do it! Use your imagination to vision yourself interacting successfully in your new language. Role-play situations and believe in your language ability within those situations. This can both build your confidence and motivation and help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. What words and phrases do you need to communicate in this situation? Follow the logic of the role play and let your curiosity and desire for a solution lead to new discoveries.

Even if you’re not in the country of your chosen language, you can role-play a situation as if you were. The more you get into the role, the more you’ll really believe in the necessity of getting the information you want, and the more likely you’ll be to remember what you have learnt. 

5. How to make it stick: creativity is the key

Trying to drum things into our memory through repetition can be immensely frustrating, especially in a language-learning context where there is just so much to take in and retain. Given the hours we’re likely to devote to this process, it’s well worth taking some time to think about methodology.

It’s easy to get addicted to mass repetition and re-reading of information. These techniques are obvious and most of us have grown up with them. It feels good because we recognise what we’re reading and feel like we know it. But whilst this technique might help us pass an exam, it only creates short-term knowledge retention.

As soon as we start to use the information or do something personal with it, our chances of remembering it increase greatly. This is the power of creative association: to really learn well we have to comprehend and make knowledge our own; to take what we’ve learnt and somehow possess it, to change it and actively use it in a way we won’t forget in a hurry.

We can achieve this by writing notes that describe our personal understanding. Describe the grammar rule in your own words. Don’t copy from the textbook in an attempt to memorise someone else’s sentence. Instead, use the words in that sentence and write out your own. Creativity is the route to real long-term memory gains.

6. Find someone to hold your hand

If you are going to learn a new language well, it’s very useful to have interactions with and feedback from someone else on a regular basis. Someone who you trust and has the patience and dedication to feedback to you constructively and in detail. 

This could be a relative or partner, but not everyone will be able to find the right (patient enough!) person in their personal connections, so this role can be filled by a good teaching resource. It could be the weekly Rosetta Stone online tutor access, or perhaps a local teacher who can provide the one-to-one support you need.

7. Do your homework

An oldie but a goodie to finish! Because it’s true: a little homework makes a big difference. When you’re out and about speaking in public places or meeting a language exchange partner, or even when you’re practising in the virtual world, make sure you have a pen and paper handy to write down the new things you’re learning that are most relevant to you. Then when you get home, write them up into your very own vocabulary list. If you can cultivate the discipline to make this process a routine, you’ll get much more from immersive learning.

And Rosetta Stone does some of the hard work for you, with key vocabulary from our role-played interactions available for instant revision in the Vocab Trainer. We provide you with the vocabulary and constructions you need for the situations you’ve been learning about, so that homework can be fun and stress-free.

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About the Author Simon Goodall

Language learner, teacher and contributing author to the Rosetta Stone magazine

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