is immersion learning?
...and how is it different from going through an ordinary "language
a language through immersion does not merely amount to taking
courses that are more numerous and intensive than in a traditional
curriculum; nor does it merely amount to taking courses taught
entirely in the target language (L2). It is therefore imperative,
in order to derive the full benefits of this experience, that
you understand its nature and become aware of certain strategies
that will help you make the most of opportunities and withstand
the inevitable pressure, even if your linguistic proficiency
is already high.
the conditions of immersion
immersion" plunges you completely in an environment where
a language other than yours is used exclusively, in class, in
organized activities, as well as in every circumstance of daily
life. This requires that a language program operate in a country
or region where the "target language" (the "L2"
for learners) is the vernacular or official language. In other
circumstances, immersion remains limited since students' exposure
to the L2 is not systematic when they are not in class. Be that
as it may, even a limited immersion program is unlike a conventional
language course, where the first language (L1) is frequently
used to supply explanations (especially metalinguistic ones)
and serves as a "crutch" in case of excessive difficulty. Immersion
demands that you to get by with whatever communicative resources
you happen to have at your disposal in the L2, limited though
they may be. Metalinguistic discourse in the L2 being severely
constrained by the learners's low proficiency level, one has
to call upon the full range of existing communicative strategies
in order to overcome any and all obstacles that arise. This
"sink or swim" situation fosters a much faster pace of progress
by forcing you to exploit your capabilities and resourcefulness
fully, without ever allowing you to resort to your L1 when your
ability to react and adapt are being strained to the extreme.
you cannot expect to function in the same way as in your L1,
and it is important, in order to succeed in an immersion
situation, to refrain from trying to "be yourself" in the L2,
that is, function at the same linguistic level and in the same
communicative mode as you normally do in your native tongue.
You will need to find or invent a modus operandi (culturally,
communicatively, behaviorally, linguistically) adapted to your
new environment and skill set, and which will more or less differ
from your "native" mode. In other words, you have to learn
to become another person or, more exactly, to grow a second
persona specific to the L2, which will be added to your L1 persona
without replacing it. Linguistic development per se is only
part of this transformation, and you will encounter (great)
difficulties if you attempt to keep functioning in your normal
mode, but in another language: ideally, you are going to learn
not just how to speak differently, but to move, laugh, eat,
play, joke, get mad, think differently.
here the research paper by Spielmann and Radnofsky
that defined the L2 persona, "Learning Language
Under Tension: New Directions from a Qualitative Study.
The Modern Language Journal, 85, ii, (2001), p. 259-278.
means functioning in
in a cultural, communicative
and linguistic system that follows its own
rules, generally quite different from the rules of other systems.
Therefore your goal is not to switch from one system to another—from
English to French, from American culture to French culture (or
to one of the many Francophone cultures)—but to understand
a new system in terms of its own internal logic.
For example, the meaning of a
French word can only be grasped in relationship to other words
used in this language, not in relationship to its possible equivalents
in English, Chinese or Arabic. Similarly, cultural values only
make sense in relationship to other values within the same cultural
sphere, in contiguity or opposition; they should never be evaluated
through a interpretive framework from a different cultural sphere.
Thus, an American who deems the French "dirty" because
they do not shower every day bases her judgement on a 'clean
vs. dirty' axiological structure that really only works
within American culture; there also exists a a 'clean vs.
dirty' axiological structure in French culture, but the terms
'clean' and 'dirty' (or rather, 'propre' and 'sale')
refer to different realities and values than their American
equivalents. This is also why translating from one language
into another is definitely not a way to learn or to communicate.
is communicative, not merely linguistic
commonly used term , "linguistic immersion," might
lead us to believe that mastering a language in the strictest
sense (i.e., vocabulary and "grammar") is the main
factor in successful learning. However, the linguistic dimension
is subordinated to the larger realm of communication, which
oral production, suprasegmental features, such as
rhythm and intonation;
(use of space), kinesics (use of movement), facial
expressions (to indicate affective and cognitive states);
schemata (for instance, greeting someone, making a
purchase in a store) where the linguistic component may
be negligible or even absent;
of communicative situations expressing social conventions
that may be highly formalized or ritualized (for instance
in France, "prendre l'apéro"; in the U.S.A.,
"to go on a date").
to communicate mostly implies mastering these features, which
may apparently come very close to what one already knows, but
which are actually very different. In fact, the most vexing
problems usually come from communicative features from different
cultures that share a number of common points: American and
French people both smile and kiss one another in the course
of normal social interaction, but neither smiling nor kissing
(under their various forms...) have the exact same value and
function in both cultures.
is collective and interactive
in immersion means being surrounded by other people with whom
you are in interaction (an even wider notion
than communication). Although language learning may
appear individual, it is only fully realized in a collective
setting, and the most common mistake that beginners
make involves separating individual linguistic learning from
interaction. The presence of other people is an important factor
in individual learning, as evidenced for example when one is
confronted with an unknown word: alone, one quickly runs out
of resources and is stumped (unless perhaps a dictionary is
handy... which raises other issues, however); on the other hand,
a group of people is much more likely to succeed, not only by
joining forces and knowledge, but also through brainstorming
and other types of interaction that allow a collective to solve
a puzzle beyond the ken of an isolated individual.