3 Steps To Success With Immersion Language Learning


Break out of your comfort zone! 

Anything that makes you feel a little nervous, anxious, self-conscious or uncomfortable is a sure sign you have left the comfort zone.
Maybe it’s venturing out on your own, ordering food in Spanish, riding the bus alone, asking for directions, or talking to the locals.
Your comfort zone is a behavioural space where your activities (and even your thoughts!) fit into a routine pattern. The comfort zone serves to reduce stress, provide mental security, and lower anxiety.

However, to maximize your language learning you need to be in a relative state of stress, called optimal anxiety. Optimal anxiety is the sweet spot that lies just outside of the comfort zone, but not so far out as to create undue stress, which inhibits performance.
Whatever it is that you are afraid to do, push yourself to do it. Your language skill will improve and you will thank yourself later.

Benefits of routinely seeking states of optimal anxiety include:

  • You become more productive.
  • Dealing with unexpected changes and new things gets easier over time.
  • You can push your boundaries further and further.
  • It becomes easier to brainstorm and access your creativity.

Bear in mind your comfort zone is a natural state that you will instinctively seek. There are good reasons to be in your comfort zone, as it provides a space of low risk and low anxiety to process what happens when you leave it. But be careful, your comfort zone can be a trap if you spend too much time in it.

It isn’t easy to feel vulnerable and anxious, but those are the magic ingredients to take your language learning to the next level.

Socialize with locals!


Language is a social behaviour, and social learning theory states we learn social behaviours within a social context by observing and reproducing the behaviours of others.

That means just by socializing in Spanish, you are learning! By paying attention to the way people use language, you remember sounds, words, grammar and so on. You try to reproduce the language based on your observations of how other people use language. In an immersion environment, the desire to communicate, make friends, and participate in local life are great motivators to engage in language learning.

Let’s take a closer look at the steps in the social learning process:

1. Attention – It seems obvious, but in order for you to learn Spanish, you must pay attention to how it is spoken. This includes not only the words and grammar, but the pronunciation, cadence and non-verbal gestures that accompany spoken language.
2. Retention – You need to be able to remember details of the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc. in order to learn and later speak the language.
3. Reproduction – In reproducing the written and spoken language, you must organize your response in accordance with what you have observed and remembered. This ability can improve practice.
4. Motivation – There must be an incentive or motivation driving you tu use the language. Even if all of the above factors are present, you will not engage in the language without motivation.

While your classes, books, flashcards, and on-line programs are helpful to some extent, the most powerful language learning occurs when you observe and interact with people (in a state of optimal anxiety.) Strive to socialize with Spanish speakers daily.

Keep an open mind!immersion3

Have you ever met a foreigner who just grumbled constantly about how his home country was better in every way and was quick to criticize the foreign culture? For the local people around him, it’s quite a turn-off. Don’t be that person!

Beware of ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture.

You will naturally want to make comparisons between your home country and your immersion country. The key is to have a curious and open-minded attitude when doing so. Don’t jump to conclusions and always seek to understand the differences.  You may not agree with or like some aspects of the culture. That’s okay, just suspend judgement and see if you can experience it from a local’s point of view.

Try to learn everything you can about the cultural differences you experience. Ask your local friends to explain the reasons behind the customs. When you ask with a genuinely curious and open attitude, you invite cultural exchanges and insightful discussions. Usually people are flattered when you take a sincere interest in understanding their culture. It’s a great way to practice your Spanish and at the same time enrich your experience of Spanish culture.

Language BoatOriginally from California, Amy Estrada shares her enthusiasm for immersion language learning on her blog Language Boat. She learned Spanish while living in Mexico and is now learning Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan. Her background in psychology lends itself to her keen interest in culture, communication, social behaviour and relationships. She is also an artist, student pilot, and teaches one-on-one English and American social skills classes. She plans to immerse herself in other cultures and languages after she becomes fluent in Mandarin. Next up on her list is Italy. 

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