The personal, social and professional impact of Spanish language immersion

immi2Since the 1980’s when immersion programs first became popular in the USA, UK and Europe, they are now widely recognised as the most effective way to learn a language.

Knowing how to speak Spanish, so that you can fully communicate with native speakers, is of course considered a great “academic” skill. But with internet now opening global opportunities for new human relationships to develop at a staggeringly fast pace, knowing Spanish to a high level will also have a huge impact on your personal and social life, as well as professionally.

What is language immersion?

“Language immersion” refers to a language-teaching technique. A student is placed in an environment where they only hear the new language, for example Spanish. There are varying types and degrees of immersion that a student can choose from or experience.

A Spanish student, for example, can attend local Spanish evening classes, where the teaching, the materials and everything that is heard and read, is in Spanish only. This is called classroom immersion.

You may also have heard about bi-lingual schools for children. These schools teach certain subjects in a second language (for example mathematics, history and PE might be taught in Spanish) and the rest of the curriculum is offered in the host country’s native language (for example in English, if the school is located in the UK, USA or Canada).

Total immersion, on the other hand, requires the student to be in a Spanish-only environment. This can really only be accomplished in a Spanish speaking country. Today, many private language schools in Spain, as well as Spanish public universities, offer Spanish language immersion courses. This is what we here, at UniSpain, specialise in.


Why does language immersion in Spain work so well?

Immersion courses aim to “soak” the student in Spanish language, from the moment they arrive, until the second they leave. Students usually sign up for a course from two weeks onwards, and up to even a year or more, depending on their budget and the time they have available. A typical immersion program includes Spanish language classes, and in most cases, extra curricular activities that focus on culture, free-time activities or hobbies like dancing or cooking, as well as socialising in Spanish; these often depend on the school and the type of course the student chooses.

In classrooms, during an immersion course in Spain, teachers deliver grammar, vocabulary, conversation and cultural tuition in Spanish only. These teachers are trained to encourage students to communicate in Spanish by any means, and find answers on their own, however limited their vocabulary or knowledge of the language. Students have no choice but to participate, despite their fear of making mistakes, and this is exactly why immersion classes get people speaking and understanding Spanish so quickly.

Outside the classroom, immersion students in Spain find themselves in a completely Spanish-speaking environment. On every street corner and in every life situation, they are suddenly surrounded by Spanish language; spoken, heard and written. Finding their way to the bus stop, buying something in a pharmacy, going to the cinema, making new friends – they simply have to put their language skills to practical use. Even though this can be hard for beginners and even advanced students who are not used to hearing native Spanish accents or colloquial expressions, students always find that they begin to pick the language up at quite a speed, compared to when they were only attending Spanish classes back in their home country.immi3


The personal benefits of being a “polyglot”

If you are multilingual, it means that you can communicate in more than one language. The word to describe somebody who can understand and communicate in more than one language is polyglot. The word originates from the Greek words poly meaning “many”, and glot meaning “language”. Numerous studies have been made into polyglots, with fascinating results:

  1. Bilingual people can learn a third language very quickly. In 2009 Margarita Kaushanskaya from the University of Wisconsin and Viorica Marian from the Northwestern University, in Illinois, USA, studied people who spoke Spanish and English, and Mandarin Chinese and English. They concluded that these groups could pick up a new, third language, much faster than people who only knew their native tongue.

  1. Speaking a new language can improve your brain function. Two studies conducted in Canada in 2004 and 2005 also showed that people who spoke more than one language had faster cognitive function, could solve problems quicker and had improved memory.

  1. Being multilingual improves your health. Most impressively, a very recent 2013 study published in Time Magazine showed that multilingual people are more skilled at resolving conflicts and resolving difficulties. But most amazingly, their brains can fend off Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia much more efficiently than people who only speak one language!


Professional opportunities

One of the more obvious reasons why speaking a second language is beneficial to people, is because of improved job opportunities. Both national and multinational organisations (whether commercial, non-profit or government agencies) are more than aware of the huge benefits of having multilingual staff.

People who are able to nurture relationships with foreign clients, local immigrant populations or national minority groups, are the natural choice to lead or work on projects that require foreign language communication and wider cultural understanding. Finding employees, who can connect with other people from varying backgrounds, is often only possible through language immersion training, because it also teaches students about other cultures.


Social impact

This brings us to the final, and perhaps the most important benefit of being multilingual: language immersion is crucial to helping people become more open and more sensitive to other cultures and customs. Those who can speak a second language will not only widen their horizons by becoming able to study abroad or get a better job. Additionally, they will also find new depths to their own personality, they way they view the world and interact with other people. Their understanding of the world around them improves.


Language is, after all, much more than words. That’s why learning Spanish through immersion will give you more than just a skill; it will completely change they way you see the world.


Want to find out more about Spanish language immersion courses and programs? Visit UniSpain’s website to compare more than 40 Spanish government approved, quality language schools and public universities in Spain.

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