Immersion | Making the Switch

Headphones

An experience in flipping everything you know on its head.

As readers of this blog and as language learners in general you will all likely be familiar with the idea of ‘Immersion’, maybe some of you have tried it, with varying levels of success. Well regardless of how much faith you have in the process of immersion, I am going to lay out my first-hand experience and successes that are as a result of making the full switch to a world of unknown noises and strange written gibberish.

In the unlikely case that you are unaware as to what ‘Immersion’ means in the context of language learning (you’re one of today’s lucky 10,000) then let me give you a brief explanation:


Immersion is the 2-part act of surrounding yourself in the target language (L2), the first part consists of simply listening to your L2 all day everyday, be it podcasts, audiobooks or even the audio ripped from a TV show (Matt’s favourite). Yes, you might get annoyed with the constant nattering in your ear, or want to listen to some relaxing-classical-punk-jazz but if you don’t make a solid 24/7 dedication then you’re just reducing the effectiveness and increasing the time to fluency.

The second piece of the immersion puzzle is changing the language of all of your entertainment, devices and lifestyle to your L2. This is the hardest part which is why I’ll be explaining it carefully in the rest of this post.

Utilizing immersion and SRS has been proven as the fastest and most natural language learning method, if you don’t believe me just look around the web at the successes spawned of AJATT. Learning a language grammar-first just doesn’t make any sense, people 100’s of years ago didn’t do it like that and they got by just fine.


Now we’ve gotten that out-of-the-way, I wanted to talk about how I tackled flipping the switch.

Assuming you are a bog-standard language learning individual, with plenty of free time like myself, you’ll have attempted the immersion method in one of two ways:

  1. Brute force/cold turkey/everything in L2 henceforth!
  2. Piece by piece/gradually over a short period/sensibly

I’m not going to advocate for a particular path, although I would recommend starting ASAP, but I am going to discuss some of the ways you can prepare for a new L2 existence. First and foremost you should find content that interests you, this blog has plenty of posts and comments for Japanese/German so if your L2 is not one of those then I heartily recommend you scour the internet for goodies.

Secondary to content is finding a way to integrate it into your life, maybe you walk on your own to school or university? That’s a perfect time to plug-in to your L2 world. Do you play a lot of video games? Do you shower in silence? Do you get dragged to boring group meetups? Plug-in! These are all times where you could be soaking up the essence of a language through immersion. Of course the more you immerse the better, which is why I suggest you listen 24/7, remember 10,000 hours likely means fluency!

An issue I ran into in the beginning stages of immersion was that people would think I was ignoring them or just disinterested in what they had to say, and perhaps you may face this same dilemma. In my experience, simply explaining why I had an earphone in at all times worked for 90% of people and eventually everyone got used to it.

Done all of the above? Congrats! You’re now halfway to success-town. The next step is to hunt down the language settings on whatever devices you use daily. If you own a smart phone/tablet then the language options can be found quite easily, set it all to your L2. Don’t think your PC/laptop gets to stay in English either, Windows supports over a bajillion languages and I assume MacOS does too.

Now you might be thinking “Damn, how do I find program x?” or “I just need to change one setting in Word, but it’s all nonsense!” well the most important thing for you to do is Don’t Panic. Preparation is key here, but not essential, if you already have a physical bilingual dictionary or access to Google Translate then you just punch in the gibberish and you’re back on track. In the case that you cannot access either of these things and you don’t have anyone to hand who can, you’re either living in some remote, deserted location or trapped in a well, regardless you can figure it out with some careful prodding.

After a few weeks you might find, like I did, that you rarely need to look-up or translate anything because the things you did before on these devices are engrained in your head and don’t require further investigation. In the few occasions where I strayed off the beaten path, either the UI designs made it clear what was happening, or Google came to the rescue. In both cases you are learning new words.

You may, for a short while, feel lost in this newfound world of things you don’t understand. You might feel like a kid lost in a mall, looking for your mother (language). This is all perfectly normal (I’m sure if babies could convey this feeling they’d be in the same situation), just keep at it. The wonderful thing about the human brain is that it’s built for learning, you can’t go one day without learning something new; whether it be something inane like how to more efficiently pour milk on your cereal, or something useful like how to fix a flat tire. You might not even be aware of this learning but it’s happening all the time.

You will learn the language if you keep interacting with it, that’s a fact.

And that’s all for my take on immersion, if you have anything to add or complain about just throw me a comment.

Bis zum nächsten mal!

B.R.

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P.S.

Yes I am the same writer of the previous guest posts, Matt has kindly added me to the authors list on the blog and as such you’ll be seeing me around more often ;D.

  • Matt Hawkins

    I am so sorry for the late reply, the comment system hasn’t been working and I’ve only just fixed it.

    Thanks for the comment!

    While Anki is good at building vocabulary, it is better and more effective when used to remember words, phrases and grammar that you discover when immersing. I would recommend doing both but cutting back a bit on Anki. Use the stuff you find while immersing to put into Anki instead of using a pre-made deck. You want to try and move away from any English as quickly as possible.

    I understand exactly how you feel as I was there too. I asked the same question to someone else who had already been through the process and they said the same thing as I am now. Just keep immersing, you want to immerse so that you don’t struggle with listening and reading. SRS is meant to be the glue that holds everything together, without any immersion, you just have a lump of glue. – I hope that makes sense aha

    Hope that helped and I am sorry for the delay!

  • Julian Beck

    Hallo:)
    first of all, nice and inspiring read!
    i have a question regarding immersion. How do you listen during sleep? i for me as soon as i try to sleep with 日本語 pluged in, i’m fully focused on the audio and cant calm down to fall asleep. was it like also like that dor you two in the beginning? Does it get better over time?

    • Matt Hawkins

      I had similar problems when I started to understand stuff in Japanese. You brain starts to just go to work on language acquisition which is great but, as you say, it prevents you sleeping.

      What I did was either;
      1. Turn it down to a low enough volume that makes it so it isn’t distracting but you are still able to hear it.
      2. Get material that was significantly harder e.g. mostly vocab I didn’t know or something that contained really fast speaking e.g. an audio book.
      3. Use something that was really boring and where the volume didn’t tend to change much e.g. the news (you are more likely to fall asleep to this than you are too anime aha)

      I actually found it gets worse over time. The more you understand the more your brain gets distracted. If you are really stuck then I would suggest looking into ways to fall into sleep better. Sleep hours aren’t the most important thing in the world though and if it’s causing you trouble then it’s probably a better idea to not bother. You will get more out of your immersion throughout the day if you have had good sleep 🙂

    • B R

      Hmm well in my experience you should start fairly quiet, almost inaudible (especially if you are struggling to get some rest!). If you are a light sleeper you will definitely find it hard in the beginning, but you build up a kind of tolerance to the sound and eventually you should be just fine from there onwards.

      Remember: even listening to quiet audio is better than none at all!

    • Matt Hawkins

      BR did reply but for some reason it won’t display, this is what he said:

      “Hmm well in my experience you should start fairly quiet, almost inaudible (especially if you are struggling to get some rest!). If you are a light sleeper you will definitely find it hard in the beginning, but you build up a kind of tolerance to the sound and eventually you should be just fine from there onwards.

      Remember: even listening to quiet audio is better than none at all!”