Learning Chinese Through Immersion

Language immersion is a common word. The word is used in many different ways, but the basic meaning is the same: By surrounding yourself with the language you’re learning, you will learn it much faster than if you regard it as an ordinary class subject.

“Learning a language, learning to swim.” Think of immersion as a swimming pool where the language learner can select different ways of learning to swim. If you stay at home and take evening classes, you’re mostly practising swimming on land, making sure you get the motions right before you jump in. If you study in a Chinese immersion program in your home country, you will be required to use the language a lot and this would be akin to practising swimming at the shallow end of the pool. If you go abroad and don’t hang out with other foreigners much, you’ll be at the deep end of the pool instead.

Immersion is great because it increases the time you spend with the language and makes it a natural part of your life. Some things require understanding and insight, but others just need a lot of time. In general, passive skills require much practice to improve and the only way you’re going to get good at listening to Chinese is by listening a lot.

Language immersion isn’t an either/or situation – This is the reason I like the swimming pool analogy. You can be immersed completely, which would mean living abroad with no contact whatsoever with your native language, perhaps isolated in a village somewhere. Very few people ever do this and while it might be great for learning quickly, it’s neither practically possible nor recommended for most people. You can also do the opposite and just dip your toes into the water now and then, and this hardly counts as immersion at all.

You can still achieve a very high level of immersion at home. This involves creating a Chinese listening and reading environment you take with you wherever you go, and spending time with Chinese people, either locally, online or both.

Going to China doesn’t automatically immerse you in Chinese. There are many foreigners living in China who can only speak very limited Chinese even after living there for years. This proves that simply living in China isn’t enough. If you only hang out with other foreigners, watch films and listen to music in your own language and don’t really interact much in Chinese with the locals where you live, you might learn less Chinese than someone who’s just taking evening classes in their home country. Just as it’s possible to create an immersion bubble at home, it’s perfectly possible to create an expatriate bubble in China.

If you want to learn Chinese through immersion, you need to make an effort. Fill your phone with Chinese music, podcasts and anything else you like and improve your listening ability as much as you can. There are also smaller tricks you can use, such as switching the language on your computer to Chinese, which will help more with reading. And of course, you can always get help from professionals, there’re immersion programs in language schools, which will help improving your Chinese readily.

Source: about education

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