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Immersion To Become Bilingual

Image Credit: Harriet Russell

My mother tongue is Spanish and even though I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country, it has always been a part of my life. At the moment, I’m learning Italian after I spent a summer there on an exchange program.

If I could, I would speak all languages, I want to continue learning and I know I will master Italian and German at some point in the near future. But what it taking classes isn’t a possibility? A lot of people can’t pay for extra classes and the ones at school might not be as good. Why should you continue learning if “everyone speaks English?”

To answer the second question,

“Speaking two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.” Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

Here’s something you can probably relate to: I studied French for three years at school and I don’t actually know more than how to say ‘bonjour.’  I can’t learn a language in a classroom setting; not because I’m too cool for the writing and listening exercises and essays, but because I learn through immersion. Maybe you do as well.

The term immersion may have different approaches in education. According to the Bilingual and Immersion Programs by Jim Cummins, “in one sense it is a programs that plans forms of bilingual education to “immerse” the students in a language environment and then there’s an immersion when the student is an immigrant or speaks a minority language in a classroom where instruction is conducted frequently through the dominant language of the society or a global language of wider communication.”

As the Academia International School explains in Immersion & Bilingualism, “Language learning refers to the explicit and conscious effort to learn a second or foreign language, whereas language acquisition is the un-conscious process through which the mother tongue but also a foreign language is being acquired. The latter entails no explicit instruction and happens solely through natural and spontaneous contact with language.”

With this conceptualization, you should be able to understand why it is easier for some people to learn by immersion. Examples could be people who learned a language in a couple months because they had direct contact with it because they moved abroad or because they have family from another country or a best friend whose mother tongue is another language.

If you can travel for a couple months to a completely different country and learn the language, that would be great. Since we all know young students are usually unable to do that, you could try watching movies in their original language with English subtitles, YouTubers from abroad, read books, tweets, newspapers in that language. Listen and repeat the language as much as you can. Buy a book and try to read parts out loud and look up the words you don’t understand and you’ll be surprised by how much you learn.

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Catalina M. Gorbitz
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Catalina is an 18 years old communications student who loves to read, write and old rock music.

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