This is the fifth entry in a series discussing the unconventional methods to language learning from The Language Hacking Guide by Benny Lewis. New entries in this series will appear on Monday evenings.
Fluency is like a river flowing: you can dip your toes in or you can take a swim. Likewise with immersion, you can do a little bit, or you can dive right in. In this section, Benny’s analogy makes it really clear the differences between being in a country and immersing yourself in the culture and language versus being sheltered in a bubble. You can splash around the water, you could wade around, you could go for a dive and come up for air, or you could even hang out in a submarine – but you would not be getting yourself wet.
Immersion doesn’t necessarily mean leaving home and going where the target language is spoken. Of course, doing so would be greatly helpful but Benny suggests that short of doing that, you can make some changes so that you are as immersed as possible where you are.
Just as expats can live in a bubble but be in a foreign country, likewise, Benny creates his own ‘bubble’ of the target language whilst still living at home. Other than the absolute essentials (such as work), you could easily try to do everything else in the new target language. I find this to be a bit extreme for general public though. When I tried to do this with Japanese, I might have been able to get some input through watching Japanese anime and reading some Japanese material, but no one was certainly going to be able to converse with me back so there was very little output. But, of you are hard pressed, these are still passive activities that could support the language learning: watch shows in your target language (although the difficulty is finding the shows), change the language settings in your computer and mobile operating systems, tune in to an online radio show in your target language and, find speakers of your target language to practice with.
The only way to learn the target language (and I suppose to keep it well oiled) is to speak and converse in it with whatever you have, for as much as you can. If you motivate yourself to go from ‘not needing’ to speak the target language to making it essential because you are learning it, (just like it would be essential to speak it in a foreign country), this will increase the speed in which you learn. The one thing I need to do more of and do it better is to use Cantonese every other second of my life here even though my level is really low. To do that, Benny’s prescribed to hang out more with locals and use their target language. Although I must say that in trying to do that, and the very warm locals welcome me by speaking back in English.
The right attitude ought to be the opportunity for me to focus on the many different dimensions of the Hong Kong culture and language of living through Cantonese.
1. You don’t need to travel to be immersed.
2. Commit to passive activities which force you to use the language.