Now that we know how great immersion is, what are some ways you can achieve it? Here are some ideas.
1. Take Cultural Field Trips
In your home country, look for English restaurants, stores and movies. If you live in a country where English is not the dominant (most popular) language, look to tourist areas (areas where you’ll find many travelers).
Hotels are often located near attractions that travelers like to visit. City centers or public squares will have many shops and places where travelers will be. English speakers love to travel, and many countries have dedicated areas where they meet.
Restaurants and stores in these areas will have Americanized food and products to make travelers more comfortable. Many of the staff in these restaurants and stores will know English. Visit these locations and practice ordering and asking about products in English. If you’re feeling brave, approach some travelers and practice English small talk.
In addition, some organizations, such as churches, may hold some meetings and services in English if there are a large number of English speakers in the area.
Check with local clubs and organizations to see if anything like this is available. By spending time at English-speaking events, you’ll challenge yourself to listen to your new language. You may even make some new English-speaking friends at the same time.
2. Plan Immersion Days
An immersion day goes one step beyond the cultural field trip. It’s an especially good option if there are no major English-speaking areas in your home country. You can immerse yourself without leaving your home.
Decide ahead of time that you’ll only listen to and speak in English for one full day. It will be uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, you’ll be happy that you accepted the challenge.
Here are some ideas for your immersion day:
- Start by getting a phrasebook in English. Any time you’re not sure what to say, go to your phrasebook. Let your friends know that you’re practicing your English. If they’re practicing as well, you can have English conversations together. If they aren’t learning English, you may have no choice but to communicate with them in your native language, but try to also translate everything you say into English.
- Set up an extended practice session with a tutor (more on this in the next section).
- Choose some English movies and television shows, get some of your favorite snacks and have an English movie day.
- Prepare an English meal. A fun way to challenge yourself is to find English cooking lessons online on YouTube. Some other good places to start include the British Council’s “Cooking with Charlie” (which includes tools to test your comprehension) and PBS’s “The Great British Baking Show.”
3. Find an Online Tutor for Conversation Practice
For immersing yourself in English through conversation, you may be able to get some extra help from your language teacher. You can also look for another tutor to give you extra time. This tutor will concentrate on helping you build your speaking and listening skills. For the purposes of immersion, you need to find a tutor who will communicate with you in English from 75% to 100% of the time.
Italki is a great resource to find a tutor for just about any language you want to learn. Informal tutors will talk to you in English, forcing you to use skills that you’ve learned.
Italki and many other online sites will give you an advanced search option to find the right tutor. You can select a tutor that teaches the language you’re learning (English). You also have the option to select your tutor by availability, languages the tutor speaks, where they are from and rates. If you’re focusing on immersion, whether or not the tutor speaks your native language isn’t important, because you should spend as much time as possible communicating in English.
You’ll get the best results by selecting a tutor who’s a native English speaker (you can also choose this in search options). If your tutor becomes impatient with your efforts, they aren’t right for you. You may need to go through a few tutors in order to find the best match for you.
Since online tutoring is done through platforms like Skype, you can have notes in front of you to help you speak during your tutoring sessions. The best thing about online tutors is that they often charge very little for time to talk to you in English. Since what you mainly want is a conversation partner, credentials (qualifications such as school or teaching experience) are not that important.
However, if you’re looking for a more qualified teacher to guide you along with conversation practice, Verbling specializes in helping you find exactly the right online tutor for you. You can look through hundreds of teachers from all over the world, and see how much they charge and what their availability is like. Even better, setting up meetings is simple—instead of planning a meeting on Skype, you can have tutoring sessions using Verbling’s own video technology.
4. Take an Immersion Class (or Combine Immersion with a Traditional Course)
Language Immersion vs. Traditional Language Courses
There are some formal immersion programs that charge a fee. The cost of these courses varies but they usually give you immersion combined with some kind of formal training. They’ll require you to use the language you’re studying.
Immersion programs differ from traditional courses in that they’re (mostly) instructed in the target language. Many regular ESL courses can also be considered immersive because they’re taught in English.
Some immersion programs take students on field trips to different areas so they spend time in the culture. They may give students jobs (either paid or volunteer) and provide room and board to help them actually live with the language they’re learning.
The best way to immerse yourself is to look for a course that’s 100% in English. This is the best way to challenge yourself and make yourself use the language. We tend to go back to our native language when we’re uncomfortable. A course with a 100% English rule will force you to use the language more often than seems natural at first.
But even if your course is not 100% in English, you can still immerse yourself by studying English culture and entertainment on your own time. Your independent studies will help you in your traditional course because you’ll recognize things you’re learning outside of class. You’ll hear words and phrases the way they’re actually spoken, helping you to understand the language better.
Different Types of Formal Immersion Programs
Formal immersion programs are great if you can afford them. Since they combine formal instruction with immersion, they’ll cost some money. Many programs offer English immersion sections.
- Some programs, like from the Boston Language Institute, allow you to choose between group immersion or private immersion.
- Some other programs, like Cornell University’s Summer Collegeprogram, offer college credit.
- Other organizations, like Education First, have all kinds of different immersion options. You can travel to an English-speaking country and stay for a couple of weeks or a full year.
Many programs will give you formal language instruction with cultural lessons mixed in. The programs are in English, either partially or 100%. They’ll sometimes take you on field trips and set you up to work with native English speakers. They help many language learners to pick up the language quickly, because they’re so intense.
Many formal ESL immersion programs also include a homestay option, which gives you a chance to live with an English-speaking family and experience the culture firsthand.
5. Spend Some Time Abroad
Many formal immersion programs are held abroad, but you can also travel to English-speaking areas without a formal program.
Here are some options to consider:
- One good program is Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, which allows you to volunteer in farms all around the world. In exchange for food and a place to stay, you work as a volunteer for farmers. You can choose English-speaking countries to practice your language skills with families, other workers and local people.
- Another good way to spend some time abroad is to work as a house sitter. A house sitter watches a house while the owners are away on vacation, business or for other reasons. You’ll stay in the home in exchange for maintenance (care and upkeep) of the home and/or property. Websites such as TrustedHousesitters.com will allow you to create a listing as a house sitter and let those who need sitters find you. You can also apply to listed positions. Many of these jobs are in English-speaking countries.
- Many language learners enjoy Couchsurfing. You can meet people and stay anywhere in the world for little to no cost. You’ll meet new friends from all over the world and practice your English skills.
If you’re traveling on your own, you need to take responsibility for using your English regularly. Traveling to a foreign country can be a scary experience, and it’s easy to find others from your home country and stay with them in a kind of “bubble,” speaking your native language. That goes against your whole reason for traveling, though, right? It’s okay to make friends from your home country, but don’t forget your reason for being abroad.
Make sure you spend the majority of your time speaking and interacting with English speakers.
Immersion will force you to challenge yourself in your target language.
If you want to achieve mastery of English, you have to use the English language.
The only way you can do this is through some form of immersion, so use the ideas above to get started today!
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