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Sink or Swim – Can You Make It in Language Immersion?

YES YOU CAN! And it’s, hands down, the best way to learn a language.

I thought I’d write this post in response to the news that six elementary schools in Metro-Atlanta will begin dual immersion language programs in Spanish, French and Chinese.

Here are some tips on how to learn a language through immersion, based on my own experience learning Chinese in the US and abroad:

• Don’t insist on perfection – whether in pronunciation, grammar, or anything else – until after several months of second language immersion have passed. “Warm up” to the language by taking in the sounds, rhythms, and basic vocabulary of your new language, especially in the beginning.

• Re-learn your native language. It’s super-difficult to learn a second-language when you don’t have a firm anchor, in terms of spelling, syntax, grammar rules, etc., in your first. THIS IS WHERE A LOT OF SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNERS FALL SHORT. Once you clearly understand basic grammar rules in English, for example, you can compare and contrast the new rules you are learning in Spanish, French or Chinese.

• For speaking (pronunciation, fluency, rhythm, etc.) train the ear by listening for hours and hours to your target language. To improve writing, train the eye by reading hundreds and hundreds of pages in your target language. That’s right, I said hundreds.

• Take breaks in language learning. It never ceases to amaze me how much more comfortable I am with a foreign language after I’ve taken a few weeks or even a few months off from my studies. It’s like putting on an old favorite pair of sneakers. Learn by stretching the comfort zone. Take a break. Then stretch it again and you’ll find progress.

• Finally –an entire language is not something that you can master in six weeks, unlike, say a part of a new language (verbs, or beginner vocab, etc.). Commit to your new language for the long haul; take a break and come back to it again and again until you reach your specific language goals.