How to Achieve Spanish Immersion without Buying a plane ticket

How to Achieve Spanish Immersion Without Buying a Plane Ticket

If you’re someone with serious plans to learn Spanish quickly, and have already begun your linguistic journey, you may have heard others respond with, “The only way to become fluent is to immerse yourself” or “You have to live in a foreign country to speak another language fluently.” But what if you’re not in a position to just drop everything and go to Mexico for a year? Is your dream of becoming fluent in Spanish totally crushed?

Of course not. While living abroad is definitely one way to experience the many language immersion benefits by simply being in a foreign place, plenty of other language immersion techniques are available for you to try, no plane ticket purchase necessary. It takes a degree of dedication and commitment, as well as a willingness to explore different immersion activities you may not have been aware of previously, and challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone.

(Welcome to language learning!)

What is language immersion?

You’ve probably heard the word “immersion” used many times, but have you ever paused to think about its definition? What does it mean to “immerse” yourself in a foreign language?

If you’ve ever used an immersion blender while cooking, for example, you can probably picture the way the blender is immersed into the pot of ingredients, rather than the ingredients being poured into a pitcher, as in a traditional type of blender. Think of yourself as the immersion blender and the pot of ingredients as your foreign language, Spanish, and everything related to it — its many cultures, regions, dialects, and individual speakers. Spanish immersion means exposing yourself to as many aspects of the language and culture as possible — through reading, writing, speaking, and listening — so that what once felt like a totally alien environment is now recognizable, as your brain settles in to the patterns it picks up from speaker to speaker, accent to accent, voice to voice, and starts comfortably adapting to this information.

Over time, you begin to notice that you’re no longer struggling to think, translate, and dissect every word you’re hearing or reading, and that in speaking practice, certain phrases seem to flow from your mouth almost effortlessly (“Did I really say that? Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t have to think about it!”), whereas before you had to pause nervously between what felt like every letter of every word and, just to get a simple response out. (And by that time, you’d already lost your listener’s interest in the conversation.)

Needless to say, if you’re wanting to know how to improve in Spanish, know that you can reach your goals, but you must exercise patience – patience with yourself and with those around you, since language learning is a relationship-based skill. Remember that the purpose of language is communication. Language and communication are, by nature, a social experience. It requires two or more people interacting to convey messages – whether to inform, connect, offer ideas, present findings, ask questions, share opinions, discuss beliefs, ponder the cosmos, tell jokes, or engage in argument…it’s all a journey that teaches you more about yourself and the world around you. It’s vulnerable and revealing.

Even when working on Spanish language immersion activities by yourself, say, to improve your reading or writing skills, keep in mind that all forms of communication involve an audience, even if just implied. So you’re not alone, despite how it may seem as you seek to gain language skills without buying a plane ticket.

Achieving Spanish immersion and, ultimately, fluency, is possible, no matter where you live, if you’re willing to do the work and if you know what your options are.

How does language immersion work?

Language immersion works best when all of your attention is aimed at communicating and absorbing information in solely your target language, Spanish. The goal is to train your mind to think in Spanish, versus filtering everything through an English-speaker’s lens.

The more you know how to immerse yourself in Spanish, the more you can grow in your ability to think in that language; thus, you lose the need to translate everything from your native tongue. Communication becomes easier, more fluid, when you are forced to experience the world in the target language. (Don’t we all want less struggle, and more flow in our lives?) Immersion by location (living in a foreign country, or area where the primary language is your target language) is so effective because it provides an environment that gives you no choice but to learn how to communicate better – and more quickly – in the foreign language.

If you want to become immersed in Spanish without buying a plane ticket, then you have to do the work of building that environment for yourself (which is not as bad as it sounds – it can actually be fun!).

In order to achieve Spanish immersion, you must become a sponge that soaks in Spanish, even when you don’t think you understand the words you’re listening to or reading on a page. As long as you’re engaged in a variety of language activities, classes, media, or other materials in Spanish, your brain will be working hard, even unconsciously, to process the language information and bring you closer to reading and listening comprehension as well as spoken and written competency.

It’s not a matter of forcing yourself to sustain an impossible level of concentration and hard work, though. What you may not realize yet is that immersion can be a delightful blend of both active and passive learning.

Active language learning

Active learning is the more conscious work of studying and focusing on building your language skills by learning new words and phrases through traditional methods like repetition and memorization.

Passive language learning

Passive learning, however, is everything that happens unconsciously, when your brain is given the right environment to consume nothing but the target language, whether by physically being in another country or in the language learning environment you create yourself when you surround yourself with Spanish books, music, television, and native speakers, for example.

Language immersion means setting aside any distractions from your normal life to consume only Spanish language content for a set amount of time each day or each week. Continuously placing Spanish text, recordings, video, and anything else you can get your hands on This is what puts you on the path to success in achieving Spanish immersion.

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Spanish immersion at home

Achieving Spanish language immersion and advanced speaking skills is, for most learners, a long-term goal. As with any other type of goal in life, such as the ever-common weight loss resolutions made at New Year’s, it’s essential to have a long-term plan if you truly wish to succeed. Otherwise, that nice idea we had to speak Spanish when we travel and meet new people, which sounds good in theory, simply won’t happen if we forget to take actionable steps, on a regular basis.

Create community

We all tend to feel excited and eager at the beginning of a new year, or after declaring a decision to finally start this journey to learn another language, yet we’re unprepared for what it takes. It takes more than a nice idea. Because, once again, language is usually a social experience with the goal of interpersonal communication.

This means we need to surround ourselves with speakers of the target language, even when we can’t do it by traveling or living abroad.

So how can you network with native Spanish speakers and other language learners if you don’t live in an area with a big Hispanic population? And, even if you do, what does a safe space look like, where you can truly connect and learn with like-minded people who have similar goals? After all, even if you were living abroad, at some point you would still find yourself wishing to be around other learners. Learning a language is no fun if you feel isolated and alone in your journey. We all feel more comfortable when we’re around other people whom we know can relate to our challenges as well as celebrate our wins. 

The best way to experience Spanish immersion at home is by joining a community online. A tertulia or Spanish conversation group is a fun way to form relationships while practicing your language skills in a safe space, even if you aren’t yet at an advanced level. Everyone there has been where you are, so there’s no pressure to speak to perfection!

A great place to start searching for informal Spanish language practice groups (in addition to social media, of course) is Meetup.com, a site for people to gather and enjoy virtually any type of hobby, activity, or interest. You can find a group local to you and even attend in person if you prefer.

If you are closer to a beginner Spanish level, you might also find that you can build confidence and self-empathy by flipping the roles. Being a supportive native English speaker for a native Spanish speaker learning English, for example, is a rewarding feeling, especially during a language exchange meeting. When you speak your native tongue, you don’t have to feel self-conscious, so you can relax as you converse with your non-native partner. And you get to experience helping someone else on a similar journey as you.

Language learning meetups

Try attending one of the three weekly Spanglish Exchange meetings on Zoom, in which native English and native Spanish speakers from all over the world gather to practice speaking both languages for five minutes at a time in small groups.

The exchanges have a facilitator who keeps track of the time and alerts everyone when it’s time to switch languages. You usually get to practice three times, in different small groups. Between rounds, everyone comes back to the large group and casually raises any questions they have or maybe something funny or interesting their small group discussed. Many of the attendees are regulars, so you’ll see familiar faces after a few times. They’re also friendly and helpful; because everyone is at varying levels of language proficiency, it makes for an enriching, judgment-free experience every time!

Change your settings

If you use social media, create documents on a word processing tool, check your email, have a cell phone, shop online, or do just about anything with a screen, then you may know that:

1. You spend far too much of your time there already, and,

2. These tools and devices have menus that appear in the same places, with the same toolbars and options listed in the drop-down menus.

Regular, consistent use of these tools makes you learn them faster and, most likely, able to write down the menus by hand if you had to (if you’ve been using Word for a while and still can’t remember that “File” is the first option on the left, then…you’re the exception). So if you’re serious about improving your Spanish and achieving immersion, why not start here, with tools that you already know?

To improve your Spanish reading and vocabulary with boot camp-like intensity at home, challenge yourself with this: change the language settings on all of your devices, including your Web browser, email account, cell phone, social media accounts, subscription accounts… you name it…to Spanish. You’ll see that by using the same tools you always do, but in a different language, you will learn new vocabulary, like Archivo for “File”, without even having to use a dictionary.

Replicate Spanish immersion in your own environment

Remember: if you’re not going to change your geographical settings to achieve Spanish immersion, then you have to recreate the environment of immersion yourself by altering the other settings of your life. Things have to change if you’re going to add a whole new language to your brain, so leverage the digital places and tools that you already use and feel comfortable with on a daily basis to your Spanish language-learning benefit.

This means that what you choose to read and listen to – in other words, where you put your attention, what your ears and eyes literally focus on during the day, needs to be in your target language as much as possible.

The news? Read it in Spanish.

Lifestyle podcasts? Listen to one in Spanish.

Makeup tutorials? Watch them in Spanish.

Any other skill, talent, hobby, or interest you have in life, aside from learning Spanish, is an opportunity for you to continue honing your Spanish skills. When you already know you enjoy the subject matter of your book or podcast, especially if it’s something you’re passionate about in your overall life (like dance or community service or video games), then participating in that same activity, or connecting with others who share the same passion, in Spanish, will be extra incentive for you to keep moving forward with your immersion techniques.

Start paying attention to what is getting your attention most, and if it’s something you can watch, read about, practice, seek advice on, watch a tutorial of, or otherwise do something about, then take control and change the settings. Spanish is the new default. At the end of the day, you’ll learn Spanish more quickly if you take responsibility for your own learning and do as much as you can, with vigor, which gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment.

After all, you have more control than you think over how much immersion you experience when you’re doing it without buying a plane ticket.

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Beyond the basics: immersion programs

Another way to simulate the abroad experience (at least, linguistically speaking) is by enrolling in an immersion program in your local area. This will really get the ball rolling, especially once you already have the basics down of Spanish grammar and vocabulary.

If you live within driving distance of central Vermont, for example, consider the Spanish School summer immersion program at the Middlebury Language Schools, which has an excellent reputation for helping students make some incredible language gains in eight weeks or less, due to their renowned Language Pledge®. Students literally sign a contract at the beginning of the program, pledging to only communicate in their target language (even beginners!) so as to create an environment most conducive to language acquisition, for themselves and their peers.

Many other universities and language schools around the country have immersion programs as well — it’s certainly worth researching in your local area.

Activities to do all throughout your language learning journey

Thanks to today’s technology, we have many opportunities to engage in Spanish immersion online via immersion courses, Spanish lessons, working one-on-one with a Wyzant tutor, listening to podcasts, watching original Spanish language movies with subtitles (preferably in Spanish), and supplementing with language learning apps like Duolingo. These are great ways to help you get started in gaining fundamental vocabulary and grammar skills in Spanish. 

Additionally, you can check your local library for free resources like Spanish dictionaries (for more than just looking up words; dictionaries also include excellent grammar sections that explain topics and have verb conjugation charts), workbooks, and audio courses. If you live in an area with a Spanish speaking population, your library might also have a selection of children’s books and novels in Spanish. If you are still at a beginner’s level, reading fun stories — both translations of stories you already know, like fables and fairytales, and authentic texts (picture books count!) — in Spanish will help you stay engaged and more willing to stick with the learning process.

Remember not to be too hard on yourself, and that every little bit you do will add up down the road.

Spanish language immersion is possible without buying a plane ticket. You just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, little by little, bit by bit, day by day, and watch your proficiency grow into full-blown conversations with native speakers.

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