On the sofa? In the bedroom? In the car? At work!? I do it in all these places. Everyday. And so should you!
Want more details? Of course what I'm talking about is listening and reading in another language, or creating an immersion environment. Why spend all that time and money travelling abroad when you can recreate another country in your own home?
What exactly do I do on the sofa and in the bedroom? Well I'll get to that a bit later, but let's unpack this a little bit first.
Every wondered why people's language skills improve quickly when they move to another country? No, me neither – it's obvious! When you're surrounded by the language everyday you can't help but get better. By being immersed in the environment you learn new words and phrases naturally and in context. Everywhere you look you see the written language and everywhere you go you hear the language being spoken authentically. It's no wonder you improve quickly. Mass exposure is without a doubt the best way to acquire a lot of language.
But if you're not in a position to pick up and move to a new country (and let's face it, who is?!), it's easy to get despondent and use this as an excuse for your lack of progress. “I'm just unlucky. If I had a job where I could live in another country, I'd be fluent in no time!”
So people who move abroad are immersed in the language, and they're really lucky, etc etc. Fine. But what made you think that you have to live abroad in order to get that immersion?
The reality is that many expats actually live and operate in an entirely English-speaking bubble and have to try just as hard as you to learn the local language. If you don't believe me, go to Japan, where an embarrassing 95% of expats speak next to zero Japanese. Anyone who works full-time faces just the same language learning challenges, no matter what country they live in.
The good news is that with a bit of creative thinking you can create just as much language immersion in your own home as you could hope to have abroad. Here's how.
This is the bit that needs a concerted effort. You need to gather things that you can listen to, watch or read in as many different and flexible formats as possible. The guiding principle is that, as far as possible, it should all be material that you're interested in. This is important – you're much more likely to learn from something if it doesn't bore you to death.
Now that you've got the tools, it's time to use them. The aims here are straightforward:
In the case of 1, this means that rather than getting your news from CNN, you go to NHK. Rather than watching The Wire, you fire up a Brazilian telenovela. Rather than using that same old cookbook again, you get your recipes from another place (and learn something new at the same time!).
In the case of 2, this means really exploiting every moment of dead time you have to crank up the exposure to the language, as if you were actually walking the streets of the country itself. Everyone has some dead time, no matter how busy they are. The key is to identify it and start to use it. Use this time to listen to podcasts, read a book, watch a movie – whatever is appropriate. Here are some classic points in the day when you can do this. You'll notice that many of these activities would be positively improved by listening to something interesting in the background (who likes cleaning in silence?)
There are many more. At this point you have to take over and figure out how best to fill up your time.
So, where will you do it?
A couple of caveats to this. Firstly, as Steve Kaufman talks about in this insightful video, you can look at language learning as a two-pronged approach. The bottom-up prong is ‘micro' work studying vocabulary, grammar, and so. The top-down prong is the ‘macro' – the general but extensive exposure to the language. You need both. Creating an immersion environment deals with the latter. If you do this, but don't do any detailed studying, you won't get far, and vice versa. However, I would say that most people focus far too much on the bottom-up and fail to give themselves enough general exposure to language. Therefore, chances are, if you're one of these people, immersing yourself in the language will help you to balance out.
Secondly, remember you always need to enjoy the process. If you implement an immersion environment and you find yourself flipping out after a certain time, take it easy! Take a break and let your brain rest. Spend a few days in English to equalise. The worst possible outcome is for you to get so frustrated that you pack it all in. Everything in moderation!
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Image 1: jayhem
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