Spanish Immersion - is it for you? Things to consider before choosing your language school...

Spanish immersion is the practice of going to a Spanish speaking environment to learn or consolidate your language skills. For example this might mean enrolling in a language school in Spain or Mexico, (or any other Spanish speaking nation) and taking classes there - taught in Spanish. It can involve living with a Spanish speaking host family - eating, sleeping and interacting with them in a 'normal' day-to-day fashion and being immersed in their culture, habits and language.

In such an environment you, as the learner, would operate solely in the target language of Spanish, totally surrounded by the language.

There are many Spanish language immersion courses in many countries that teach exclusively in Spanish..

There are many arguments for and against the total immersion approach, and we discuss them here. Reading them will assist you in deciding if a total immersion language learning course is for you.

What are the arguments to consider - for and against a Total Immersion Spanish Learning program?

I am a big fan of the Total Immersion approach to language learning, and indeed learned to speak a new language in such an environment. But ... it is not for everyone, and it there are ways and means of making such a program more effective.

Too big a jump

Many total immmersion Spanish classes are taught exclusively in Spanish, and I think this is too big a jump for most beginners. This leaves many people bewildered and overwhelmed, and very little learning takes place for such people. I would recommend getting some basic background in the language first, before joining a Spanish immersion class.

Basic Spanish is better taught to you in your native tongue

Classes taught in English are of more benefit to the beginner. By all means go to a Spanish speaking country for your course, but you will progress more rapidly initially by doing your basic lessons in a class taught by an English speaking teacher. (or a teacher speaking your mother tongue, or a language in which you are fluent.) Because you speak English, you can understand things explained in English. With the basics being taught exclusively in Spanish, it takes a very skilled, and very rare Spanish teacher that can achieve this. Most language teachers cannot.

Learn the basic Spanish vocabulary in a week to 10 days

By learning some basic Spanish vocabulary, you will be better prepared for your Spanish immersion course, which will consolidate the vocab, and phrases you have learned. With modern accelerated learning Spanish systems you can learn 1,000 words in a week or so, and conquer the most common Spanish words in a week of home study on your computer.

Learning the Cognates will rapidly quadruple your vocabulary

Learn the families of words that convert to English with a few tweaks. These are called cognates. These are words like biology which becomes biologia.; words like fantastic become fantastico. There are about 40 such families and learning them will quickly populate your vocabulary arsenal with 3,000 to 4,000 words

Courses such as the 200 Words a Day Spanish Courses call these the TurboBoosters. Remember however, that these are not necessarily the most common words, and that you need to know the most common words to learn and understand the basics. Teachers such as Michel Thomas, Margaret Madrigal (author of the timeless and excellent book 'A Magic Guide to Spanish') have used these to great effect.

Learn 100 most common phrases ...

Learn the 100 most common basic phrases before embarking on your Spanish immersion class.Learn the basic verb structures in a verb table that can be learned vertically and horizontally.

You are probably not a baby ...

Advocates of the 100% total immersion argue that babies and children learn to speak by total immersion and by watching and observing and being a part of the 'language-in-action' of day-to-day life. This is true, but ... remember it took some YEARS of full time learning to achieve mastery. Most adults students simply do not have the time to do this.

Adults actually learn faster than children

Adults already know how to speak and modern researchers have shown that adult language learners actually learn faster than children, because adults have already learned 'how to learn' to a greater degree than kids. However the child that learns by total immersion learns the nuances and subtleties better than an adult and, provided he or she has not passed puberty has a greater chance of mastering a native accent than an adult.

Once you have mastered the basics to intermediate stages of Spanish you will better cope with a Spanish immersion class

With the above basics mastered, or at least introduced, you will find total immersion Spanish language classes much easier, as you will better understand the Spanish teacher when he/she is speaking Spanish to the class. You will not however understand him/her completely, and there are some who argue that you should not do any immersion until you have reached an advanced level of Spanish. Just be aware of the arguments, and decide what suits your own style of learning.

You may decide to take the plunge from the start, learning from the outset in Spanish from lesson 1. In these cases you will probably need to spend a lot more time on learning and reviewing your lessons.

I would therefore suggest that one does not attempt a Spanish immersion class until one has mastered the basics of Spanish.

Once one has mastered the basics or intermediate level Spanish then an immersion situation is appropriate.

You need to hear the structures repeated 50 times. Structure repetition is needed in any course.

For improvement, consolidation and fluency Spanish immersion is a must...

Once you have mastered the intermediate level and moved on to advanced Spanish total immersion is the most effective teacher. It is a must for consolidation, hearing the different uses of words, phrases, idioms and expressions.

To get the most from the language learning experience it is best to not communicate at all in your mother tongue. This forces you to communicate in Spanish, and forces you to learn and repeat learned structures, and phrases.

The advantage of Spanish immersion living with a host family is that this will further bolster the Spanish learning process, and give you further insights into the mentality of the culture. You will see phrases being used in the correct context, and will absorb a great deal through osmosis.

In reality it is very difficult to become really become fluent in a language without sustained periods of total language immersion.

Immersion is Learning Spanish in its natural context

One of the benefits of a Spanish immersion learning strategy is that you see, hear and feel the language in its natural environment. You see the expressions, words and phrases in their natural context, with the hand and body movements, facial expressions, and intonations.

This way third ear acts at the subconscious level. This is the brain's innate ability to learn a language's structure when surrounded by it, and 'seeing' it in play. You simulate this process to some degree by watching Spanish films. The more times you watch the same film, the better. This is how we learnt our mother tongues... that is ... hearing the same words, phrases and structures repeated time and again.

You MUST speak ...

The act of speaking will you gain you your biggest improvements in Spanish. Speak, speak, and keep speaking.

At first a Spanish language immersion environment might seem incomprehensible

Initially the immersion situation might just sound incomprehensible, particularly for a beginner.

Native speakers speak at a blistering pace, with their words blurring one into the next, and not slowly and clearly like your Spanish teacher. At first it can be overwhelming!

After a period of time, things start to click into place and all the thousands of words, phrases, quips, sayings, idioms and expressions start beginning to make sense. You start to recognize more and more words and patterns. It is like when you buy a new shirt or car. All of sudden you see the same shirt or car everywhere. Because you are now aware of it.

Neural Pathways in the brain!

Neural pathways get laid in the brain making more and more neural connections. The process continues the longer one stays immersed.

The more that you can get into your brain before and during your Spanish immersion program, the more subconscious neural connections are made.

Your subconscious mind makes more and more connections and 'make senses' of the grammar, the language structure, the way sentences are constructed. This combines with all the material 'previously learned' from reading, learning, vocabulary learning, memory triggers, conversations etc.

Get stuff into your brain... however it suits you!

So the more you can get into your brain the better. By whatever means works for you! Hence my conviction in the 200 Words a Day! system which allows you to get thousands of words into your brain very quickly. Then if you go into a total immersion situation, so much of it will start clicking into place.

Consolidating the total immersion

To further consolidate your Spanish immersion learning you should also use the following media:
  • Radio
  • Television, Films, DVD,
  • video - there are more and more on youtube etc
  • Music - listen to songs
  • Podcasts - can be downloaded to your portable music station

Enjoy your Immersion Language Learning

If you are serious about improving your Spanish, a period of Spanish immersion is important, and valuable. We hope that some of the discussion points above will assist you in making your decision on what sort of immersion learning you will take.

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