The benefits of language immersion

The benefits of language immersion

Jan 10, 2018, 8:03:34 PM News

It has become essential in our current globalized world to be fluent in several languages, if not for business, at least for personal growth. Several sources estimate that today more than half of the world's population is at least bilingual. Yet, it may be more complicated for some to get to that point, as learning a language is a long and not effortless process. There are many ways to make this process easier though. Studies have shown that some methods are more efficient than others, like immersion for instance.

Immersion is when someone is surrounded by a particular language at all times, completely immersed into it. There are a lot of benefits to learning a language through immersion:

It develops your language skills faster. The main 4 language skills are oral comprehension (listening) and expression (speaking), written comprehension (reading) and expression (writing). Whilst being immersed in another culture, your brain is constantly stimulated in that language, whether you listen, read, write or speak. Regular stimulus lead to a sharpening of these skills and the person thus improves their level in that foreign language.

It develops human qualities, such as:

  • Patience, as you must be patient to learn, understand, communicate, make a point and ultimately progress.
  • Confidence, for instance when you succeed in understanding a message on a billboard, asking the right question, getting the information that you need, ….
  • Autonomy and adaptability, as being immersed in another language leads to learning how to overcome difficulties on your own.
  • Empathy: being surrounded by a foreign language, you will feel the difference between that language and culture and yourself and see yourself, on some aspects, like an outsider. Being in this outsider position makes you more prone to sympathy towards others as you understand and have been confronted to difference.

In the recent years, several studies and many researchers have also pointed out the benefits of bilingual education and language immersion on the brain. As you can read in this NPR article, immersion can lead to:

  • An increase in attention, since, in order to communicate successfully, you need to focus on one language in particular, and completely inhibit the other languages that you know. You also have to pay attention to the context and the message to understand and communicate, thus making you sharper.
  • A general improvement of reading abilities and intellectual performances. To learn and master two or more languages, you need to be able to deconstruct their systems, analyze them, compare them, and play with them in order to achieve communication. In an immersion context, this learning and understanding of linguistic systems happens in real time and has been linked to an increase in reasoning and logic functions in the brain.
  • Higher brain functions that could allow bilingual people to resist mental diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's for longer than monolingual people.

Scientists have concluded that there are no disadvantages to immersion and bilingual education. However, there are still different ways of being immersed in a language. It can happen when you are an adult immigrating to another country, a traveler, a student in school or enrolled in an immersion program outside of school. The last instance has developed thanks to schools offering bilingual courses, as well as companies offering immersion programs and home-stays during the holidays. The idea is close to that of a summer camp, but for languages. You still get to have fun whilst being immersed in a different culture and learning another language.

One example of holiday immersion program that you can find online is Daily English, which offers the opportunity for French students to spend a few weeks in an English-speaking family living in France, dividing their time between English lessons and life with the English family. The plus of this kind of program is that the students still get immersed in a foreign language without being too far away from home, which can be reassuring when you are only a teenager.

Whichever option you choose, it is never too late to learn another language!

Published by Ruby Bois


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