Your Intuition is Wrong about Learning Languages

Do you have a vague feeling that you're too old to learn a language?

Are you still looking for the best way to do this?

Or do you just....feel like you're never quite doing enough?

Then we have the show for you!! Hit play now and check out episode 69 of the Creative Language Learning Podcast

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The Story of Bilingual German-English Live Training

One of the worst moments I've ever experienced in German teaching was the time I tried to introduce a class of lunchtime learners to the Akkusativ case. Armed with whiteboard and sample sentences, I walked into the class, and I felt so ready and so excited to be teaching this (what I thought) awesome system in grammar.

"So when you have an object in your sentence, here's what happens..", I explained to them, with colour-coded underlining to illustrate. I thought I was doing well..until I saw everyone's face. In this classroom, at 12:45, in the middle of a busy workday, something clearly wasn't working.

That's when I realised that language teaching and language learning are not the same thing. And even worse, that what I was explaining didn't make sense to half of these people and they didn't care either.

Relevant Teaching

I came out of that class feeling absolutely defeated. I think I even cried, feeling like I'm failing myself and my students. And the experience always stuck with me and built part of the philosophy that is behind my actions now: The LEARNER is in charge of learning a language. And the learner, that's you right there reading these words.

When you're taking classes with me, you can get the solid and important explanations at your own pace in my online courses, but in live lessons I avoid explainers and I never lead with them.

Instead, the key to the Fluent Language method is relevant teaching.

For you as a German learner, that means experiencing language immersion at a good pace, making your own conclusions, and answering questions regularly. It's important to speak or write early, but it's also important that you're learning relevant and well.

Action: Bilingual Live Training

In my most recent teaching venture, I created a bilingual webinar - the first one I ever taught, and a successful one too.

Thank you so much if you were among the lovely people watching on Saturday. It was a challenge for me to teach in this way, but an incredibly rewarding experience to know that the viewers were following along, answering questions, and understanding the immersion concept.

Do you want to try it out? Catch up with the webinar today, and make sure you also download your worksheet and follow along. Click here and find all you need at the webinar live page.

Did you watch the webinar? Did you learn something new and use the worksheet?

Tell me how you enjoyed it in the comments below, and make sure you sign up for my newsletter to learn about the next one.

Podcast Episode 44: Be Like a Waffle (Language Learning In-Country)

waffles

Learning a Language In-Country

Learning a language where it is spoken is one of the Top 5 wishes on every learner's bucket list. In this episode, we explore stories and tips about language learning - including Lindsay's travels to Costa Rica, and what Kerstin's English was like on day 1 in England.

  • What's different between home learning and in-country learning?
  • The risk and benefit of having a "home library" for language learning
  • How can you build your in-country vocabulary?
  • Why having no choice is the single best thing you can do for your language skills
  • The three types of in-country learning: Short Stay, Mid-Stay and Complete Life Change
  • How to rank and assess your language level on the "Kerstin Cable Breakfast Food Scale"
  • German learners! Kerstin is inviting you to come to Germany and speak for a week at the Fluent German Retreat
  • Exactly what to do when people correct you as you speak another language
  • What does it mean when you start to dream and think in another language?

Listen here or download from itunes

Plus: Bonus Secret

We started off the show comparing a few Duolingo notes, and finally find out what happens when you finish a Duolingo skill tree.

Links and Resources from this Show

Please Support Our Sponsor

Episode 44 of the Creative Language Learning Podcast is kindly sponsored by our friends at Flashsticks. Check out their new app Flash Academy. It's a language playground offering you light lessons, games and quizzes. Go check it out for free at Flash Sticks and get 10% off everything at the site with code KERSTIN10.

Real Life or Online Language Immersion? There's Only One Way To Find Out...

Could you get the benefits of immersion even when you are unable to put aside a month to do it? 

This question is at the heart of Anthony's story, which is today's Fluent guest post. I love that he got involved with languages right from the start and really took home immersion to the next level by seeking out community meetings.

Ready to learn more about this? Over to Anthony!

I Learnt Spanish Using Two Different Immersion Techniques And Here's What I Found Out

A few years ago some friends and I decided we would spend a year saving up money for an extended trip to Latin America. It would be my first time outside of the United States. I planned on getting the most out of my first international travel experience and thought learning some Spanish would be a great idea. Long story short, the trip was canceled but I had already started learning my new language and began to fall in love with it.

Even without any travel prospects, I continued to practice my Spanish. 4 years later and I am fairly fluent and have had the opportunity to visit several Spanish speaking countries.

Before Spanish I had never tried to speak another language, so my learning experience was a bit bumpy at first. My language learning journey involved both real and virtual immersion. At different points I switched between the two, usually out of necessity. Looking back I have found some interesting differences.

In this post I use examples that apply best to beginners who can’t quite go for full immersion experience in another country. If you live near a major city you chances of find native speakers might better than you think.

Read on to find out how I made it work.

My Experience with Real World Immersion

When I first decided that I wanted to become fluent in Spanish, I had no idea how to start speaking the language. I knew I wanted to speak it, but beyond that I was pretty clueless. Aside from my duolingo app and a few Youtube videos I had no way to practice. Shortly after I took my first stab at Spanish an acquaintance invited me to a Spanish language group that met through a local church. I saw this as an excellent opportunity and decided to check it out.

The First Meeting: Scary And Exciting

spanish meetup

The first meeting was quite an experience. I had never been in a room full of people who only spoke Spanish. It was scary and exciting all at once. I couldn’t understand much back then, but just being exposed to the language was a thrill. It was the first time I had heard Spanish spoken in real life with no English.

I went as often as I could and was able to practice the sentences I learned during the week. It was an immersion experience, but I hadn't even travelled.

I quickly befriended two awesome guys (one from Guatemala and the other from Mexico), who happened to be musicians and love rock music. At the time I was also taking up guitar so it was a natural fit. We started hanging out outside of the group sampling taquerias and talking about music.

Before I knew it I was texting in Spanish, ordering tacos in Spanish, and had Spanish posts popping up on my Facebook feed. The level of Spanish ability needed to do these things honestly wasn’t much, but I realized that a part of my life was now in Spanish, a small part, but a significant one nonetheless. I hadn’t expected it, it just sort of happened.

This was my first real world immersion experience. I had no idea that one meeting with native Spanish speakers could lead to so many other awesome experiences.

My Experience with Virtual Immersion

After a few months of new friends and real life Spanish practice, my job started requiring a lot of overtime each week and I suddenly had much less time and energy to devote to learning Spanish. This is when I started to get involved with language exchanges and online lessons with tutors.

Because my schedule was tighter I began using a mixture of paid tutors and language partners to practice in lieu of meeting up with the Spanish group and my friends, though I would meet up with them on the weekends when I could (most lived 45 minutes away past the other side of the city).

I found digital immersion to be great for weeks when I only had a few hours or so free each day. I didn’t have the time or energy to practice with my new friends, but I could easily set aside 1 hour or so each day to practice with a teacher or language partner via Skype.

Comparing The Two

Structure vs No Structure

One of the definite advantages of real world immersion: Delicious local food.

One of the definite advantages of real world immersion: Delicious local food.

What I love most about virtual immersion is that it allows to have more control over how and when you use your target language. If you want to practice language for exactly one hour you can. You can connect with a language partner or tutorand drill a specific aspect of grammar, or you can just have a friendly conversation. For me this is great. I enjoy being methodical and almost systematic with the management of my time and my language learning.

Talking with real people on the other hand is a lot less predictable. Outside of paying a personal tutor it is very hard to find people to practice with on a daily or weekly basis. When you make friends in another language it’s a huge favor on their part to “practice” with you, they’re your friend not your tutor and if they aren’t learning your native language it costs a lot for them to help you.

Learning a language with friends will flow from your natural interaction with them. You’ll have to make a conscious effort to use what vocabulary you know to adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in.

Social Risk

Socially speaking, virtual immersion is easier, less risky, and insanely convenient. You can practice your language with a native speaker in your bed in your pajamas if you wanted too. You can also connect with speakers from around the world. You can literally pick and choose what country you want to meet people from. Virtual immersion is also more anonymous. You can always delete a skype contact or end a chat.

When you are surrounded in real life by native speakers you have much less control. You’re likely to meet all kinds of people in any number of situations, and you can’t just exit out of a chat window if something goes wrong. It’s also a lot harder to put yourself out there in the physical world versus the virtual one. On the internet you can be sure that the other person is a language learner and will be forgiving and understanding if you struggle. In real life you don’t have that guarantee. Before you initiate a conversation you have no way of knowing for sure whether or not the other person will be patient or receptive.

Rewards

Because virtual immersion is less risky and more controlled the rewards don’t go as far. Yes you get real spoken practice one on one with a real person, but you don’t get the cultural experience or relationship of an in person interaction. I can’t speak for others, but my main motivation for language learning is to make friends and interact with real people from around the world. I don’t want to learn Spanish just so I can talk to people on the internet all day.

It’s also hard to have a friendship over a text or video chat. You don’t get a feel for the body language and full personality of the other person (and you’re also probably 1,000+ miles away from them). You certainly aren’t going to know for their culture this way. That being said you can get valuable practice via virtual immersion. Talking to a real life human beats any other form of practice (at least in my opinion), even if it’s over the internet.

In-person immersion can be intimidating at first. The first time I ever spoke a language other than English to another person I was terrified. But it’s a great experience. As you learn a foreign language, foreign people seem less and less foreign. You really begin to see that you have more in common than what you thought, and You can appreciate the differences. You can make actual real life friends (that’s the dream isn’t it?). The internet will never be able to replace that.

Which is Better?

If I was forced to choose between the two I would choose real world interaction. For me that’s why I chose to start learning a language in the first place. That being said, I don’t think anyone will ever have to choose between the two. I think both offer benefits to your language learning.

In the end, it comes down to your language learning needs.

  • Are you working to become fluent or just functional?
  • Are you a world traveling polyglot, or working a 9-5 job?

Everyone has different goals and constraints on their language learning. So incorporate the real world and the internet in a way that makes sense for you.

I used both when I started learning Spanish and when I learn another language I’ll probably use both again. I found that you can bring a method and consistency to online learning that is best for reviewing and cementing the parts of the language that you’ve already learned. Real world immersion is better suited for being exposed to new aspects and uses of a language. I tend to split them into these two functions and use both accordingly.

##What have your experiences been with immersion?

Do you have a preference for the virtual or real word approach? I'd love to hear more from you in the comments below!

Guest writer Anthony blogs at Spanish Hackers and describes himself as "young at heart with a penchant for travel". He says: "I originally started learning Spanish because I wanted to visit Spain. A couple years and several adventures later, even though I'm pretty much fluent, I still find myself falling in love with the language and the people who speak it." You can connect with Anthony on Twitter.

Language Learning Methods: Will Immersion Teach You A Language Faster?

As I was replying to a comment on this lovely blog the other day, I got to read more about one of my regular reader, Angel. She is a Pokémon nut and challenging herself with the impressive language combination Mandarin, Japanese and Russian. Such an ambitious and fearless lady. You'll be hearing more from Angel very soon as a regular writer here on the blog

In her comment on my blog, Angel mentioned immersion classes. She says:

Another reason I'm reviewing Japanese again is one of the interviews I saw in your book mentioned immersion. I want to take immersion classes once I finish reviewing everything (and) make sure that I'm not just going by the level I ended up at in college.

img ©wikipedia

What's an Immersion Language Course?

Immersion is an interesting topic, and one of those words that always come up in language learning a bit like "polyglot method" or "language exchange". There is a bit of misinformation and myth around when it comes to the topic, so I decided to give you guys the Fluent summary.

First of all, let's look at the word. The OED has immersion as the "deep mental involvement in something" and points out that in foreign language learning it means your teacher will only teach you using the foreign language. That's all - immersion is not dependent on where you take the class or who you're learning with, it just means fewer explanations and more target language content. You do not have to live anywhere but where you live right now to make this work.

Advantages of Immersion in Language Learning

Many language learners dream of immersion classes as they promise quick results and otherwise unattainable levels of confidence, all wrapped up nicely with an impressive target language accent.

And all of this is kinda true - immersion works particularly well when building up to bilingualism, that means speaking two languages at practically native level all the time. This type of class challenges the brain in unique ways while forcing a learner to engage with the way language is used. There's no time for getting lost in grammar and rules, the point is to listen, copy and learn how to use language right.

Some more reading about advantages of immersion can be found over at Omniglot.

Guided Immersion Classes

Stephanie from To Be Fluent is an immersion language teacher in Canada, and she's keen to point out that sometimes explaining complex grammar and style issues does require English. But here's how she describes her classes:

We do lots of grammar, and also lots of reading and discussion. We read an article and discuss current affairs every morning. We also work a lot on oral interaction: asking and answering questions, telling stories, listening to dialogues (most of them work-related), doing role-plays of work-related situations (ex. running a meeting, giving instructions to a new recruit, dealing with problems at work, writing a memo). We also make time for "fun stuff" like watching French TV shows and playing games.

Immersion classes sound great! The key ingredient that the learner must have along with some determination is clearly time: It cannot happen while you're spending most of your days out of the foreign language environment. A true immersion environment requires at least a few hours spent speaking the new language, every day. That's probably why many people develop a simplistic view that learning a language comes naturally as a result of moving to a new country. The better logic looks like this: No fluency without classes, no immersion without time, but time can definitely equal immersion and will give you results.

Andrew Weiler, who writes at strategiesinlanguagelearning.com, makes the important point that people forget the dream of "Learning like a Child, naturally, carefree" is bobbins, because adults are not children. Immersion classes used too early in language learning will result in frustration and the feeling that you're "stupid" for being unable to learn just by copying. Your ego thinks it can understand things first time, and you'd be denying yourself a core understanding if you jumped straight in at the deep end.

And furthermore, immersion is a teaching method that focuses on communicating by sound and vision and can neglect important learning methods like note-taking and revision. The way to use it is key here.

Conclusion

Immersion is a trendy word among language learners and I have an allergy to trendy sometimes (anti-authority streak? teenage rebel?), so I do not personally use the word when describing how I teach or learn a language. The thing I find particularly important when I teach a language is that "immersion" must not mean "there is a teacher rambling at me in a foreign language and I can understand every 6th word".

Immersion will be right for you if you can follow these three simple rules:

1) Commit

As we've seen above, immersion means putting in the hours to study a language. Of course listening and reading are core parts of this, but producing target language sentences every day is another big part. Immersion classes work extremely well as language learning holidays or short programmes, but they're much rarer as ongoing programmes over the years. So when you decide that this is your chosen language learning method, make sure your schedule can handle it.

2) Structure

Good immersion tutors know that the key is to adapt your teaching and content to the skills or the learners. With that in mind, it's easy even for complete beginners to learn through gentle immersion, and I believe that the structure of guided lessons is a perfect environment. If you feel that you have to tackle immersion-style learning all by yourself, make sure you have Skype and italki ready for real world practice.

3) Know Your Limits

If an overambitious learner may use a bombardment of random target language content as a learning technique, they might as well just look at a flag for an hour. Don't put unreasonable demands on your understanding. Instead, know that it is a lot better for your learning to address the words and structures that you don't know, than to hope you will just assimilate them as if by magic. The "copy and speak" method does work, but only if you actually understand the input that you are getting.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!