Language Immersion ‘Lite’
By Jon Aske
I hope that the my other article in this issue of Lingua Franca has not left you depressed or thinking that you must spend years in a foreign country immersed in a language in order to become proficient at it. Actually, there is much you can do right here at home in order to gain a fairly high degree of proficiency. But make no mistake about it, in order to become proficient, you do have to have meaningful experiences with the language outside of the classroom and beyond what is required of you in your classes in terms of homework and study.
The main thing that you can to increase your level of proficiency is to seek experiences in which you interact with the language, preferably with other people for, after all, language is first and foremost about communication. This is something you can do right here, at home, for most languages. There are always people who are able and willing to speak to you in your target language, for free! Or you can always set up a language table for your language club.
The easiest thing you can do to engage with the language outside the classroom perhaps is reading, which is a great way to learn vocabulary and reinforce the grammar. If you like reading for pleasure, you should be reading in the target language as much as possible. Sure, it is harder than reading in your native language, but you know what they say: No pain, no gain. And if you like reading the news and finding out what’s going on in the world, you could be reading news, online, in the target language. You have no idea how much things have changed in this regard in the last 20 years, since I started teaching at Salem State. Nowadays, newspapers, magazines, and blogs from anywhere in the world and in any language are accessible right from your phone. There is no reason not to take advantage of that.
And it is not just reading material that you can find online. Those of us who teach languages always recommend watching TV in the target language. This is not as good as actual communication for the purpose of acquiring a language, but it can be an excellent complement to it. Just a few years ago, finding TV programming in German or Italian was not that simple, but now, for a few extra dollars a month, your cable provider will add channels in many of the world languages. Or you can find them online. Of course, you can also find plenty of videos on any language on YouTube and other such venues.
Also, there are plenty of listening materials on the Internet. Did you know that you can download an app that will allow you to listen to hundreds, if not thousands of radio stations in the language you are studying? They are free too. Just Google android radio app or iphone radio app and you will find names such as iHeartRadio, for Android, a very complete free radio app. TuneIn Radio, also for Android, has a more international focus, so it may be better for some language learners. And there are many, many more, also for the iPhone.
Besides radio, there are plenty of podcasts in any language and on many different topics. With a free phone app you can subscribe to free podcasts. You can listen to them while you’re doing other things, such as walking to class, exercising, or driving. And when you find a good one, by all means recommend it to your friends and fellow language learners.
In addition to radio stations and podcasts, you may also want to check out online language programs suited to your level of expertise. They are either free or relatively inexpensive. One of the most popular ones is Duolingo. Have you checked it out? Why don’t you? And again, share your findings.
Still, don’t forget that nothing beats actual meaningful communication with other human beings for acquiring a second (or third, or fourth) language. Become friends with a speaker of your target language and ask them to speak to you in that language. Invite them for coffee and have a conversation with them once a week. Alternatively, you can find a pen pal from a country where your language is spoken, perhaps someone you met when you were visiting that country, or someone you found online or through a professor or friend.
Check back with us and let us know about your experiences with all these different ways to engage with your target language. We will be happy to share them with others in the next issue of Lingua Franca. Or you leave your feedback on the online version of this article online at ssclinguafranca.wordpress.com.