Nowadays, people are learning English in incredibly high numbers all over the world. Studying in academies like EEC, at university, or through online courses are just a few of the methods that students use to learn the most important language in the world. Another method, and quite a popular one, is ‘total immersion’. Total immersion is when the learner is completely immersed, or surrounded, by the language they are trying to learn. That usually means going abroad to an English-speaking country like the USA, Canada or the UK, for example, and living there for a short while. It’s a great way to learn, but it comes with an expensive price tag which many people simply can’t afford.
So, for those who want to see what it’s like to learn through immersion but don’t have the money to travel overseas, is there a similar alternative?
Well, there is a way of creating your own immersion, without having to spend so much money! Here are a few tips on how to do it:
When you wake up in the morning, tune in to English-speaking radio while getting dressed and having your breakfast. Even if you don’t understand what is being said, you’ll pick up more and more key words each day. Eventually, you’ll start to understand the gist of the subject. This is called ‘tuning your ear’ to the sounds of the language. This is exactly what happens when you live in an English-speaking country – it’s a form of immersion! This has shown to be one of the most effective ways of learning a foreign language. BBC World Service is a good radio station to start with. The accents are clear and neutral, and the speakers don’t talk too fast. From there, you can try www.wbbmam.radio.net, www.timestalks.com, and one of my favorites for students at any stage in their learning process, www.newsinlevels.com. Try it out!
Do you visit a coffee shop in the mornings? Eat lunch out or grab a sandwich from a cafe on your break? Maybe you like to take a look around the mall after work or school. Wherever you go in Saudi’s major cities, it’s possible to do all of this in English now. Order your Starbucks, ask about clothes sizes, and inquire about products – all in English! Even if you’re spoken to in Arabic, try changing your response to English and see what happens. Most people will happily follow your lead and continue in English. Many people love to practice! You’ll need to master the phrases you’ll need first, such as “I’d like….”, “Can you tell me….”, “How much….” but once you’ve done this, you’re good to go!
What is something we all do when we have a quick break at work, or travelling in taxis, or waiting for something like an appointment? Yes, you guessed it – we check our phones! Whether you’re a fan of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook, why don’t you experiment with changing the language settings? Don’t worry, you can always change it back if it’s too confusing. Go ahead and try it, for a few hours, and see if you can still understand what’s going on in the world of social media. Remember, you’re trying to immerse yourself which means being totally surrounded by the language. One of our students reported a huge improvement after doing this for just one day. She was thrilled with the result and her new vocabulary was impressive!
While we’re on the topic of social media, if you have a Twitter account, try following topics in English. Whether you like to keep up with the news, stay ahead of the latest fashions, find out about new recipes, get fitness tips, or anything else, there are thousands of Twitter pages out there devoted to your favourite subjects. Follow a few of them in English instead of Arabic and that way, each time you check your phone, you’ll be reading in your target language! You’ll be amazed at what a difference this makes. You’ll start to see new words more frequently and understand them from the context of what is being said, without the help of a dictionary or Google Translate. This is very typical of immersion-style learning. You could even go one step further and comment on things that you see in English. Before you know it, you’ll have started a conversation with someone. Being able to have a successful conversation online, in the language you are trying to learn, is a huge confidence boost for students. You’ll want to keep going!
So, by now, you’ve woken to the sounds of English radio, spoken in English at public places you’ve visited, read in English when checking social media, contributed to English discussions, and now you’re back home at the end of the day. Why not relax with a movie? Instead of putting on the subtitles as you might usually do, try to watch the movie without the help of Arabic. You won’t understand everything, nobody understands everything (that’s important to remember!), and maybe you’ll struggle to follow the story – but you can always watch it again later and try to figure it out, or put subtitles on when you watch it a second time. This is how immersion works. You’re not meant to understand everything, you’re only meant to try and work out the key points, much like a listening or reading exam. Give it a week, and see how you get on.
And there you have it – our tips for creating your own total immersion experience, without having to get on a plane or spend all your savings! Good luck!