When I first arrived in Turkey a few American friends came and picked me up at the airport. And I thought they were geniuses. They were so capable haggling with Taxi drivers, they knew where we were going and what to do. And they could talk to everybody. They could do something I could not do nor did I think I would ever be able to do. And they learned by immersion. They worked, did life, made friends, read books, and used a tutor on occasion. They were magic.
Before I started learning language by immersion I had some pretty flawed views of it. Everyone has met some one who’s ability to speak their second language is amazing. We are then even more impressed when we find out that they learned it by watching movies and listening to music.
When I heard this kind of thing I often wondered why when I watch foreign movies I just get annoyed that I have to read subtitles through the whole movie and still struggle to get the plot.
I think before I started language learning by immersion I thought there was some kind of magic in learning language this way. Or I thought that there are certain kinds of people who have this super power to acquire them.
So how does immersion work for us mortal?
Let me belabor what immersion is not for just two more paragraphs.
Its not where you are. You do not learn Turkish because you move to Turkey. You did do not learn English because you move to America. These are incredible advantages but being in a specific place does not mean you will learn anything new.
Immersion is also not some weird kind of osmosis. Just because you are around a foreign language does not mean you will learn it. You could listen to a hundred conversations and still be lost. You could watch hours of French Netflix and still never speak French.
How you learn by immersion is simple. Immersion is a moment by moment choice to engage people and the other language. It works faster because of where you are you have more opportunities to engage. And sometimes you have no choice but to engage. Immersion works because all day everyday you have hundreds of ways you can engage.
Yes, that is what immersion is like for us mortals. It is a choice. Everyday. Moment by moment.