Some people seem to think that immersing yourself in the country of your target language is the cure-all to your fluency needs. It can certainly be an incredible experience. And if you do it right, you can return from your trip far closer to fluency than you would have had you stayed home.
However, failing to take the right steps can leave you frustrated and lost in a foreign country painfully trying to develop your language skills. If you want to go all in and immerse yourself in your target language with a trip to a foreign country, then you need to make sure you follow these steps to gain the most out of your experience.
It would be a mistake to hold off on learning your target language before your trip. Turning up in a foreign country ready to learn the language without any experience could turn a pleasant journey into a frustrating nightmare. You cannot become fluent from exposure to high-level content alone. You need to at least have a firm grasp on the basics when you arrive.
Spend several months building up a solid language foundation before you go. You can even set the trip up as a reward for your hard work. If you don’t, you’ll be wasting your time in France, for instance, trying to figure out how to learn French instead of being ready to develop fluency. Arrive ready to hit the ground running instead.
You don’t want to waste time when you’re there. You need to get the most out of your experience by planning when, where, and how you’ll study before you arrive. If you’re hoping for additional support, night classes, for example, then sign up before you depart. Anything you can do to slip seamlessly into the full immersion experience will maximize the time you have to develop fluency.
It can be easy to get lost in the travel and spend more time focusing on the sights and less time focusing on the language. If the reason for the trip is for immersion, then treat it with the same focus you would learn during your lessons. In fact, if you’re heading to France, for instance, bring a French language book with you. This way you always have something on hand to help you learn, reflect, and grow.
Immersion is the ultimate language learning program. Every interaction is an opportunity to develop your reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. There are several things you can do to make sure you get the most of out your time there. You can label unfamiliar items in your hotel in the target language. You can build a growing list of words you don’t know. And you can even set aside time to give yourself tests.
When you’re immersed in a foreign country, everyone is a potential tutor. Whether you greet a passing stranger, partake in small talk at the cash register, or struggle through a conversation on the train, talk and listen to as many native speakers as you can.
Not only will this help you develop fluency, but it’ll help you pick up language nuances, slang, and sayings you might not usually discover through your studies. Plus, it can give you a real opportunity to connect with the culture of the language you’re mastering.
You cannot afford to be shy or embarrassed. Talking to strangers can be challenging, and talking to them in a foreign language can be even more unnerving. But realize that many people are willing to work with you. It is a high form of flattery that you’re interested in their culture enough to master their language.
It can be tempting to switch back to your native language, especially if you arrived with friends. However, remember why you came there. Your goal is fluency. Switching back to your native language will slow down your progress. Try to stick with speaking only in the target language, even when talking to your friends.
As mentioned before, you don’t merely become fluent by being in the country. Passive learning leads to failure. Instead, you have to work at it. In fact, you’ll have to work at it longer and with more difficulty when you’re in a foreign country. You’ll need to constantly pay attention. While learning at home might have been a hobby, you’ll actually need to use the language to get by when you’re away from home.
You’ll make mistakes. It doesn’t matter. Remember that you’re there to make mistakes. Learn from them. Focusing too much on trying to be perfect will hurt your progress. Either you’ll slow down and stumble through the language and damage your confidence. Or you’ll be too nervous to speak because you’re afraid of making mistakes. It’s also nearly impossible to learn when you’re anxious. Let go and learn.
Immersion is a lot of work. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll feel nervous and embarrassed at times. And you’ll also feel like your brain is melting. The more prepared you are for this, the better you’ll be able to handle it. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Meditate. Clear your mind. And most importantly, realize that you’re learning, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Most importantly, you need your immersion experience. You have an opportunity that not many people will ever experience. You’re absorbing a vibrant, new culture, and rapidly developing your foreign language skills. Foreign language learning programs are an adventure and so is immersion. Make sure you’re having fun while you’re doing it.
The cost of immersion can make it an inaccessible experience for some people. Plane tickets, time off, and accommodation can add up quickly. But just because you can’t afford to travel the to your target language’s country, doesn’t mean you can’t immerse yourself in it. You can experience a version of it around your home.
It may take a bit of creativity, but many cities have pockets of various cultures you can find. If your city has a Chinatown, a French Quarter, or any other group of foreigners, head over and treat it like an immersion experience. If not, find local restaurants or businesses owned by immigrants. Visit their establishments and speak to them in their native tongue.
You can find friends, watch movies, and listen to music in your target language throughout the day. All it takes is a little motivation and some research, and you can bring that foreign country home to you. What matters is that you’re creating opportunities to expose yourself to the language you’re learning. Continue to do that and fluency will follow.