Learning to fluency is every language student’s dream. Imagine being able to speak that second language without thinking about it, and understand what people around you were saying without a second thought. It takes a lot of practice and dedication to become fluent in a language, and many people even believe that it can be impossible to achieve fluency without living in an immersive environment.
While it can be true that learning languages to fluency is easier to do if you actually live where they speak that language, it isn’t always necessary to move to another country in order to learn a language to fluency. There are many different practical approaches to language learning, and it can be possible, and even beneficial to stay in your own country when studying.
That being said, immersing yourself in the language you wish to learn is definitely the best way of achieving fluency, and good comprehension skills. If you’re never forced to use your second language in a regular and organic setting, it is hard to build the right kind of associations in your brain that facilitate proper language development. Remember that even babies learn first through immersion and imitation.
Although immersion goes a long way towards developing fluency, it is not necessary to live in a certain geographical area to remain immersed. Language students with the right dedication (and funds) can create an immersive environment in their day-to-day lives that allows them to practice their language comprehension every day. Especially with all of the streaming services and online resources in this information age, it can be very easy to impregnate your everyday routine with immersive language experiences.
However, immersion is also not the only way of learning languages, and a lot of people find themselves more drawn towards traditional classroom settings, or more social experiences such as pen pals. No matter how you slice it, there are many different ways to study a language, and there isn’t a single way that is guaranteed to easily lead to fluency for anybody. We must study languages in all of their aspects and applications if we want to learn how to speak and understand them fluently.
Whether you find yourself more drawn to one-on-one resources like pen pals or assisted learning apps, or you find yourself most able to learn in a traditional classroom setting, immersion will probably become a huge part of your learning at some point. It’s important to remember that immersion doesn’t have to be scary, it doesn’t have to be expensive, and you don’t need to live in a foreign country to learn and immerse yourself.
Fluency Is A Product Of Dedication
As language learners, it is important for us to always remember that there are no shortcuts to fluency. Although some teaching methods and aspects of language learning theory have changed in recent years, this fact will always remain the same. No singular approach will make it faster for you to develop fluency.
It happens over time as we become more and more subconsciously familiar with the language. You slowly start to realize things that took you 2-3 guesses become second thought, and words that you could never remember at first slowly become a regular part of your vocabulary. This is a long process of trial and error, and every method must go through the same motions no matter how comfortable it is.
You may be able to find methods or teachers that are easier to learn from, but this will not make it actually faster to develop fluency. Even though some methods are more comfortable than others, the process itself is the same, no matter what. Finding comfortable methods can make it more bearable to study language, but not necessarily easier or faster.
For this reason, it is important to become comfortable, or agreeable, to certain tried-and-true methods of developing fluency. Immersing yourself in a language as much as you can will maximize the number of chances you have in a day to learn and grow with your new language. Living in the country enhances this immersion by forcing you to interact with native speakers, but it is far from necessary to develop the skills and associations that fluency demands.
When you do begin to develop a fluent understanding of your second (or third) language, you will begin to see the differences that a good linguistic foundation can make. Once you’re able to passively recognize your own mistakes and understandings, many old mistakes that you never grew out of become glaringly obvious very quickly.
Thus it is important to lay proper linguistic foundations early on in your learning. Doing so will minimize the amount of incorrect habits you end up practicing, and will also make the eventual drive towards fluency that much easier. Unlearning bad grammar and vocab is a lot more difficult than learning new stuff.
The main concern for learning language with immersion when you do not live in the country is the possibility of practicing bad habits. If we take the time to teach ourselves proper linguistic foundations before moving on to practical studies, it will be much less work later on correcting bad habits. Even though fluency requires practice and dedication, we can minimize the need for these by being responsible early on.
Growing From Good Foundations
Once we’ve got a good grammatical foundation, and we’ve begun really building up our practical vocabulary, fluency becomes a kind of light at the end of the tunnel. Early on when we start studying a new language, it can seem like an impossible pipe dream to ever speak such a language with fluency and confidence. When we can finally start participating in conversations, and understand what people are saying with out asking them to repeat themselves, that’s when most of us become very excited.
This is around the stage in your language studies that you have probably exhausted many of your traditional learning resources. Past a certain point, textbooks, online courses, and classrooms will simply do very little to help your language comprehension. When we finally begin to speak and understand a language confidently, that is when most of us will transition into a new style of learning.
Some people decide to simply pay for more intense courses, while others take the ultimate plunge and just move to the country where their new language is spoken. Much like when we laid our linguistic foundations, every method has its advantages and disadvantages, but the vast majority of people will benefit from one aspect the most. That is, immersion.
As much as we’ve repeated ourselves on this point, it simply cannot be overstated that allowing yourself to become immersed in an environment that forces you to use your second language is one of the most effective ways to learn. Still, many people are scared to move away to a new country, or simply don’t have the means to do so. While this can be a bummer for those of us hoping for a perfect immersive experience, it is definitely within the realm of possibility to create an immersive environment without moving to another country.
The main way that we can create this kind of immersive environment for ourselves is by obtaining native materials. While it can be expensive to ship large collections of books, newspapers, videos, and other goods across borders, this doesn’t mean immersion needs to be expensive. There are a number of ways we can obtain materials such as these without breaking the bank. Once you become familiar with all the different media available in your new tongue, you will find that it is actually quite easy and affordable to live life in another language.
Case in point, we can spend a bunch of money paying for cable channels in whatever language we wish to learn, or we can simply watch live news streams in those languages on YouTube. We could pay for expensive access to online classrooms with native speakers, or we could simply log in to a free chatroom offered in whatever language we want. Especially in the age of information that we live in, it can be exceptionally easy to create immersive environments for ourselves.
Advantages And Disadvantages
While every method of learning languages has its advantages, and immersion is one of the best methods, there are also some disadvantages to creating an immersive environment. The most obvious case, when we are not living in the country, is the need to obtain native materials in order to become immersed. While we can mitigate this need to some extent with the internet and other resources, this can still be a very expensive and frustrating experience depending on which language you are learning.
This problem can further be broken down into a few more complex issues. When trying to create an immersive environment without living in the country, obtaining native materials poses a few unique problems. The first, obviously is the actual cost, which will depend on the nature of the material (e.g. magazines versus limited edition blu-ray box sets). Another problem along the same vein is the cost of delivery, which will also change based on the nature of the material as well as the source country from which it is shipped.
Another major problem is the legality of various materials, and the relations between your country and the source country. It can be impossible to find any textbooks from America in Cuba, for example. These kinds of relations create unique problems for language learning, and the eventual severity of these hurdles will depend on your native country and your target language.
Another factor here is the nature of the materials themselves. First of all, certain topics or images that are common in one country can actually be illegal in another, as is the case between certain types of Japanese Manga and most western countries. Another important consideration here is the relative cost of different native materials compared to how much you can actually learn from them. A good example of this would be buying a long, wordy magazine versus buying a $300 figurine because it has Japanese writing on the box.
Of course, these are not game-breaking challenges. Most of us will be able to find ways of easily accommodating immersive changes in our day-to-day lives. It’s really just a matter of staying dedicated, just like anything else when it comes to language.
Like we said earlier, you can use free resources like YouTube videos and online chatrooms to connect with a wide range of native speakers and language teachers. Even when you aren’t paying an arm and a leg to deck out your whole life in a new language, you can find ways to immerse yourself around 50-80% of the time. The most important part of mastering this is identifying areas in your life where you could be using your second language (like studying on the bus).
Once we’ve gotten used to always passively studying the languages we study, it becomes much easier to develop fluency. Much like when we begin to grasp grammar and vocabulary to start forming our own sentences, the things that used to take a lot of time and effort become exponentially easier. Eventually, if you do it right, you will just automatically use your second language in your day-to-day life, and it won’t even occur to you that you are studying!
What it comes down to when trying to practice a new language to fluency, is how much practical experience you can rack up. No matter how much or how closely you study a language passively, you will never become fluid simply by watching, listening, or studying. You need to allow your brain to form those automatic associations and flowcharts that facilitate fluent speech.
In order to form these associations, your brain must be exposed to scenarios in which it is forced to think a certain way. If your brain can take the easy out, it will do so. After all, it is programmed to.
The key is to make your brain think that the easiest way is by learning and using that new language. Make it more difficult to access English materials. The more space you put between your brain and the easy way out, the more often you will be forced to practice your learning.
The easiest way to do this is to explore language opportunities in your day-to-day life. If you use your computer a lot, see if the programs you use are available in the language you wish to study. If you play video games, see if your console has language settings.
Studying during any commute is one of the easiest practices to incorporate, due to the emergence of the internet. Using YouTube to watch anything in your new language, even music videos or entertainment news, can be a great way to immerse yourself. If you have a long, regular commute, missing out on this opportunity is inexcusable.
Another great method that deserves some attention is connecting with native speakers. The internet has made it so easy for people to connect with each other, and it can be very easy to find pen-pals or online acquaintances to practice your second language with. A good first step is to explore language options in your online communities and sites you like to frequent.
Even though not everybody on the internet is supportive, there are a lot of specific language-learning communities on the web waiting to meet a language buddy to study with. Teaching somebody else your language while they teach you theirs is an ancient method of language sharing, and there are plenty of opportunities online to form those kinds of relationships.
Of course, you can find pen pals on non-language-learning-related sites as well, but you will have to be more aware of the social implications. It’s also a good idea to always practice safe browsing habits, and never give your personal information to somebody you don’t trust. Even though the internet can be a great way to connect with other people, it can also be a good way to get scammed.
The great thing about pen pals and language partners is that they are more casual, and sometimes even more effective than language tutors. Since it’s possible to have very real friendships with these people, the lack of anxiety and need to perform can help with the immersion factor. Eventually, working online in certain fields can be another great way to continue your language learning (such as teaching English to Chinese students online).
Tying It All Together
Many people believe that immersing yourself in the culture and every day life of a foreign country is an easy-mode ticket to language fluency. If you spend five years living in a country, you’ll become fluent from using the language every day, right? Unfortunately, even though immersion and active language practice is necessary and good for your fluency, simply living in a certain area will not magically make this happen.
Case in point, there are many foreigners around the world who fail to grasp the language of the country they live in, even after living there and speaking a broken form of it for years. If you move to another country, and you find a comfortable plateau of fluency where you can exist without challenging yourself, you will never be able to speak fluently like a native speaker.
Of course, this isn’t as serious as it sounds. As long as you keep studying every day, and continue listening carefully when you study with native materials (or people), you should be able to eventually develop towards fluency. The easiest way of putting it is that language is a journey, not a destination, so to speak.
That is, whether or not you learn to be fluent in a language depends far more on the methods you use, and your dedication to them, than to the specific location you occupy while studying. Although living in a country where they speak the language you are learning gives you a wealth of immersive opportunities, changing your location is not a method of studying.
There are a lot of different practical ways of adding immersive study to your day-to-day life without moving to another country. We’ve gone over a few of them so far in this article, and we’ll give a bit of a summary here to kind of tie it together for you.
- Laying a good foundation is key. Developing proper habits with study methods, grammar, and vocabulary will help you learn faster later on. Neglecting this foundation can end up with you practicing bad habits.
- Surrounding your physical environment with visual cues in your target language is a huge step. This means incorporating posters, sticky notes, and any other resources you can get your hands on. The idea is to add as much visual linguistic information as possible to your life for passive absorption.
- Reading and watching the news in your target language is an excellent way to study. It doesn’t really matter what you read, as long as it is within your grasp, and a little bit above your level. Reading things that are too easy will teach you very little, likewise for resources that are too advanced for you.
- Playing video games in your target language may seem intimidating, but you would be surprised how fast you will actually grasp the basics. Once you can learn while playing video games, you can become very good with some specific grammar and vocabulary very quickly. Just be aware that you can’t learn a whole language just from how it’s used in games.
- If you haven’t already, you should switch all of your social media pages to display in your target language. Any other services you regularly use would be a good idea, as well. You will be surprised how quickly you become used to seeing your second language everywhere.
- Listening to music is a great way to learn vocabulary, as long as there are words that you can make out. Styles of music where the singing is hard to understand, or there is very little singing, are not good for this. Keep in mind, also, that music is basically useless for learning grammar, and is mostly useful for vocabulary.
- There are many ways of obtaining resources like the ones mentioned above for little-to-no cost. Since we are living in an information age, accessing resources in foreign languages has become more simplified than ever. News and other print media in particular can be very easy and cheap to obtain.
- Some areas make it possible to use alternative languages for public services such as automated machines and service counters. An example of this would be living in Canada if you’re learning French. Even if you live in an English-speaking part of Canada, it is necessary for French options to be included in automated interfaces and other services.
When it comes to learning language, most students eventually want to be able to speak fluently. While it takes a long time to be able to speak a language well, and many people never even truly master their own native language, being able to speak fluently in a foreign tongue is a great experience, and it is hardly outside of anybody’s grasp. It doesn’t require living in a foreign country to learn a foreign tongue, even if popular conception would have you believe otherwise.
One final consideration that is important to point out is that traveling is one of the great goals of language learning. Although it is not necessary to live in another country to learn a language to fluency, going to other countries to enjoy their culture is half of the fun of learning a language in the first place. Language learning is how different cultures experience and mingle with one another, and traveling to the countries that speak the languages we learn is a great way to demonstrate this to ourselves.
Even if you just take a week off to spend some time checking out restaurants and local pastimes, the advantages to your language learning, and your own personal fulfillment, are indescribable. Being surrounded by a new language as you just begin to understand it and speak it yourself is an amazing experience. If you consider yourself a serious language student, then traveling to where they speak your language should definitely be an eventual goal for you.
That being said, it is hardly necessary to actually develop a fluent understanding of language. If you take the time to surround yourself with high-quality learning resources, the world will become your linguistic oyster. Although constantly studying grammar and vocabulary can feel like an uphill battle sometimes, creatively finding ways to immerse ourselves can make it much more bearable and effective.
Remember that language learning is a process, and there are no shortcuts to fluency. Even if you lived in a country for ten years, there is no guarantee that you would become fluent. Start with what you can, and remember to do your best, and stay motivated.