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How to Immerse Yourself in a Language (Without Leaving Home)

immerse yourself in a language feature imageI went to French immersion classes when I was a kid. I completed German language certification while completing courses in Berlin.

But those experiences were both boring and mostly unhelpful!

And as a language enthusiast, I can tell you that there are many easier ways to develop fluency than spending hours of your life in a classroom.

You don’t have to travel.

It doesn’t have to cost a ton.

And there are fun and easy ways to make sure you remember the key vocabulary and phrases you need to speak any foreign language well.

Let’s get started.

How to Immerse Yourself in a Language: 11 Powerful Tips

Think about the word “immersion” for a minute.

Some people say it’s like riding a bike or diving into the water so you can learn how to swim.

I disagree. 

Immersion is about being engaged. In this case, it’s very specifically about finding ways to engage yourself.

And so a lot of tips people share about immersing yourself in a language are okay, but tend to forget the engagement part. 

Today we’re going to fix that with some sensory learning tips that will help you immerse yourself in any language from the comfort of your own home.

One: Listen And Repeat with Pen and Paper

a woman is writing and listening
Using audio for language learning is very powerful – provided you are paying close attention to the material and engaging with it.

You can take audio with you everywhere you go.

But what you can’t always do is repeat what you’re hearing. 

So when you get the standard advice about listening to a language learning program at the gym, consider this:

If you’re shy about pronouncing new phrases out loud, the gym is no place for language learning audio programs. 

Plus, when exercising you want to focus on breathing properly so you get the full benefits from your fitness regime. 

Likewise while driving: You need to pay attention to the road.

So use some common sense with your foreign language immersion activities. Definitely listen to audio programs, but do so at times when you can properly engage.

Get out a journal and write out what you’re hearing. Then repeat it out loud.

You’ll be much more engaged, remember more, and actually benefit from the time spent.

Two: Read and Write At Least 4x Weekly

Listening is one thing, but you also want to start reading as soon as possible. And if you’re following my advice above, you’ll get writing practice as you essentially “transcribe” the audio program you’re using. 

Of course, you might be thinking…

I’m learning Russian… or Chinese… I don’t know the characters yet! 

Don’t fret. When I started learning Chinese, I didn’t know them either. So I invented my own pinyin.

Pinyin chart
Many good Chinese primers come with pull-out Pinyin charts. I suggest using a Memory Palace to rapidly memorize the sounds.

No, it’s not perfect, but learning is attracted to speed. Of course, going too quickly can create errors.

But I often advise my students to make errors faster. That way, you can tidy up any little issues later, or learn to correct course as you go. The worst that I’ve seen happen is that memory holds onto some errors more strongly than the solutions, due to the primacy effect.

Yet, so many people never reach their language learning goals because they refuse to make mistakes. This avoidance is tragic because mistakes are in fact our best teacher.

Now, there’s no perfect starting point when it comes to practicing reading in a foreign language.

You probably won’t feel ready. But that’s all the more reason to begin anywhere without overthinking it.

You can use a journal to keep notes and a dictionary to help you identify key vocabulary as you go.

Some language learning experts say you should read a chapter all the way through without looking up vocabulary.

I don’t disagree, but I don’t follow this advice myself. Rather, I want to build pattern recognition as quickly as possible. 

To do this, I read books like Olly Richard’s Teach Yourself series or a graded reader from Mandarin Companion.

Three: Use A Memory Palace Network

a picture of a room
You can get started with your first Memory Palace by simply using your living room.

As I cull vocabulary and phrases I want to memorize, I’m working to build pattern recognition.

To do this, I place material in a special mnemonic device called a Memory Palace

Here’s how it works specifically for language learning:

Imagine a corner of your room. Then imagine a movie director like James Wan in the corner. He’s arguing with Chewbacca over a completely filled roll of cinema film. They’ve just finished shooting a version of Don Quixote.  

That image triggers 完全 (wánquán), which means complete or completely. It helps recall the sound and meaning of the word because:

Wan = wan

Chewbacca = ch sound

Don Quixote = Don Juan for the wa sound

Because they are arguing about the film roll being completely filled, the sound and the meaning of the word pop instantly back into memory.

film rolls on a desk
Using a simple mental image like an old film roll is deeply immersive for using memory techniques as part of language learning.

This process can be repeated thousands of times and is deeply immersing. Here are more tips and examples of how to memorize vocabulary.

Four: Record Skype Conversations

There are many places on the internet to find language learning partners. I share some of the best in my list of the best language learning software.

Use the reading and listening you’re doing as the basis of your conversations.

And bring photos from magazines to discuss. 

Then, review the recordings and commit some of the new words and phrases you learned to memory.

Don’t skip this suggestion. Just because you’re not leaving your home doesn’t mean you can skip connecting with other people. Speaking with natives in the language is a must.

Five: Change The Language Of Your Smartphone

This suggestion is a fun way to experience your language in action. The stakes are also high, so you are forced to figure out what things mean in order to operate your phone. 

two person are operating their mobiles

But there’s a caveat here:

Many people operate their phones based on raw procedural memory. This means that they can get around without actually engaging with the words on the screen.

So you need to make sure that you make a dedicated effort to say the words out loud when you see them. 

Six: Watch Movies “Built” For Language Learning

Shakespeare was one of my favorite German teachers. The Bard and Kenneth Branaugh in his role as Hamlet.

I just changed the audio to German. Then, I switched the subtitles to German. These are just two of a few powerful ways you can use Netflix as part of learning a language.

Watching the movie adaptation in this way gave me both auditory and written immersion. 

However, it’s important to stress the point that you need to actively pay attention to both the sounds and the words. 

That’s why I often watched it in 15 minute doses – journaling interesting vocabulary and phrases along the way. It increases engagement, which is so key to successfully learning any new language.

two sand timers on a table

Seven: Link the Language to Your Interests

I started reading in Italian because of my interest in the memory master Giordano Bruno.

There are vast amounts of information about him written only in Italian.

Several, vibrant Facebook groups are filled with interesting discussions about him.

And that means no matter what you’re interested in, you can find tons of interesting material in your target language too. 

Another source I loved from my years of learning German were interviews with musicians. I picked up a lot of interesting phrases from reading them. 

Interviews based on your interests work wonders because in interviews, people speak naturally. Books are good too, but the language is often dry, if not stilted and artificial. 

Eight: Listen to Music and Memorize Lyrics

Singing in a foreign language is tremendously rewarding. It exercises your memory and causes the brain to produce healing chemicals.

You can also learn to remember the lyrics fast, as I demonstrated on this live stream:

Nine: Talk to Yourself

Normally we think about language learning with the goal of speaking with others in mind.

But it’s a missed opportunity not to speak to yourself. You do it in your mother tongue all day long, after all.

The question is… what should you speak with yourself about?

The answer will be based on your current level of vocabulary, and all that matters is you work with what you’ve got. The benefits from active recall will be huge. 

a woman on swing watching sunset

In the beginning, you can:

  • Say hello and goodbye to yourself
  • Ask yourself your name (and answer)
  • Ask imaginary friends simple questions
  • Go through your to-do list

The power of this strategy isn’t just what you say while talking to yourself.

It also reveals what you don’t know how to say. So journal out a list of those blank holes and then start filling them in.

Ten: Browse Amazon In Other Languages

We know that we want to read in other languages. So why not look for those books on the Amazon store for the country where the language is spoken?

You can also set your browser and services like YouTube to the language you’re learning for other forms of online browsing. 

Eleven: Switch Things Up

I’m not talking about learning more than one language at the same time, though you could.

I’m talking about rotating through a number of strategies in a short amount of time.

three red hearts

This suggestion is based on the principle of interleaving. 

It has been shown that if you get your brain to focus for short periods of time, then rest briefly before focusing again on a separate task, you can learn faster.

So create a little drill for yourself:

  • Read for five minutes
  • Write for five minutes
  • Listen for five minutes

If you think about it, rotating between different activities is how good teachers run their classes. Now you know how to teach yourself using those same powerful tactics. 

How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language?

There’s no cookie cutter answer here. Be wary of language immersion tips that tell you otherwise.

However, if you want to have simple conversations, you will probably need no more than three months using the immersion strategies discussed on this page. 

Remember, immersion is about engagement. Merely exposing yourself to language learning materials is not enough. 

Rather than think about how long it will take to become fluent, I suggest you focus on creating and sticking with a language learning plan. You definitely need at least four dedicated sessions per week.

And if you want to truly hold on to that language, you’re going to want to stick with this program for many years.

Later, you can maintain the language with fewer sessions, but even then, linguistic deskilling will always be a threat. That’s why I still keep reading and speaking German at least once a week.

a woman is studying at home

Total Language Immersion Is Always Self-Created

Language learning immersion at home is totally doable. It’s inexpensive, if not free, and a lot of fun.

But a lot of people do not immerse to learn in any way that properly deserves the term “immersion.”

Instead, they merely expose themselves to material while doing something else, like exercising at the gym.

Please don’t be like that.

Give the language you want to learn the attention it deserves.

And if you need help and want to focus so intensely that you cannot forget, sign up for my FREE Memory Improvement Kit:

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course

This is the technique myself and thousands of others use to memorize direction from language learning books and courses.

 Learning a language through immersion with this elegant approach isn’t a magic bullet. But the help it provides does work simply and can rapidly scale to help you absorb thousands of words and phrases. Enjoy!

 

2 Responses

  1. Dear me,
    you forgot the most engaging part of language learning – people. Without people, why learn a language. Almost every small town and city has friendly bilingual people. Go to the market, reach out to people, do favors, volunteer – eventually, they will invite you to parties and the fastest way to learn a language is through socializing! So put down the smartphone, leave home and make people, community and culture the reason to engage in language.

    1. Thanks. You’re not wrong, but the point of this article was to focus on ways you can learn a language if you’re not able to leave home easily.

      Note too that there are suggestions for connecting with people in different ways, and any reading in a foreign language does that. As does the suggestion to hold calls with native speakers, which unfortunately seems to have escaped your attention.

      Finally, this was written during a particular period of history when people did not have the luxury of meeting with one another. Such events may take place again, and these suggestions will be here should such misfortunes arise.

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