It’s Time To De-Bullshitize What Language Immersion Means

Language Immersion

Okay… so ‘de-bullshitize’ isn’t really a word.

I thought about using ‘clarify’ but it doesn’t have the same effect. :)

I’ve talked quite a bit about how the words fluency and advanced are the most misunderstood and misused words by language learners and blogging “experts”.

Well immersion is another one.

Funnily enough, these words remind me of words like fascism in the media; they get thrown around so much these days that nobody has any idea what they mean anymore.

“Just immerse yourself in the language.”

“I’ve been studying for so long and I still can’t speak properly.”

“You just need to immerse yourself.”

“But I don’t know h—–“

“Hush now. Immerse.”

In the wise words of Inigo Montoya:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

So then.

Immersion is not


…just being surrounded by the language

Key word: just.

It’s not as simple as just having it all around you like it’s a cologne or an aura.

Being surrounded by the language should in fact be a by-product of language learning – not the goal itself as confusing as that may sound.

Keep reading and I’ll explain why.


…having Michel Thomas croon you to sleep

Damn. I really love the idea of having an old man whisper in my ear while I try to sleep.

Yes, people ask these kinds of questions a lot.

No you can’t learn a language while you’re asleep in the same way you can’t learn to drive while you take a nap. :)

Likewise, TV or radio that you don’t understand playing in the background isn’t going to suddenly start making sense to you.


…setting your computer or gadget’s language to the one you’re learning

While you’re busy trying to decide whether or not that message box on your screen says ‘Are you sure you want to format this drive?’, other people are using their computers for productive things like learning languages and meeting people.

Am I against setting gadgets to other languages?


Am I against time wasting, procrastinating exercises that unnecessarily complicate our lives even more than they already are?

You bet.


…just going to another country

If you think travel to a place = immersion then you’re setting yourself up for a painful arse-landing.

Don’t fall into the silly trap of thinking that travel brings automatic results.

The millions of expats living in places for many years who haven’t learned the local languages are proof of this.

Just being there does not make you immersed.

“Oh well if you just travel to the country…”

“Then what?”

“Live there and immerse yourself.”

“But what abou—“

“Shhh…. immerse.”

These are examples of the most common silly suggestions about language immersion.


So what is language immersion?

And here’s where I tell you something profound and earth-shattering that’ll blow your mind.

Immersion is….


Yes, living. Existing. Being.

It’s you doing all the things you normally do in your own language; living life as you normally do only through another language (not necessarily in another place though of course it’s better to be).

Here in Egypt I rent a dive in the city, I buy food and toilet paper from the shop downstairs, I ride the metro, I workout, I meet friends for coffee…

I do normal, mundane shit every day.

I’m a normal guy doing the same average, routine things I do anywhere else.

Only difference is it’s in Arabic rather than English.

I live a completely ordinary existence except that I sound different when I open my mouth.

By simply living and functioning in the language like this (to the best of your ability), you’re going to be surrounded by it as a result and therefore being surrounded is no longer the goal in and of itself.

Make sense?

What if you don’t live in the country of the language you’re learning?

The same principle applies.

Ask yourself – how can I live and interact with people in my community or online as I normally would in my own language through another language?

I often see people ask the question, “What should I talk to a language exchange partner about?”

Would you ever ask this question if you met somebody in your own language?

“What should I talk to this person about?”

Shit no. (might happen if you’re on a nervous date or standing in a slow elevator with someone you ‘kinda’ know though) :)

Just be yourself and let it be a natural exchange between two people getting to know each other rather than making everything awkward and weird. 


Immersion is a deceptive analogy

Immersion’s a water analogy – being submerged in and covered by it.

But it’s a deceptive analogy in a sense because being surrounded is generally a passive thing. You can surround yourself with something without ever interacting with it.

With language learning this is never the case however!

It depends completely on interaction and language immersion simply isn’t there if it’s not interacted with.

Immersion = living in and engaging/interacting with the world through another language.

It’s doing all of the things you normally do, except that you sound different. That’s all it is.

That’s immersion de-bullshitized.


Just a reminder to those of you interested in the epic Arabic project:

We’re announcing it for ‘early access’ exclusively for mailing list subscribers this Sunday. If you want to be part of it, then sign up at the top of this page.


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Update From Nubia + Early Access To The Epic Arabic Language Project

Abu Simbel, EgyptG’day! :)

How’s your language learning going?

I’ve finally arrived back in Cairo after an amazing journey down to Nubia in the far south of Egypt along the border of Sudan (hence the lack of updates the last few weeks!).

I had originally hoped to go into Sudan as well but I’ve decided to postpone that for a later trip.

Although I’ve stayed in Egypt several times over the last 12 years, this was actually the first chance I’ve had to venture down this close to the Sudanese border and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The hospitality and friendliness of the Nubians left such a good impression on me that I’ve decided to look into moving my “office” there for a while from Cairo. :)

Not only is the area stunningly beautiful (much more than Cairo) but it will give me a good chance to experience and learn a very different ‘flavour’ of Egyptian Arabic as well.

The accent the people speak south of Aswan was more of a challenge for me even at my level in Egyptian but I found it so incredibly fun and interesting to listen to. Hopefully next time I’m down there I’ll be able to collect some sample recordings for you so you can hear the difference (Nubians actually have their own native languages so of course their Arabic is influenced by them as well).

I had zero time to do any Arabic study on my trip unfortunately but the enormous amount of speaking practice with locals made up for it anyway. :)

Now it’s back to work!


Early, alpha stage access to our epic Arabic language project!

I gave it a lot of thought on my trip and made an important decision today.

The Arabic project that I’ve talk about quite a lot this year was ideally meant to be finished and announced back in June but due to all the moving around I’ve done and some other distractions, it’s unfortunately faced quite a few delays in getting finished.

So I’ve decided to do something special for you…

Since I get questions each week asking about resources for spoken Arabic and I know for a fact that what we’ve already put together will be extremely useful for a lot of you, I’ve decided to announce the project and share it with you earlywhile it’s being developed.

This basically means that you can make use of it while it’s being worked on and also help us steer it in the right direction at the same time.

I’m confident that what’s been put together so far will impress you and help you a lot even in its unfinished state. It’ll also give us a chance to hear what you think (feedback, suggestions and so on) so we know what to focus our energy on as a top priority.

If you’re learning a spoken dialect of Arabic then this will help you.

When will it be announced?

I’m only going to share it with those of you on the mailing list sometime around the end of next week.

I won’t be posting anything about it here on the blog for sometime so if you’re interested and want to be informed then you need join at the top of this page (select the language you’re learning, enter your email and click ‘Join’).

I’ll send out an email next week explaining in detail what it’s all about.

شكرا :)


This was written by .

Did you find this interesting, useful or encouraging? A quick share on Facebook or Twitter will make my day! Thanks. :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

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