Why Language Immersions Fail: Unwillingness To Assimilate
- Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW
Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
Well… my time in South Korea has come to an end (for now).
An entire year of solid dedication has brought me very far with Korean but it’s time to whack it on my maintenance list and start a new project!
So where will I be heading to now and what language will I be learning? 🙂
Without giving too much away yet I’ve just put in a visa application for a country that’s been on my to-do list for a long time. There I plan to take on a unique and adventurous challenge for the next few months.
Since it’s definitely one of the most difficult countries in the world to visit I won’t jump the gun and announce it with certainty until next week when I hear back from the embassy just in case they refuse my visa (unlikely but it could happen!).
Thankfully I have a back-up destination and challenge just in case 😉
Make sure to connect with me on Facebook as I post more regular updates about what I’m doing there.
UPDATE: I was meant to head off to Saudi Arabia but instead ended up in Russian where I became fluent in Russian. Read more here.
Want to get the most out of foreign language immersion? Assimilate!
One thing that I believe really sets what I do and say apart is my constant emphasis on the relational and cultural aspects of language learning.
I want to convince people to see them not as the end result of language learning but rather as essential from the very beginning – think of it as something as important as learning vocab or grammar. Your success depends on it.
I’m unashamedly a cultural assimilationist (if that’s the right word for it!).
“To the Arabs I want to become an Arab. To the Koreans I want to become a Korean…”
The best compliments I’ve ever received are “you’re like an Egyptian” and “you act like a Korean man”.
It’s not because of language skill that this happens either – it’s because I’ve made an effort to assimilate to such an extent that I become an important part of their families and communities (despite imperfect language skills). This for me is the difference between learning how to use a language and actually learning a language.
Languages are not just a means to an end – they’re not just a tool used for getting a point across (unless all you want is to be able to communicate as a tourist). If you think like this then you’ll always be disconnected from the people you’re trying to communicate with no matter how much you study. Your language will be lifeless and dull.
Picking up a new language should begin with a willingness to cast aside one’s own cultural identity temporarily and wear a new one.
Enter a new society as an infant – observe and absorb every facet of the new culture and language as if you’re starting life all over again.
Don’t think ‘I want to speak French’.
Think ‘I want to be French’.
I put together a short video compilation recently of some of my time in Egypt and Korea.
What I wanted to do here was to try and give an idea of the relational benefits of foreign language immersion and home stays as someone who takes an assimilationist approach to foreign language learning.
Photos and videos never do it justice but you’ll hopefully get an idea of how much of a close bond I formed with these communities.
I started the video with a short clip of my favourite quote from one of my favourite films, Lawrence of Arabia (a bloke well known for his assimilation into Arab society).
Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel as well:
This was written by Donovan Nagel.
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