Learning a language through an immersion environment is not a new approach. It worked for you as a baby and toddler. Why not apply it to how speakers of other languages learn English?
According to research, students who begin learning English in immersion programs perform better than those who don’t. They consistently develop native-like levels of comprehension, such as listening and reading skills, in their second language, as well as increased fluency and confidence.
Immersion environments accelerate second language learning. They give learners frequent opportunity to practice, prioritizing language that is vital to daily life, which later grows to include deeper conversational structures and nuances. Immersion environments also help review previously learned language in new and different ways through natural social language opportunities. They build native-sounding language skills, including grammatical structures, pronunciation, and intonation, as well as idioms or colloquialisms. Frequent practice opportunities build pathways in the brain that allow the speaker to access the second language confidently, efficiently, accurately, and fluently, using rich, complex structures.
The Learning Theory Behind Immersion Language Learning
The key here is a focus on output, not input learning.
In China, children have ample access to daily English input. Input activities, such as reading, listening to TV shows or lectures, or completing worksheets or workbooks make up 50% of the language learning journey. These generally passive activities, unfortunately, also come with low learning retention rates.
For Chinese children, English output opportunities are scarce, expensive, and almost impossible to incorporate into daily life. English output opportunities are significantly more valuable if they include an aspect of feedback. Feedback refers to having someone actually having a conversation with a child, or a system that gives some kind of score. The goal of output is to be UNDERSTOOD. If the child is lacking feedback about their level of coherence and accuracy, and is just having output (talking, but talking to no one), then that is nearly pointless. Output is the second 50% of the language learning journey. Learning theories confirm that the best way to retain learning is through active output.
When looking at active vs. passive learning theory, active learning improves learning retention from 20% to 90%. Children in China possess a LOT of passive knowledge. But unfortunately, there is no opportunity to transform it into active knowledge. Adding active tasks, such as discussion, to passive tasks like reading and watching English movies can increase a learner’s ability to not only remember, but also USE language in daily life.
The Challenges of Immersion English Language Learning
It is a challenge for many parents – how to create an English language immersion environment while living in a country or region where people do not speak English. It is also challenging for parents to see their children struggle because they cannot understand everything. Part of the journey, however, is that children will not understand everything, and that is OKAY.
What is important when building an immersive learning environment is context, or more specifically, context clues. These help learners to have a general understanding of the statement or question. Other important elements include having a supportive environment, with confidence-building feedback and error correction, and opportunities to respond with more one-word answers. The opportunities and freedom to make mistakes enable the student to practice without undue pressure.
Even though an immersive learning environment is extremely useful for accelerating learning, it is no substitute for traditional learning. Immersion learning can magnify traditional learning and should be used in combination for best results.
Immersion and Active English Learning with TalkTown
TalkTown believes in immersion but understands that not everyone has access to opportunities to study abroad. TalkTown, a small American town that lives right on your phone, is one way that children in China can study abroad without leaving home.
Inside TalkTown, 50% of the lesson is input and 50% is output. Children MUST use their voice to complete tasks, so they practice language output. They also receive feedback after speaking each sentence so they know if they were understood. Moreover, because it is a system-based solution, children can practice every day, increasing their learning retention and confidence when speaking English.
Interested in trying TalkTown? Check it out here.