Language immersion courses can be very powerful – if competently taught. If an immersion course is successful, you will achieve a quantum leap in your command of a new language. Is there a way to reproduce the immersion environments and obtain the same results…by yourself…and if you do not go abroad? I personally have done so with multiple languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Punjabi and Hindi. I have come up with some basic practical principles and techniques to help you create a self-immersion program in the language of your choice.
Here are the prerequisites. I feel that they are all indispensable.
1. Basic pronunciation. You first need to be comfortable with pronouncing the language. A serious lack in this area will make it difficult for you to speak and to understand. You should be able to hear simple words and phrases inside your mind.
2. Basic grammar. You must have a basic ability to create sentences and to express yourself, albeit simply. You need a command of the most basic verb tenses and of the noun/adjective system. You must be familiar with the common word order in the new language.
3. Basic vocabulary. There is a group of perhaps two or three hundred words which make up 75% of the words we use. (and, but, I am, here, go etc.) Definitely know those. You most likely want to know a few more hundred words pertaining to daily life and simple communication. (Any beginning language text will give you those as well as basic grammar.)
4. Simple sentence creation. You need to be able to generate simple sentences fairly comfortably.
5. Basic comprehension. Be able to hear and recognize very simple sentences you already know.
6. Reading. You must be able to read the language and decipher the pronunciation of its words. With non-Western languages, you may choose to study with the new script or with a transliteration system: Pinyin in Mandarin, Romanji in Japanese, etc.
I would advise catching up on all of these steps before beginning your self-immersion program, particularly in regard to pronunciation.
Logic: you want to receive maximum exposure. You need to understand the “code”. (See below.) You will do this for 4 to 8 weeks. Longer if you want. The number of hours you devote to it every day depends on you. (Three or four hours a day will bring on fast progress.)
1. Comprehension. This is the most critical aspect. You need to have a series of twenty to forty recordings of natives engaged in normal speech. You will need to experiment to find the correct level for yourself. They must be very challenging but not impossible to understand. (Ergo the prerequisites.) The length can vary: ten, twenty, thirty minutes. You also need a transcription and a translation of the texts. (This is the code I mentioned earlier.) Side by side texts are great to start out with. You can make your own recordings with willing natives. You can also easily find such recordings or podcasts on the Internet. Simply Google your language of interest. The steps for comprehension development are simple.
a. Read the transcription of the text along with the translation. Make sure you develop a good understanding of most words and the gist of the text. You could even make a glossary of the new words for self-testing and review.
b. Listen to the recording while following along with the translation. Do this a few times, until you start recognizing what you hear.
c. Next, listen a few times, following along with only the transcription in the new language. Identify and recognize the words and expressions you hear.
d. Finally, listen to the recording intensively, but without either text.
Do this multiple times a day for several days. Alternate the steps (b-d) to your liking. Your specific understanding of the text will rapidly develop. So will your global comprehension of the language (although more gradually). You will notice an increase in your capacity to hear and understand within days. This is rather exciting to experience. You can listen while you walk, work, drive or clean. The more the better. Stay focused, listen to each word as it is spoken. Do not analyze or translate. Just listen very attentively. Do this two to three hours a day. More if you can do it without becoming fatigued. Keep deciphering new texts and listening to them, but keep recycling through the earlier ones.
2. Speaking ability. When you are “warmed-up” by your relentless listening practice, begin to speak. If tired, do it after relaxing for a while. Most important!. Always stay relaxed; stay within your zone of comfort. Never, ever rush! Speak slowly, clearly and in a relaxed manner. Avoid obstacles. Speak one short phrase at a time: “In the morning…(pause) … I get up… and then… I drink a glass of water… After that… I go for a walk… etc.” There are several formats for doing the speaking practice.
a. Improvise. Speak about whatever comes into your mind.
b. Prepare a series of mini-topics – related or not to your recordings. Deliver them in a relaxed manner.
c. Say something in English and immediately translate it. Do it phrase by phrase, not word by word or sentence by sentence. In spite of what you have been told by theorists, translation is very, very beneficial.
d. Play the “because game”. “I eat… because I am hungry. I am hungry… because I am alive. I am alive… because I can see my toes moving.” etc You will gradually begin to speak more casually and spontaneously. Never rush and always speak out loud.
3. Grammar development. Study grammar normally. Keep learning new verb tenses and new grammar patterns. Correlate the grammar with the texts you are listening to. Make sure you have a good grammar book, one that you enjoy. Standard language learning recordings can help you automate the new grammar. Use them if needed.
4. Vocabulary development. This will primarily come form learning new words in your series of recordings. The more you hear them, the more they will sink into your long-term memory. Review the glossary you are making and test your recollection often.
5. Improving or fine-tuning your pronunciation. This will actually happen through listening and speaking.
This has been a cursory description of a self-immersion program. Yet I believe it gives you enough information to actually set up your own self-immersion language program if you so choose.