English Full Immersion: what is this? how does it work?

What is ‘Immersion’? It means to immerse yourself in the English language (and culture). It is to speak, listen and communicate only and always in English. The idea is that learning is facilitated through the need (you are forced to speak English) and the duration of exposure (you are exposed to English for more hours per day).

It is not full immersion if there is no ‘coercion’ and ‘exposure’

What it means is that without constraint and exposure it is not a real ‘full immersion’? If you go to London for six months but have Italian friends and work in an Italian restaurant (where the only words you hear are ‘Pizza Margherita’ and ‘pasta Carbonara’) you are not forced to speak English and are not exposed to the English language. Might as well stay at home in Italy and follow some course autonomously. Clearly, if you go on this immersion experience alone (rather than with Italian friends) the efficiency is higher.

So, what is a real full immersion?

To immerse means to mingle with English or American friends and colleagues for at least 8 hours a day! At the end of the day you should be tired from the effort to talk and always communicate in English. As I describe in this article, there are more ways to increase the hours of English communication. You could find a job (which allows you to talk as much), to volunteer, make friends through smartphone apps or sites like www.meetup.com. The article talks about London, but the same principles apply for other cities and states. You can also do an English course (morning or afternoon) but the course can not replace the real contact with English speakers in the place. Remember that courses with large groups leave little space for communication and interaction with the teacher.

Where can you get full immersion?

‘Where’ is of little importance, however, the organisation of the trip is of utmost importance.  Here are some tips for various destinations:

What level can I reach and in how long?

As always it is difficult to make accurate predictions and promises. It always depends on the skill and commitment …. but what we can say is that:

  • in a weekend you can refresh your English or start a journey through a long path, but it really is difficult to make significant progress
  • 2 weeks intensive can be used to make small progress, especially at the level of ‘confidence’ (self-confidence) and understanding
  • 1 -2 months can help you to move up a level, from A1 to A2 for example, or from Pre-Intermediate (A2) to Intermediate (B1)
  • 6 months -1 year :if used well, the 6-12 month period can be sufficient to reach an upper-intermediate (B2) or even Advanced (C1); but this requires a lot of work, over and above, full immersion.

Do the full-immersion experience at your own home

If you do not have the opportunity to spend a long period abroad you can think of how to recreate the full immersion in your home. If you have children you might think about hiring an English or American au pair. Alternatively if you have a guest room could take a roommate or ask the English-speaking university in your town if there is a program to host foreign students. With an additional girl or boy in the house, you’ll have to speak their language.

In conclusion: restriction + exposure = full immersion

It does not matter if you are in London or Livorno, Brighton or Bologna, in Manchester or Mantua, the important thing is to be in a situation where you are forced to talk a real lot!

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