Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The power of immersion for linguist

We linguists are usually all language lovers and most of us know two languages fluently and often have various degrees of knowledge of a few other languages. We might have studied other languages in school, or have been living in other countries. What is then the single most efficient way to learn a language, and the culture, of a country? I believe it is immersion!

Last weekend I was spending four days in Paris, one of my favorite cities, where I have also lived on two occasions for half a year at a time. On arrival I felt that I barely remembered any French at all, after having been away for fifteen years. By the time we left though I could once again get by in French and all of the culture came back to me, and I also could notice some cultural changes.

This started me thinking about the power of immersion for linguists. We work with languages every single day and the single most efficient way to keep up on all the small details of the “other” language, and the culture is immersion. It is important that we regularly and often immerse ourselves in the second or first language of ours. This is not only for pleasure, it is a necessity in order to keep up with all the nuances, changes, slang, borrowed expressions from other languages, and of course, the culture. Try to spend time in the country where they speak the language you are working with as often as possible, read literature, newspapers, magazines etc. Speak the language as often as you can and listen to it as often as you can. It really works and makes you more and more proficient.

Fortunately for us, this has all become much easier with the Internet. I cannot afford to go to Sweden more than once a year, but then I usually stay at least a month. In between I read Swedish newspapers online, listen to Swedish radio online and here in Utah we have even formed a Swedish book club. We are 16 women that meets every six weeks to discuss a book that we have read and to just socialize in Swedish. I look forward to every single meeting.

Have you ever thought about how easily a child learns a second, or even a third language. This “ease” is usually achieved through immersion. For example Rosetta Stone has used immersion as a language teaching method. Granted, you cannot “immerse” yourself very easily through a computer, but it sure beats a regular text book and tape.

How do you keep up with your languages? Do you immerse yourself and how often do you get to do this?

A bientot!

1 comment:

  1. Spending at least a month (even two) in the country every year seems necessary. Nothing compares to living there. It is the best (or only?) way to really ‘update’ your knowledge of the country and the society you translate from or for. I tend to think the cultural contribution of immersion is even more interesting than the linguistic one, actually.