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What is Foreign Language Immersion?

Up until fairly recently, the term "immersion" brings to mind the images of swimmers diving into a pool, scuba divers exploring the flora and fauna thriving beneath the surface of the sea or submarines descending into the depths of the world's oceans. Perhaps it sounds a bit strange then, to apply this term to the acquisition of language skills.

However, this single idea applies to both worlds - that is, the aquatic world and the linguistic world - in equal measures, proving that they have far more in common than you might think.

Think about it: when a child learns to swim, where do his parents take him? Do they go for a walk? Do they sit at home and read about it? Of course not! They take him to the pool or to the beach, where he can get himself in the water, get a feel for his new environment and, with Mom and Dad's help, quickly acquire the skills to stay afloat and swim. As he spends more and more time in that pool, his swimming abilities will rapidly improve, he'll grow increasingly confident in himself and before you know it, he'll be mastering the butterfly stroke.

Now let's think about immersion in terms of learning a language. Sure, there are all sorts of grammar books and websites, Spanish classes and private lessons out there, which serve as resources that will give you a pretty good base of vocabulary and grammar guidelines.

Nonetheless, languages are complex and cannot be acquired by simply attending that obligatory college class for an hour twice a week. Basically, they'll help you get your feet wet, but they won't teach you to swim.

That's where foreign language immersion steps in. Instead of being the subject material, the language is the teaching tool. Classes are in the target language, in this case Spanish, as are your everyday experiences - requesting a half-kilogram of cheese at the market, asking for directions, meeting people at the bar, etc. Just imagine the difference between one week in that college Spanish class and one week in Spain; that's two hours' worth of class versus 168 hours of full time learning, practicing and improving.

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