What is Spanish Immersion?

Eugenio González

by Eugenio González

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Spanish immersion is a learning method where a student learns Spanish by being in a Spanish-only environment and interacting with the language. 

When children are born, they learn a language by being immersed in it, gradually associating words with meaning, and then using that knowledge. Spanish immersion is the same, regardless of your age. You are not translating but instead learning the language by interacting and being exposed to it constantly.  

How does language immersion work?

Language immersion works by being in an environment where the language you’re learning is consistently used and you also interact with the language. 

Immersion is a word often used as if learning is only passive: “you only need to be in a new country to learn the language!”. That’s wrong and not what language immersion is. Passively traveling abroad and not engaging with the language won’t make you fluent in any language. That’s travel, not immersion. 

Language immersion works when you engage with the language. It’s when you are surrounded by a language and you interact with it every day that you are actually experiencing language immersion.

When you do experience language immersion, be it Spanish immersion or another language, your brain is assimilating sounds to meaning. Gradually, those sounds gain more meaning as your vocabulary grows. At the same time, you intuitively start picking up the rules of the language.

Language immersion differs from regular language classes in that it forces you to apply what you learn. If you are doing Spanish immersion, you immediately start using the new vocabulary or tense you learn in a Spanish course, but the reverse is not always true. 

Practice is what allows us to become fluent in a language, and language immersion is non-stop practice.

Is Spanish immersion a good idea?

Spanish immersion is a good idea when you want to speak Spanish at an advanced or fluent level. Your current Spanish level does not matter since immersion is about learning through exposure and practice. However, if you are just looking to learn the basics maybe Spanish immersion is not for you. It requires a lot of time commitment (traveling somewhere for a time, or going to a Spanish immersion school), and a lot of effort since you are constantly practicing your Spanish. 

Doing a month or more of Spanish immersion is a good idea if you want to get ahead with your Spanish. Spanish schools across Latin America and Spain have programs that teach you Spanish during the day, and then you can practice Spanish by living and being a part of the city you’re in. Check out these Spanish schools.

What are the benefits of immersion?

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Learning a new language forces your brain to think in new ways. One of the main benefits of immersion is strengthening the mind’s ability to learn and adapt. It also enhances your critical thinking skills, as you grasp abstract notions of the language.

When you speak two languages and experience language immersion, your brain learns to know how not to speak one language at a certain moment and when to switch languages. While it may sound simple, this task switching skill allows us to focus more and changes our brain structure

Studies have shown that people that actively use two languages (like Spanish and English) may help against age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s. This benefit may be related to the ways the brain changes when becoming bilingual. 

How long does language immersion take?

The goal of language immersion is to become fluent. If you are learning a new language similar to your own as an adult it may take about a year to become fluent. The amount of time language immersion takes is subjective because it really depends on how much you practice, and how quickly you learn new language concepts.

The US government’s Foreign Service Institute indicates it takes about 600 hours of lessons and practice for an English speaker to gain a proficient level of Spanish. This is also true for other languages that are similar to English, like French. 

When you are doing a Spanish immersion course abroad, you are practicing and learning most of the day, but it takes a while to really master the concepts you learn. It’s through trial and error that you will learn the most. 

After three months of Spanish immersion, you can expect to be intermediate and understand most conversations. You may very well also express your thoughts on complex topics well enough. After 12 months of Spanish immersion though, you will be at a much more advanced level if you practice consistently and push yourself to harder and harder language situations. Ordering a coffee is one thing, doing a job interview in another language is another.

Just remember, you can become fluent! Go abroad, take a Spanish immersion course, and practice, practice, practice!

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