Why Complete Immersion is Key to Language Learning

School Children in Class with Teacher

The complete immersion learning method is the only truly effective language learning method. Learning to think and experience the world automatically, without conscious thought, is the gift given by complete immersion and gives children the tools to ultimately become fluent. We look at why the complete immersion method is so central, and how you can embark on this.

The Complete Immersion Method: What is it?

Complete or total immersion is exposure to a new language where only that language is used. There are no lists of vocabulary, no exercise books, just complete immersion in to the language in the way it is used. Learning happens quickly due to contextual understanding.

For young children this is a natural learning method. In the same way their minds are assimilating their mother tongue, they can use the same natural proclivity to learn a second language.

Why is the Complete Immersion Method the Most Effective?

By learning a language using complete immersion, you acquire language in a practical and meaningful way. Learning in this way, with more focus on culture, stories, cross-curricula subjects and the like, with less focus on rote learning of vocabulary and phrases, language acquisition is more natural, fluent and more complete.

In complete immersion when teaching a second language to young children, the content isn’t specific to the language alone. It’s about building ‘biliteracy’ – the ability of a child to speak, write, listen, and read outside of a classroom environment. This involves delivering a programme completely in the second language, relying on imagery, animation and context to fuel understanding.

This is even more effective when we apply complete immersion language learning to the very young. Numerous studies show that by the age of three, a young child’s brain is actually twice as active as that of an adult. They can hear and discriminate sounds at a remarkable level, something adults can’t do. To an adult or older child, complete immersion can seem overwhelming, but to the very young it is a very natural way to acquire a new language.

At this stage, learning hasn’t yet fallen in to the confines of ‘subject areas’ and curriculums. Instead, it is a broad spectrum of cross-subject learning which is ideal for the complete immersion method. For example, a child can be learning mathematical concepts of numbers, spatial awareness, social skills, sequencing and more all alongside each other.

This helps us to realise another reason why complete language immersion learning works. The actual learning environment itself is central to the child’s learning. How they relate to that learning emotionally, how secure they feel and valued, will correlate with their ability to learn. Exposure to language within this type of environment is incredibly powerful.

So, how can we teach our youngest children using the complete immersion method without dropping them in to another family and country where the language is spoken 24/7?

Start with Stories

When it comes to reaching our youngest learners, we have an incredible tool in our toolkit: stories. To find out more about the power for story-telling for young children, read this. Exposing children to stories in a new language is a relatively easy and natural way for them to learn.

Stories enable children to be immersed in culturally relevant stories which directly connect them both to the language, and their wider development. The listening skills they have at this age are extraordinary for enabling them to draw so much from myths, adventure stories and legends.

As stories work with sounds, rhyme, rhythm and repetition, as well as scene-setting context, a child is developing the ability to master language even in terms of things such as intonation and pronunciation. Older learners lose this story fascination, and with it, its power.

Furthermore, children are ‘doing’ learners. They are not just hands-on, but body-on. Enabling them to engage in role-play around the stories and completing tasks which draw the two together, allows children to assign real and genuine meaning to language and vocabulary in a contextual setting. Let children use language for problem-solving and you unlock immense potential.

Finally, the complete immersion method through stories approaches cultural awareness in a meaningful and impacting way. Language, by its very nature, has a cultural aspect. Introducing young children to this opens up cultural and social development.

How to Introduce the Complete Immersion Method

Our online classes for early years and primary school-aged children are led by teachers who are native of the language they are qualified to teach. Children are immersed in the language and learn through interactive activities. To find out more about our programmes, please see here.

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