Many students learning a language today don't know what language and cultural immersion is, and if they do, they don't understand how beneficial these opportunities can be for their progress in the target language. Until a few months ago, I didn't either, and I don't think I would have understood how amazing these trips were until I got invited on one. Studies have shown that students like me gain additional abilities both mentally and socially when in situations where the language is spoken casually and naturally, instead of being taught in a foreign place. This also increases students' understanding of how different things are in a stimulating environment, as opposed to just memorizing phrases to copy down on a test.
A student who has been in an immersion environment has increased sensitivity to the feelings and body language of others. This is because when language is not understood fully, one has to rely on external sources (hand gestures, emotion etc.). For example, sometimes in French class I don't understand a word and I blurt out a response in English. However, in an immersion environment people will not understand my English and I will be forced to step out of my comfort zone with the language.
Enhance your perception of language!
On top of the added educational benefit , an experience like this is also a fun way of presenting information that sparks curiosity and further intrigue. According to St. Augustine of Hippo, a famous Neoplatonic philosopher, 'The world is like a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." If this is true, in our American classrooms, we only know the words of our page, and in our language classes we get told about the plot of the book. However, when we travel to another country, we get to see all the little words we aren't taught, all the tiny details that make the story vibrant, interesting, and worthwhile. These tiny details in the story are a steppingstone to mastery of language, and this is why people who travel and do more immersion experiences are more proficient at language. Sadly, Americans are half as likely as Europeans to travel to more than one country and are therefore less likely to have had full immersion experiences and mastery. In fact, only 15-20% of the American public have a mastery of language, as opposed to Europe, with 56%.
Support them don’t force them
The "Bilingual Edge" states that "You cannot make a child speak a language. However , you can set the stage so that they will want to speak it." We can set the stage for motivation in language through these immersion experiences. For instance, my upcoming trip is this summer in France and Switzerland. I will get to experience Swiss French and Parisian French, as well as challenging myself in a five-day home stay with native French speakers. This trip for me is a way to get out of my sheltered bubble here in America and learn French the way it is meant to be spoken.
All it takes is once...
Personally, I love learning French in school, but I know it will never compare to being able to travel to France and being immersed with the people and the culture. I believe the memories that I make will likely last a lifetime and motivate me to pursue travel and get involved in other immersion possibilities. I look forward to gaining new skills and opening doors that I wouldn't have even known existed if I had not been given this incredible opportunity. Open your door with these experiences and join me on this life-changing adventure!