DIY Language Immersion

Written by Yuri Karabatov. Drop me a line on Twitter.

I have good news: you mustn’t go to another country to immerse into your target language. You can do that at home, for free.

Immersion is when a foreign language cloaks you: you hear it, you see it, you speak it, you write in it.

This is the blueprint for the DIY language immersion project.

In a nutshell, you will surround yourself with your target language, as if you are in a foreign country.

Immersion at home may be even better: often you don’t go to another country alone and end up chatting with your friends all day. Immersion doesn’t work that way!

For the sake of clarity (I’m tired of writing “your target language” every time) let’s say you’re learning French.

Allons commencer! Sorry. Let’s begin!

1. Computer

Start with your computer. Today we spend way too much time before the screen, so it’s the most logical place to start.

Switch your operating system interface to French. If you’re on a Mac, follow this instruction. If you have Windows, you’ll have to install a MUI pack. See this manual (for Windows Vista).

2. Sites you frequent

You have switched your OS to French, but there’s a ton of sites you visit and spend some time there.

Major sites like Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, various forums allow to switch their user interface to another language. Consult the site’s help section for instructions.

If you use Google a lot (I bet you do), you can change its language as well: instead of going to google.COM, go to google.FR for French Google. Remember, you’re learning French? :)

3. Instant messaging

If you’re using Google Talk, Skype or AOL, you know what I mean.

Consider sacrificing some of the time you spend on IM to learn French: find French chatrooms or IM buddies to chat with — in French. You will know the language better, and possibly make new friends.

4. Books

If you like reading like I do, I believe you have many books around!

Reading books is the next best way to language proficiency, so start reading books in French. If you’re a beginner or an intermediate, start with fairy tales and work your way up to fiction.

Reading a book in French on public transport will make you new acquaintances: people are always interested in what you are reading if they don’t understand the language. You may even find a language enthusiast — good luck!

5. Newspapers and magazines

Reading newspapers and magazines is a pleasant pastime. Make it useful by reading them in French.

Look for subscription catalogues at your local post office, they usually have some options. Otherwise, subscribe on the internet.

6. Your home

Your apartment is a great way to study new vocabulary and repeat the words you already know.

Print out labels for every single item you have in your apartment and paste labels on things with words written in French. Post the sticker mur on each wall, and plafond on your ceiling. Don’t forget lamps, windows, curtains, pictures, bikes, tables, chairs, notebooks, shelves, cups, plates, spoons, knives, basins, mirrors — the list is endless!

What’s great about this method is that you don’t have to pay close attention to the words, just read them as you see them. Over time you will have read them so many times that they will stick to your memory forever.

7. TV

If you watch TV, delete all the channels except those which are in French. I’ve written about this in “The Value of Distractions.”

If there are no French channels, disconnect the antenna and watch French movies from the DVD player.

8. Music

Listening to background music a lot? Wipe all ambient tracks from your playlist and fill it with French music, there’s a lot of it to any taste. You can also listen to French internet radio.

Music is an extremely powerful way to learn a foreign language. Susanna Zaraysky (who, by the way, speaks 7 languages) explains all about it in her book “Language is Music”, which I’ve bought some time ago. This book is magnificent, be sure to check it out, if you can.

9. Street

Walking in the street is a great way to ignore the sounds around and listen to music or podcasts in French.

If your phone doesn’t play music and you don’t have an MP3 player — buy one, they’re dirt cheap. On the go you can listen to audio courses, or French music, or podcasts in French, anything you like.

10. Writing

If you do any writing for yourself, not to be seen by public, do it in French.

Your to-do list, a list of things to buy, random thoughts can all be written in French. Moreover, this everyday writing helps you think in French, which is even more important.

11. Blog

Write a blog in French. It will teach you coherent and consistent writing in another language. Make it a rule to write every day. Start small and simple, make your posts longer over time.

Start a blog for free on a major service like wordpress.com, blogger.com or livejournal.com, whichever you like best.

Blogging is also a great way to make friends. Check out other blogs in French and write comments: it’s almost live conversation.

12. Speak

I’m not tired to repeat that language is for speaking, so speak as often as you can.

Read aloud the words which are posted around your apartment. Read aloud the lists and blog posts you’re writing in French. Read aloud the books which you’re reading.

Talk to yourself a lot. Just move your lips, if you’re in public. The more you speak aloud, the more used you’ll become to French speech.

13. Talk

Talking to yourself is not a lot of fun and becomes boring quite soon. Find a partner to talk with in French.

If you don’t like to talk in person, find someone to talk to on Skype.

Look for language clubs in your neighborhood where people meet to talk in a foreign language.

Better still, talk in French with your significant other. I’m very lucky in this regard: my wife learns Japanese, as I do. I haven’t reached her level yet, but when I do, we’ll talk a lot in Japanese.

You get the core idea: make everything you see, everything you hear, everything you write and everything you say in the language you learn. It’s that simple!

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