My Arabic Immersion Program and the Beginning of Immerse

Quinn here! I wrote already about my immersion experience with French, but now I’d like to share a little about my experience with Arabic. I took three years of Arabic in the traditional classroom & textbook method. I even took private courses when I moved to Beirut. Despite all of this, I really struggled with Arabic. I put in so much time and money for those classes, but never even got close to fluency.

Me in Lebanon!

My Arabic immersion program in Jordan

But that changed when I had the opportunity to move to Jordan. To begin with, there were fewer English-speakers there than in Beirut. On top of that, I decided to move to the outskirts of town, where English was even less common and I lived close to the bedouin communities. Bedouins are an awesome, ancient nomadic tribe who traditionally do not read or write, and so place a huge emphasis on the spoken word. Because they are an oral culture, they share the important stories of their history and culture around the campfire every night. Consequently, this makes them great, nurturing communicators, which in turn makes them ideal language tutors.

So, in order to really learn Arabic, I met with an old bedouin woman for a couple weeks, just speaking with her for six hours a day, and then studying for six hours afterwards. The first day I showed up, I couldn’t understand anything at all. Three years of Arabic, and she might as well have been speaking gibberish. I began to get anxious, thinking “oh great, this is not going to work, I’ll never learn Arabic.”

Surprised by the power of immersion

But it didn’t take long at all for me to catch on. I started to recognize words and understand what she was telling me at a startling rate. She shared stories about her family, her peoples’ history and religion, but it really started to stick when she started doing life with me — when it became experiential, not just audible. She took me out of the our classroom and we did things together as if I were her new son. We did everything, from getting groceries, to ordering cabs, to figuring out how to pay the electricity bill. I just did life in Arabic with her as my guide.

Fast forward eight weeks, and all of a sudden I could do all these things on my own, understand her fascinating stories, and even share some of my own. It was absolutely mind boggling! The immersive approach taught me language faster than I ever thought my brain was capable of.

My most memorable immersive learning lesson

The most memorable lesson she gave me, one that perfectly encapsulated the immersive method, happened one day in a street market when I forgot the word “tuffah”, which is Arabic for “apple.” She walked up to a vendor, bought an apple, and walked back toward me. She stopped about a foot away and looked me right in the eye. All of the sudden, she thrust the apple right in front of my face, and started to say “TUFFAH” repeatedly and even a little aggressively. “Tuffah!” Then she tossed it to me. “Tuffah!” I caught it. “Tuffah!” She took it back. “Tuffah!” Then she held it under my nose. “Tuffah!”

Then she went as far as putting the apple in my mouth and made me repeat, through a mouthful of apple, “tuffah!” Needless to say, I have never forgotten tuffah. She connected all the dots for me in an immersive way, repeating and creating sensory memories for me until the word became like a reflex for me, so I don’t even need to think to remember it. Now that summarizes the immersive method.

An idea is born: Immerse

After this experience and loads of research on language immersion, I reduced the most vital elements of language learning into the Immersive Method. Then my team and I created the Immerse software, which is based on this tried and true method. With Immerse, you can study in virtual reality bringing language immersion to your home!

Learn more and sign up for free here: immerse.online

Posted on

September 26, 2018

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