The Power of Language Immersion and My Best Tutor
I was late to every single Spanish class my sophomore year of college. It was a miracle I didn’t get kicked out. I know, I know, ‘What a terrible student.’ But believe it or not, I wasn’t late because I lost my key, missed the subway or slept in (okay maybe once…or three times). I was late because I discovered a better way to learn Spanish. I discovered the power of language immersion!
Introducing my most immersive language tutor
His name was Juan Carlos and he was an 83-year-old grandfather of 11 with a kind face, fuzzy ears, and a propensity for spitting out his dentures. His hair a crown of faded glory atop his head.
The first day I met him I think I heard his prehistoric bones creak as he stood from his curbside chair. He looked up at me from under his unruly salt and pepper brows (he couldn’t have been more than 5 feet tall) ‘Hey there youngster, I’m Juan Carlos,’ he chirped in Spanish. I was surprised I understood him. ‘Hola soy Jacobo’ I piped back in my best Argentine accent.
He noticed I was the newbie in town and clearly felt the need to catch me up on everything I had missed over the years. Jowls flapping as he spoke I heard every detail. (Key word here is heard, as far as understanding goes I lost him after ‘Hola chico.’)
But day after day on my way to school I’d stop out front of Juan’s kiosk as he’d pour me a cup of mate’ and tell me to take a seat. Each week his gibberish became clearer and my broken Spanish improved as he pointed to the goods in his shop, the children on the street, the headlines in the day’s paper, barking out his thoughts, and subsequently asking for mine.
Who knew my best language learning experience would happen on the way to class instead of inside it.
Language Immersion is superior to learning in a classroom
Frankly, I learned more in my 15 minutes before Spanish class than I did all day inside the classroom. I began thinking. Why was class time so much less productive than my time with Juan Carlos? Answer: because with Juan I was immersed. One of Juan’s favorite tricks was grabbing a piece of bruised fruit from his stand and shoving it in my face as he shouted its name in Spanish (you better believe that to this day I still remember every fruit in the Spanish dictionary).
Come to find out, the research is clear: full immersion language learning is the best way to develop fluency and skills in another language. And that is exactly what we hope to do with Immerse.
So yes I guess I was technically late to Spanish class every day, but if you think about it, I was actually early.
October 3, 2018