How (And Why) To Create Your Very Own Language Immersion Retreat
Do you want to immerse yourself in the language you’re learning?
That sounds like an easy question, but you’d be surprised how many learners—after an initial enthusiastic “Yes!”—will become hesitant and never really follow through.
As much as we all instinctively want to dip our toes in the world of the language we’re learning, we slowly find a way to avoid doing it.
We’re not quite clear what immersions are, how they’re structured. The word immersion retreat sounds great, but what are the benefits ? We’re so afraid of wasting our time doing something that might deflect our attention in our language journey.
A language immersion retreat can be intimidating if you’ve never taken one before.
What is one anyway?
A language immersion retreat is a chance to take some time off from your daily routine both in work and language learning to entirely live in the language.
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How is it a retreat? Because you slow down, unwind from the hustle and bustle of your life and indulge yourself with authentic native content.
In this post, I will teach you how to replicate an actual language retreat where the exposure to spoken languages is constant throughout the day and comes from so many different sources.
Because they can be intense and we all tend to be overly ambitious, it’s really important to have a mindful approach to retreats because that’s key in it being successful. But more about that in a minute.
A virtual immersion retreat lasts as long as you want it to but ideally it should last a weekend.
That can seem like a short amount of time but it’s actually perfect.
Think about it. Remember the last weekend off you took? Wasn’t it incredibly restorative? It took your mind off your worries, off your job concerns and rejuvenated you. Then, come Monday, you dove back into the week with newfound passion and energy.
Now, think about the effect of doing the same thing, but applied to language learning.
By committing to spending quality time with native content for a time, you’re giving yourself permission to explore and get to know your target language from a different perspective.
You get exposed to native resources that allow you to train your listening skills and enrich your vocabulary. You also get to spend time with the culture, which is such an elusive thing.
How many times as a learner have you realized that you understood all the vocab but were missing the true meaning behind the words? Immersion retreats allow you to learn the cultural language as well and to begin seeing things like a native would.
What might put some people off is that it’s not a result-focused activity. You can’t know what you’ll achieve linguistically because that’s not measurable.
The goal is not to achieve more but to be present with your language and explore it as much as possible.
The results aren’t immediate, but they are long-lasting. Once you begin exploring and immersing yourself in your language, you’ll enter a new phase in the relationship with your target language. One that allows you to develop your passions.
Taking a break from textbooks helps you access genuine language that is relevant to you and your interests and that will stick in your memory for long.
All of this can be scary! But you know there’s a time limit to the retreat, so that’s alright. It’s always a bit scary to leave the familiar path of our textbooks and grammars because we worry we’ll get lost and waste precious time. The good news is that with language immersion retreats no time is ever lost and it’s impossible to mess things up.
A retreat can mean something different depending on where you are in your language learning journey.
That’s why before thinking about creating your own retreat, it’s advisable to brainstorm what your passions are.
- Take a sheet of paper and write everything that comes to mind. It can be anything. Books, favorite authors, movies, hobbies, music, gardening, knitting, exercise, fitness, history. Videogames. Dogs. If it interests you, it should be on your list.
- Put a timer on and give yourself five minutes to write anything that comes to mind.
- Go over what you’ve written. Which of these interests could be exported to your language learning?
- Pick three or four activities. Prioritize your passions. Otherwise, it won’t be a retreat.
Once you’ve identified what you’d like to be engaging with, spend some time preparing your resources. The preparation phase means doing quick research on the web, Youtube, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, etc. Look for articles, movies, songs, and podcasts that focus on your passions.
You can get other resource ideas in this post about creating an immersive environment on your phone
Need an example? Sure!
Let’s say you love traveling.
Why not create a pool of travel resources in your target language?
Organize your weekend so that you can plan a trip on Tripadvisor and Booking.com, get on Google maps to explore the destinations virtually, and find some travel vlogs in your target language.
Find travel podcasts and make a list. Never stop to worry if the level is right for you. In language immersion, the goal isn’t to understand every single word. The point is to get exposed to the language.
The language immersion preparation phase is just as important for the learning process because it gets you excited and thinking about the future.
Once you’ve outlined a pool of resources you can refer to, it’s time to commit.
You do that by making time in your calendar for yourself and blocking it. Let friends and family know that in those two allotted days, you won’t be available and you won’t be taking any calls. You’ll be away!
When the day comes, make sure you’ve stocked up on snacks and recipes for dishes in the language you’re learning.
A language immersion should always include food because the more senses you’re able to involve in the experience, the better. Getting your taste buds to travel is important. Food has such a strong emotional power that allows us to experience the culture while retaining what we’re learning while doing it.
You can do this with most of your passions. The idea is to get together a few different ways to explore your language virtually either through written video and audio resources.
If you want, you can include social media in the mix. There’s plenty of ways to use social networks for a mini-immersion. It’s up to you! Personally, I like to tone down social media for my retreats because I’m trying to be more mindful.
I recommend setting an intention before beginning a mini-language immersion.
What are your expectations? Here are some examples to inspire you:
- Have fun and fall down language rabbit holes.
- Discover one new thing about the country you’d like to visit.
- Explore books and find a favorite writer.
- Watch two tv shows with native subtitles
Expectations allow us to gauge how the immersion went, but they shouldn’t be about goals. Just note what you’d like to enjoy as opposed to what you want to achieve. Be easy on yourself.
Are you excited, hopeful, doubtful? Take a minute to reflect on that too because it helps to see how those feelings change after your language immersion retreat ends.
Of course, it would be great if you could reflect on your feelings in your target language.
Keeping a tiny log of what you do during the immersion is great to see what sort of pool of resources you have.
Consider a moment of reflection after your language immersion retreat ends.
Just like when you go on a trip, you stop to go over the pictures you’ve taken and reflect on how much fun you had, on a virtual language immersion, you will relish the moment in which you can see how brave you were, how many things you didn’t imagine yourself being able to do.
You’ll realize that you don’t have to wait till you’re an advanced learner to watch a certain movie, read a manga or listen to that song. Every level is the right level to start your very own language adventure.
Language immersion retreats both virtual and in real life are a journey of self-discovery and surprise.
So it’s your time to try them out!