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Why immersion is the best way to learn

By Memrise Team

It’s widely known that the best way to learn a language is by living where the language is spoken, immersing oneself in the company of the people who speak it, enjoying life itself through the language: the food, the music, the culture. In such situations, we pick up the language without thinking about it!

Immersion tends to be much the fastest and most enjoyable way to learn. It’s quite normal, for example, for people to learn more French in a couple of weeks of living in Paris than they did from years of studying in high school.

Now how, you might ask, is it possible that something so natural and organic is so much more effective than the most sophisticated lessons and pedagogy? Why is it that when no thought is given over to how we learn, language abilities seem to go straight in?

There are several reasons why organic immersion is a better way to learn than more traditional methods as found in schools and traditional language apps. Here are four of them:

1. Immersion speaks to the heart and not just to the brain 

The most fundamental reason that immersion is so much more powerful than traditional techniques of learning: we are at our core emotional beings, not robots. 

Let’s face it, we are all learning languages for the same underlying reason: to connect more deeply with people and their cultures, to be able to understand and be understood by humans different from ourselves.

With immersion, we learn by directly connecting to the people and culture of a place: by encountering fascinating, fun, wonderful human beings and learning directly from them. It’s immediately motivational, meaningful, and memorable, and so we learn much faster and with much less effort. It’s really this simple.   

Traditional techniques of learning, on the other hand, remove all of that personality and interest and variety from the process of learning: they are fundamentally inhumane. 

2. Gesture and context are part of the deal

Language isn’t just words: gesture, intonation and social context are also key, not to mention facial expressions, emotions, tone. Schools and traditional language apps strip away all of these important dimensions of communication from the language you’re taught, leaving you, in effect, a tree without leaves: all structure, no life. 

By learning while immersed, you’re learning all of the dimensions of language, and 

3. You learn to ride the wave of language

When you’re immersed, you learn to make sense of what’s going on without understanding everything. You learn to cope when you don’t know all the words, you develop the skill of inferring what is meant from the context. We even do this in our native languages, and it’s especially important in a language we’re learning! 

When we learn a new language through immersion, like riding a bicycle on a real road, we develop the ability to keep our balance despite the bumps that we encounter as we ride along. This means when we get into the real world, we are able to cope and engage in life without being intimidated by the inevitable complexity of real-world communication. 

4. You learn the language as it’s truly spoken

Traditional methods use simplified and unrealistic sentences, often with perfectly pronounced audio, you’ll recognise the drill: “the yellow crocodile eats the egg” etc. In a word, your training on the language is fake.  Such fake training leads to skills you can’t use in the real world.

Immersion introduces you to language as it exists in the real world: with real-world speed, vocabulary, idioms, accents, and so on- you’re training in the real thing: and so you learn how to speak the real language.   

But how to Immerse When We can’t Travel? 

This is all very well, but how to immerse yourself in a culture when you live in your home country? When you have a job and a family, and only so much time in the day. Or how about when there’s a global pandemic, and you’re not even allowed out of your home?

With the world in lockdown, that’s the goal we set ourselves to build for you: to bring all the richness, the fun, the realism, the variety, the humour, the beauty, the delightful goodness you’d experience in the course of living and traveling in a foreign country straight into your phone: to create virtual immersion. 

Today, we’re launching Virtual Immersion

Our new immerse feed aims to recreate for your enjoyment at home or on the go the essence of the experience you get when you’re living abroad, immersed in the language you’re trying to learn. 

It comprises hundreds upon hundreds of bite-sized clips of people using real, colloquial language in context: the kind you’d encounter in the country. The people making these clips have all the variety, personality and fun of the people you meet while living or traveling abroad: the kind of people with whom you can make real world friends as you learn the language. 

The experience is full-screen, immersive, and, in our view, highly entertaining: meaningful language brought straight to you, packed with all the emotion, gesture, nuance and authenticity you’d expect if you were living in the country. As a whole, you can think of Virtual Immersion as a way of bringing France, Japan, Spain, Russia, or Germany to you.

With hundreds of wonderful native speakers, and thousands upon thousands of videos, this is an experience you can get lost in: scrolling for hours through entertaining vignettes of life in the country, as you immerse in the language. And as you immerse like this, you’ll find yourself learning.  

Moreover, with subtitles, translations, and the ability to like and rewatch each bite-sized, immersive post, in many ways it’s even better for your language learning than the real thing: you also have the poise and ability to repeat and engage that high-speed real-world immersion sometimes lacks.

We’re convinced this is going to be a source of tremendous joy and cognitive nourishment. Do check it out and let us know your thoughts!

Try the Immerse feature for yourself on our iOS app for free!