Surrounding yourself with English is the best way to improve, learn, and progress. But how can you do this when you don’t live in the UK, USA, or any English-speaking country? Keep listening and you’ll find out a lot of useful information about language immersion and how to do it yourself!

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How to Learn English Quickly and Easily???

People always ask me the best way to learn English quickly. And the truth is… I wish I knew the answer. I’ve been studying Japanese on and off for over six years now and I’ve struggled with motivation and gaining enough vocabulary to become a truly advanced speaker.

We all want a method that will magically speed up the English process – to go from nothing to everything with the least amount of effort possible. People and companies always try to sell you this dream.

Language learning apps or online courses, for example, will tell you that you can become fluent in just 30 days or with only a few minutes of study every day. Is this really the case? For some people – maybe? But for most of us, we are not so lucky!

I’ve tried a lot of different things to learn Japanese (and Chinese… but let’s stick with Japanese today). I’ve bought textbooks – on grammar, exam preparation, vocabulary, reading comprehension, sayings, onomatopoeia (sounds that become words), the Japanese alphabet, and writing practice.

I’ve signed up to apps – one app I forgot I subscribed to until they charged me hundreds of dollars a few months ago. I’ve taken Japanese classes – free ones from a community centre, private 1-1 classes with a tutor, private classes online, professional group classes in London, and university classes at Waseda University in Tokyo.

I’ve used language exchange apps and attended in person language exchanges – in Japan and in the UK. I’ve written Japanese diaries; listened to Japanese music; watched Japanese movies and TV shows; and downloaded Japanese podcasts.

I’ve tried a lot of different things over the past six years. Some things worked, some things didn’t work, and some things were a waste of time and money. Is there a magic method to learning a language?? No – I don’t think so.

But there is something that will definitely make learning languages easier – immersion.

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What is Language Immersion?

I mentioned I had been learning Japanese for six years. I only started learning after getting a job in the country and had no interest in Japan or the language before I moved there in 2016. Since 2016, I’ve lived in Japan for around 3 and a half years – and this gave me an advantage to learning the language. I was able to immerse myself!

At the same time as taking classes at a community centre and spending hours and hours studying my textbooks, I was able to surround myself with Japanese. This is the key principle of language immersion.

Immersion learning focuses on learning English in the most natural way. It means to build your vocabulary and knowledge of English through natural exposure – by interacting with English in your everyday life. By surrounding yourself with the language you are studying, you can have constant exposure to learning.

If you just study English in a classroom – this is not immersion. But if you live in an English world – speaking English with your family, watching English movies, listening to English podcasts, reading English books, cooking with English recipes – learning English becomes easier.


Does Language Immersion Work?

Now, it is easy for me to say “learning English becomes easier.” But does it really? Well let’s take a look at some of the research.

Language learning immersion, in the traditional sense, occurs in two main ways – through bilingual education at school or a study-abroad experience. And there are a number of different studies that show students who study languages in these immersive settings reach higher language levels than students who are educated in a non-immersive setting. For example, Kinginger in 2011 showed how study abroad experience are enhanced through immersive learning and Cummins in 2009 found similar things with bilingual education.

Immersive learning is not enough by itself. It works best in highly motivated students – students who are motivated to join the culture of the language. For instance – an English learner would be most motivated to learn English when they intend to join an English-speaking culture.

This is why we learn languages best in the country where that language was spoken – you would learn English more effectively in the UK or USA and I would learn Japanese more effectivley in Japan. When I lived in Japan, I wanted and needed to speak Japanese not just for fun, but because I wanted to speak to people and share my thoughts and opinions. I wanted to form relationships and friendships.

And by being in an immersive environment, by being surrounded by the language, I had the opportunity to learn all the time while I was the most motivated. For English learners, the same is true – if you are motivated to study the language because you want (or need) to live, work, or study in an English-speaking environment, your motivation should be higher!

In addition, immersion seems to be especially powerful for young children. If you have listened to my episode with previous podcast guest Honoka (I’ll try to remember to leave a link in the transcript), you will realise that she achieved her excellent level of English thanks to childhood immersion. She was raised in a bilingual environment – watching English language TV and reading English books despite living in Yokohama Japan.


Can You Immerse Yourselves at Home?

Immersion is a good strategy – that is clear. But is it possible to do at home? It is impossible for many people, and many of you listening, to move to an English speaking country and fully immerse yourselves in the language. You have to think about money, work, families, visas, and more!

But don’t worry – it is possible to achieve some level of immersion at home (in your own country). I want to give you few tips on how you can immerse yourself in English.

Immersion vs Submersion?

But first, let’s briefly discuss the difference between immersion and submersion. “Immerse” and “submerge” are similar words but with an important difference. “Submerge” suggests that something is put fully underwater (or in our case under the weight of a culture) while “immerse” doesn’t imply this (but it also doesn’t exclude it).

To illustrate, imagine being in a bath. If you are “submerged” in the bath, your whole body is under water including your head and face, meaning you can’t breathe. If you are “immersed” in the bath, your body may be underwater, but your head could be free!

This is also the case for language learning. A mistake people make with language immersion is that they submerge themselves in the culture and language rather than immersing themselves. English learners may try to read incredibly difficult novels, rather than starting with graded readers or children’s books. You may watch TV shows you don’t like just because they are in English. I know people who changed the language of their phone (but then didn’t know how to use the phone).

You have to give yourself enough space to breathe – think of a swimming pool. Swimming pools will have a shallow end for less confident swimmers and a deep end for experienced people. If you jumped in the deep end with no ability to swim, you would struggle and maybe drown. When immersing yourself, make sure you surround yourself with English that is of your ability or a little more difficult.  

In 2016, I moved to Japan with 0 Japanese. I didn’t immediately try to discuss philosophy in Japanese or write a scientific paper – of course not. In fact, I didn’t even try to have conversations with strangers in Japanese for the first few months of living in the country.

Instead, I studied incredibly hard – every day I would use my textbooks and twice a week take classes at the community centre. But I would try to immerse myself even as a beginner. I would sit in a local café or restaurant and listen to conversations. I couldn’t understand anything – but that was ok. I was a real beginner – I was listening to the sounds people were making. I was trying to hear the syllables of the words; notice where one word ended and the next stopped; and then repeat the sounds in my head. I still do this today.

Eventually I was able to increase my language ability – and read books and watch TV shows in Japanese. But I read books I could manage – I started with graded readers designed for learners, then children’s books and parallel readers. Even a few weeks ago I was sat in a Japanese café reading a children’s version of Gulliver’s Travels. And when I watched TV, I watched first with English subtitles.

Immersing yourself in a language doesn’t mean straight away cutting out your native language and only using English. It means to put yourself in an environment where you can learn effectivley and naturally – think about your own level and how you can add English into your life.

It took me years to walk into a Japanese bar with confidence and start speaking to a stranger. But, I used to join language exchanges and conversation clubs in the first year or two of learning to practice and become confident. Find the best method for your language level, and don’t jump in at the deep end!

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Tips For Immersion

So, can you achieve immersion at home? Yes! I mentioned my friend, and previous podcast guest, Honoka already in this episode – she is a fluent English speaker thanks to the immersive environment she was raised in. How can you achieve this too?

Challenge Yourself (But Not Too Much)

The most important step to language immersion is surrounding yourself with English. This depends on you – but it could be English TV shows, movies, podcasts, music, books. You could download an English language news app and get your news in English. You could read an English newspaper every day. You could change your video game language to English. You could message your friends in English. You could write an English diary or journal. You could cook using an English language recipe book. There are countless ways to surround yourself with English.

I am currently trying to make Thinking in English a more immersive experience for all of you listening. As well as hearing my voice every day, I also want you all to comment on my Spotify, Instagram, and YouTube. I run a cheap conversation club (at the moment just $5 a month so join now) so you can all discuss the episodes and other topics in English!

Try commenting on other podcasts and YouTube videos. Maybe try to take an online course in English – a free one from Coursera would be an excellent way to increase the amount of English in your life. Speak, listen, write, and read in English as often as possible!

By surrounding yourself with the English language, you are forcing yourself to use it and become more confident and comfortable! You will also start to copy and understand the language on a deeper level.

As I mentioned already, you need to be realistic when immersing yourself in English. If you need to read the news for your job, maybe don’t just use English language newspapers (you might be slow or make a mistake). If you are just starting to read English books, don’t try to read advanced philosphy.

Surround yourself with English that is just a little more advanced than your language level. You want to English around you to be challenging, but not impossible!


Keep Studying

The next is to keep studying. I have learned this from personal experience – both as a success and a failure. At the same time as watching English movies and TV shows, listening to English music and podcasts, and immersing yourself in English, you need to also be studying the language.

Keep attending classes or using your textbook. Notice the mistakes your make, the words you learn, or the sentences with interesting grammar – and study these things at the end of the day.

The first time I lived in Japan my language ability constantly improved – I studied everyday while immersing myself in the culture. The second time I lived in Japan, my language ability didn’t improve that much despite immersing myself all the time (in fact, I immersed myself more than the first time). I would speak Japanese every day, but I rarely took classes or picked up a textbook. And I didn’t improve or reach the level I wanted.

Unless you are incredibly gifted, you need to combine immersion with studying.


Be Interested

The next tip is to immerse yourself in an interesting environment. Do you like comedy in your own language? Yes? Then try to watch some English comedies? Do you like listening to science podcasts? Yes? Then try listening to science podcasts in English. Do you like video games? Then play video games in English!

Think of what you like to do… then do it in English! That is the key avoiding feeling submerged in the language. If you have no interest in the news in your own language, are you sure you enjoy reading it in English? If you don’t like horror movies in your own language, you probably won’t like them in English.

I always remember my colleagues when I was teaching English in Japan telling me that I needed to watch Japanese anime. “It is the best way to learn” they told me. I had never watched a single episode of anime before I moved to Japan, but everyone told me I need to watch it to learn Japanese. So, I tried watching a series… and I was bored. I went to the movie theatre to watch an anime movie… and fell asleep.

 Although I’ve now found some Japanese shows I like, at that time I had no interest in it and it didn’t help me to learn! But I did enjoy turning the news on every day and watching that!

By doing things you find interesting, you will be able to keep a higher level of motivation and find it easier to study!

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Final Thought

Language immersion is one of the best ways to improve your language. By surrounding yourself with English, you will notice real improvements in the learning experience. Of course, you need to surround yourself with the right kind of English and be motivated to improve!

Have you ever learned English in an immersive environment? How do you include English in your home life?

By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

One thought on “How to Immerse Yourself in English??”
  1. Hi Tom , this is a real good question .I’ve studied english attendind an English course for more than one year but I found that I had difficulty when I spoke in english maybe I did more theory than practice so I’ve changed the way to study.I listen to the podecast ( I’m one of your follower) recentely I write on my notebook the word or the sentence that I didn’t know about the day’s podecast. I signed up tandem application and I have friends to talk to .Lastly I’ve decided to write a diary or journal about what I do in my life..I enrolled in your courses in thinkin in english and yestarday I made my first access , congratulations the meeting is very interesting I like the way it’s structured .Anyway one thing is sure about how to learn english it needs a lot of time .

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