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The Advantages of Spanish Immersion Language Learning

written by: Larry M. Lynch • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

What's the absolute best way to learn Spanish? Why through immersion, of course. In this article we discuss some of the advantages of immersion language learning and how to accelerate your knowledge of the Spanish language.

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    ¿Cual tienes en sus bolsillos?

    The soldier’s look was stern and commanding. I didn’t understand the question the first time he asked. I still didn’t.

    ¿Cual tienes en sus bolsillos, hombre? ¡Contestame ya!

    Things were definitely not looking good. The German Shepherd he held at bay on a heavy leather leash was getting anxious. So was I for that matter. At a routine check in a Colombian airport, the soldier wanted to know what I had in my pockets. He apparently also didn’t understand why I refused to answer. That was simple – I couldn’t speak Spanish.

    When you want to learn Spanish there are many methods you can use to go about it. Certainly when it is possible, the best method by far is Spanish immersion.

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    The Advantages of Spanish Immersion

    Juan Valdez There are a number of distinctive advantages of Spanish immersion as a primary Spanish language learning method. An overview of these includes:

    • Language learning in context
    • Task-based learning
    • Content-based instruction
    • Extensive vocabulary acquisition
    • Listening comprehension development via numerous native speakers
    • All Spanish language input via native Spanish speakers like coffee spokesman Juan Valdez of Colombia (pictured)
    • Immediate correction by native Spanish speakers
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    Language Learning in Context

    When we started learning English (or other first language) everything was related to the language we were using, that is to say, everything was in context. While in the kitchen with Mom asking for a cookie, we never spoke about boats or another unrelated subject, for example. Oh boy, don’t those fresh-baked cookies smell good?

    Mommy, me wanna cookie

    Mother dear certainly got the idea, but might have corrected our structure and syntax by saying; you mean “I want a cookie”.

    Repeat after me Mommy coos, “I want a cookie, please.

    This is what learning a language in context refers to.

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    Task-Based Spanish Language Learning

    In task-based Spanish language instruction, you need to use Spanish to perform a series of simple to complex actions. You’ll make requests, ask questions and need to understand the spoken responses you hear. At the supermarket you’ll ask, “Where are the eggs and bread?” or in Spanish, “¿Donde estan los huevos y pan?” You need to use Spanish to get things and get things done. Not only must you ask, but the response you receive will be in Spanish so your listening comprehension skills will be ratcheted up a notch with each encounter.

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    Content-Based Instruction

    Want to know about the upcoming orchid exhibition? Great, the information is all there – in Spanish in the local newspaper. There’s even a flyer enclosed with times, dates, prices and sponsors along with a description and map of the display premises. Yep, you got it right – it’s all in Spanish. You’re not “studying Spanish” here, but rather working with the newspaper content to get more knowledge and information. You acquire more Spanish with immersion into the newspaper contents.

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    Extensive Vocabulary Acquisition

    Immersion is a great way to learn the language because everything you see, read, hear or say goes towards deepening your vocabulary in the Spanish language. From skimming, scanning and reading the newspaper, you almost continually pick up new words, expressions and meanings in the Spanish language. If you listen to the radio or watch TV in Spanish, the same is happening with your listening comprehension skills. When you mumble at the neighbors, passersby, people in the store or on the bus, your vocabulary in Spanish continually creeps upwards and upwards, whether you want it to or not. You DO want to continue to grow and develop in Spanish, don’t you? Then Spanish immersion is the best way to go, especially with listening comprehension skills.

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    Listening Comprehension Development

    Listening comprehension development via numerous native speakers happens almost whether you want it to or not. Why? It’s because everything you hear in Spanish gets absorbed into your cerebral cortex passed through the Corpus Callosum between your left and right brain and into the cerebellum being processed as “comprehensible input” according to Linguist and researcher Stephen D. Krashen. This means that your brain takes in and processes all you hear in Spanish whether you understand it at the time or not. You start developing “an ear” for the many different accents and pronunciations of Spanish by different native speakers broadening your listening comprehension skills with each audio encounter.

    Since all Spanish language input is via native speakers, your brain is constantly in over-drive as far as language learning is concerned, giving you a distinctive advantage in language acquisition. When virtually everything you hear is in Spanish, your brain begins to process the language faster, better and with ever greater comprehension as time passes.

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    Immediate Error Correction

    Immediate error correction by native Spanish speakers is a virtual constant when you are learning under conditions of immersion. When you mispronounce a word or phrase you have immediate feedback since people may not understand you. You then react, attempting to “correct” your speech or pronunciation.

    Quiero ir a la carrera 66 con calle tercera en El Refugio.” I directed the “taxista.”

    ¿Si señor, a la Carrefour en la 70?” responded the taxi driver mistakenly.

    No”, I answered.

    Vamos a El Refugio”, naming the well-known neighborhood I lived in again, attempting to speak more clearly this time.

    It worked.

    The cab driver repeated what I said, promptly turned left and we were on our way across town. I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Native speakers often inadvertently repeat what you say using the correct form in Spanish offering you immediate error correction to your speech when you are in a Spanish immersion situation.

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    The soldier had enough. When I reached into my pocket for my passport, he raised his rifle and let the dog go at the same time.

    ¿Que estás haciendo?” he barked rudely.("What are you doing?)

    With the drug-sniffing dog energetically “examining” body parts I’d rather not discuss, I held up my American Passport. The situation defused quickly and minutes later I was on my way.

    Spanish immersion allows an in-depth approach to learning a foreign language such as Spanish in ways unmatched by other methods making it a prime method to acquire language. But how can you simulate immersion if you can’t actually be abroad in a Spanish-speaking country? This will be discussed in the next installment in this article series. “Hasta la vista, baby” as the Terminator would say.