The Method of Immersion: Bogus?

I have many relatives who believe that the only way I would ever learn Hindi is by sticking myself in a place where Hindi is the only language spoken. This way, I would supposedly adapt to the situation and pick up Hindi in pieces. However, this has only worked partially for me. The majority of my learning has come from traditional methods, through grammar, vocabulary, and reading. However, I will not deny the merits of immersion, because it has helped me grasp some concepts of the language in practice, and also some more idiomatic usages.

However, as a method of learning in its entirety, I am against the immersion method, particularly for beginners with no experience in the target language whatsoever. It is for the same reason that I greatly dislike Rosetta Stone. The immersion method exists on the principle of building up from an existing foundation, which assumes that the learner actually has one. However, those who are not familiar with even the trappings of a language or its roots will find it extremely difficult to benefit from this at all. Think about it; Why would you learn anything significant from somebody talking to you in what is, for all intents and purposes, gibberish? Living for six months in Seoul, knowing not a word of Korean or not being familiar with the language at all, will yield absolutely nothing in getting ahead in learning the language. Even a phrasebook would help you more than that.

The immersion method relies greatly on pictures, context, and most importantly, an environment that is dedicated to learning. The last one is the nail in the coffin, so to speak. Living in a place where you do not know the language is not conducive to learning for several reasons. One, the people around you have their own lives and probably won’t stop to help you learn, unless they know that you’re expressly there for that reason. Next is the fact that you don’t even know what you’re supposed to be learning, which is why you need to be familiar with the language’s grammar and vocabulary. It’s as if you were searching for a needle in haystack where there is no needle in the first place. As for pictures and context, those can be found in abundance, but are hardly useful if the script of the language is not the same as one you already know.

Therefore, I believe that is better to have some knowledge of the language on an analytical level, and then expose yourself to immersive situations in increasing degrees. That’s my piece for today, and even though it was relatively short, I hope you found it interesting. Please leave your comments, and feel free to share this on Facebook and Tumblr!

When and Why Grammar (Is/Can Be) Important

As a something of proponent of grammar-based learning, I should admit that I’m biased when it comes to whether grammar is important or not. When my peers and I learned English in elementary school (which ironically is called grammar school everywhere else, for a reason), we were told that good grammar was important because it showed that you were educated. But when I’m at school, there are still some people who speak with minor grammar infractions. But why is that? It could be that grammar in speech is not enforced as much as it is in writing. We see this in a lot of places; while the sign of a business may be written in good English, the people running the establishment may have less-than-perfect speaking skills.

But you may be wondering what this has to do with foreign language. There are numerous people who give up on foreign language because they have trouble grasping the grammar. But this is not their fault; it’s not a question of studying enough. Some people simply don’t learn that way. Many respected linguists and teachers of foreign languages have said that grammar shouldn’t be stressed as much as it is in most classes. And that is true; grammar can be overwhelming if you’re not interested in it. However, this is not to say that grammar shouldn’t be taught at all. Now, I’m going to discuss reasons for whether grammar is a necessity.

Better Reading and Writing

This is a bit of a given. The written form of almost any language is expected to be flawless for the majority of the speaking populace. Again: grammar-wise. The actual written content and the mechanics of the language used to convey it are separate. Good grammar is essential to not be only understood but also show yourself as an educated, intelligent person. I realize that there are people who may view educated writing as pretentious, but I feel that is more a product of word choice and actual content. Good grammar knowledge also enables you to understand more advanced texts, because certain meanings and nuances are conveyed by more complex grammatical structures, some of which include different moods and cases.

Enhanced Understanding of Nuances

As I said before, a good grammatical understanding allows you to get certain nuances of the language. This is especially relevant when the language that you’re learning is not at all connected with your own, meaning that you have no foundation to work up from. When Romance language speakers use the subjunctive, certain uses suggest a notion of uncertainty, doubt, hypothetical conditions, etc., in a way that English doesn’t. When Korean speakers shift between the “modes” of formality and politeness, this provides certain undertones to the speech. Memorizing phrases and substituting words is no better than memorizing lists upon lists of vocabulary and rules. I think it’s important to encourage synthesis, rather than mechanical/robotic repetition.

Stress Undermines Motivation and Appreciation

As you’re probably very aware, an overt stress of grammar is detrimental to learning. It creates the impression that language is just grammar rules and words. This is not only hugely demoralizing, but also a huge underestimation of the power of language to convey the human experience. Each language is unique in its capacity to express the history, emotions, and experiences of a people.

Narrowed Understanding of the Language as a Whole

Not everyone says the same thing the same way. This is a fact of life. As much as knowing the grammar lets you make your own sentences independently, it also limits your ability to understand other dialects and expressions. Whatever you’re taught in a class or grammar book is the standardized version of the language, which not everyone speaks on a daily basis. Sometimes, the standardized version of the language is seen as pretentious, arrogant, uptight, or downright unnatural. Granted, the remedy to this requires that you go to various regions where the language is spoken, so that you can get exposed.

I hope you got something out of reading this! Please share this with your friends and feel free to leave any comments!