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Total Immersion is a Crock!

  Tags: Immersion
 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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TerryW
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4547 days ago

370 posts - 783 votes 
Speaks: English*

 
 Message 1 of 40
30 June 2007 at 5:19pm | IP Logged 
First, let me say that I have no problem with studying materials where only the foreign language is spoken, and am in fact using some right now, since I am trying to pick up an understanding of spoken Spanish.

What I think is incredibly stupid is the fact that including an English transcript or providing helpful notes in English is often considered taboo for "total immersion." I remember a news story many years back when a man was not allowed to bring his Seeing Eye Dog to a total immersion class because the dog could only understand English commands. That is the absurdity I'm talking about. God forbid the others in the class would hear the word "Stay!" in their precious total immersion class. They could never learn if that happens.

Of course you will learn a language if you stay in a country and no English is spoken. That's because you're there 24/7 and have no choice. But I bet you would learn a LOT faster there if you could ask somebody "Did he just say 'My elephant wears a necktie?'" or "What is the tipping policy in this country?" instead of playing games of charades to make yourself understood.

If total immersion is so good, then I challenge somebody who knows no Spanish to watch a Spanish cable channel for 10 hours a day for a few months. He would watch all of the conversations and interaction of the soap opera (telenovela) characters, etc.

Except for hello, goodbye, please & thank you, I really doubt he would absorb much. I say that because I'm at an adv beginner / low intermediate level from studying, and I often am clueless in understanding what they are saying in some of the shows.

Even if every 10 minutes there's a commercial that has the words "Llame ahora mismo!" spoken and written onscreen ("Call right now!"), and our test subject sees and hears these words 10,000 times, I really doubt he would be able to pick up what they mean.

He could guess those words mean "Operators are standing by!" or "Supplies are limited!" or "It really works!" and he'd be totally wrong. What a waste!

How much better would it be if someone pointed out the first time he saw it that "ahora" means 'now," and that "ahora mismo" means "right now," and that "llame" is an imperative or command that means "Call!"   Like a billion percent better, maybe?

I have to laugh at the folowing quotes from a year-old thread here about "French in Action" :

Farley: "FIA assumes no prior knowledge, but I think for an absolute beginner it would be a bit mind boggling..."

Axe2: "...think French in Action assumes no prior knowledge, but I think I would have been lost if I had zero knowledge of French. It's kind of funny that in the orientation/introduction video, the creators talk about how angry their students were when they first got thrown head first into their French immersion method..."

What are the "French in Action" developers, sadists? They delight in forcing you to play a guessing game? They can’t give you an English transcript because that would ruin their pleasure in playing "Keep Away" with you?

In that first intro video, I understand their point that "Merci" doesn't mean "Thank you," it means "Merci." But I have news for them. "Merci" DOES equal "Thank you" with about 99.99% probability. It's cruel to withhold that information just so somebody can "learn in context."

I did the first Pimsleur 15 hour French cassette course many years ago, and no French since. Watching the first French In Action immersion video just now, I could only pick out the "easy" words for "thank you" and "now," etc. Besides feeling stupid and inferior, it seems like an incredible waste of time, when I could be learning to speak and understand French for real.

Everyone seems to say it's a great course, and I believe them, but I cannot imagine that it wouldn't be better with English transcripts available. (I will feel even more stupid if they are available, but I hope you get my point.)

Can somebody clue me in on the merits of 100% total immersion for learning?

Edited by TerryW on 30 June 2007 at 5:29pm

12 persons have voted this message useful



FSI
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4549 days ago

550 posts - 590 votes 
Speaks: English*

 
 Message 2 of 40
30 June 2007 at 6:02pm | IP Logged 
Quote:
If total immersion is so good, then I challenge somebody who knows no Spanish to watch a Spanish cable channel for 10 hours a day for a few months. He would watch all of the conversations and interaction of the soap opera (telenovela) characters, etc.


If someone gave me food, lodging, and some spending money, I would gladly take this offer up for any language in existence, and would be willing to bet I'd be able to converse with a native speaker of the language at the end of the three month period.
3 persons have voted this message useful



zenmonkey
Bilingual Tetraglot
Senior Member
Germany
Joined 4742 days ago

803 posts - 1119 votes 
1 sounds
Speaks: EnglishC2*, Spanish*, French, German
Studies: Italian, Modern Hebrew

 
 Message 3 of 40
30 June 2007 at 6:28pm | IP Logged 
So Terry, nice first post - a rant

how many languages have you learned? How did you learn?
3 persons have voted this message useful



reineke
Senior Member
United States
https://learnalangua
Joined 4637 days ago

851 posts - 1007 votes 
Studies: German

 
 Message 4 of 40
30 June 2007 at 6:41pm | IP Logged 
TerryW wrote:
First, let me say that I have no problem with studying materials where only the foreign language is spoken, and am in fact using some right now, since I am trying to pick up an understanding of spoken Spanish.

What I think is incredibly stupid is the fact that including an English transcript or providing helpful notes in English is often considered taboo for "total immersion." I remember a news story many years back when a man was not allowed to bring his Seeing Eye Dog to a total immersion class because the dog could only understand English commands. That is the absurdity I'm talking about. God forbid the others in the class would hear the word "Stay!" in their precious total immersion class. They could never learn if that happens...

If total immersion is so good, then I challenge somebody who knows no Spanish to watch a Spanish cable channel for 10 hours a day for a few months. He would watch all of the conversations and interaction of the soap opera (telenovela) characters, etc.

Except for hello, goodbye, please & thank you, I really doubt he would absorb much. I say that because I'm at an adv beginner / low intermediate level from studying, and I often am clueless in understanding what they are saying in some of the shows.

Even if every 10 minutes there's a commercial that has the words "Llame ahora mismo!" spoken and written onscreen ("Call right now!"), and our test subject sees and hears these words 10,000 times, I really doubt he would be able to pick up what they mean.

He could guess those words mean "Operators are standing by!" or "Supplies are limited!" or "It really works!" and he'd be totally wrong. What a waste!

Can somebody clue me in on the merits of 100% total immersion for learning?


It's precisely how I learned Italian as a kid (the TV part). It's also how I learned most of my German. I believe "llame" "ahora" and "mismo" would sink in very fast. It's actually a very good example AGAINST your argument. One merit of this overexposure to language is that it would take partial lobotomy to take what I've learned out of my head. BTW, if a method/course irritates you this much you won't advance, even if it was the best method ever.
3 persons have voted this message useful



Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 4629 days ago

4474 posts - 6724 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 5 of 40
30 June 2007 at 6:42pm | IP Logged 
TerryW wrote:
First, let me say that I have no problem with studying materials where only the foreign language is spoken, and am in fact using some right now, since I am trying to pick up an understanding of spoken Spanish.

What I think is incredibly stupid is the fact that including an English transcript or providing helpful notes in English is often considered taboo for "total immersion."


This follows by definition. If you start mixing in a second language, it's not total immersion.

TerryW wrote:

I remember a news story many years back when a man was not allowed to bring his Seeing Eye Dog to a total immersion class because the dog could only understand English commands. [...]


The fact that humans sometimes make incredibly silly decisions has no bearing on how effective immersion is or is not.

TerryW wrote:

Of course you will learn a language if you stay in a country and no English is spoken. That's because you're there 24/7 and have no choice. But I bet you would learn a LOT faster there if you could ask somebody "Did he just say 'My elephant wears a necktie?'" or "What is the tipping policy in this country?" instead of playing games of charades to make yourself understood.


Bertlitz has an interesting example of 'total immersion' being quite effective.

TerryW wrote:

If total immersion is so good, then I challenge somebody who knows no Spanish to watch a Spanish cable channel for 10 hours a day for a few months. He would watch all of the conversations and interaction of the soap opera (telenovela) characters, etc.

Except for hello, goodbye, please & thank you, I really doubt he would absorb much. I say that because I'm at an adv beginner / low intermediate level from studying, and I often am clueless in understanding what they are saying in some of the shows.


I was in the USA in January, and watched some Spanish-language television. I could understand it nearly perfectly, because I speak Italian.

That said, from listening to Japanese -radio- (aka, with no visual clues) I managed to learn more Japanese than you postulate for three months in Spanish, in the course of a few hours.

TerryW wrote:

Even if every 10 minutes there's a commercial that has the words "Llame ahora mismo!" spoken and written onscreen ("Call right now!"), and our test subject sees and hears these words 10,000 times, I really doubt he would be able to pick up what they mean.

He could guess those words mean "Operators are standing by!" or "Supplies are limited!" or "It really works!" and he'd be totally wrong. What a waste!

How much better would it be if someone pointed out the first time he saw it that "ahora" means 'now," and that "ahora mismo" means "right now," and that "llame" is an imperative or command that means "Call!"   Like a billion percent better, maybe?


Hearing the same words, in the same context, a lot of times doesn't help much. Hearing them in different contexts does.

Having a translation provided helps, to some degree, but there are pitfalls. It's easy to rely on the translation. Also, vocabulary learned this way rarely sticks the first time, so it's easy to overstate the benefit.

TerryW wrote:

I have to laugh at the folowing quotes from a year-old thread here about "French in Action" :

Farley: "FIA assumes no prior knowledge, but I think for an absolute beginner it would be a bit mind boggling..."

Axe2: "...think French in Action assumes no prior knowledge, but I think I would have been lost if I had zero knowledge of French. It's kind of funny that in the orientation/introduction video, the creators talk about how angry their students were when they first got thrown head first into their French immersion method..."

What are the "French in Action" developers, sadists? They delight in forcing you to play a guessing game? They can’t give you an English transcript because that would ruin their pleasure in playing "Keep Away" with you?

In that first intro video, I understand their point that "Merci" doesn't mean "Thank you," it means "Merci." But I have news for them. "Merci" DOES equal "Thank you" with about 99.99% probability. It's cruel to withhold that information just so somebody can "learn in context."


It's a common misconception that words in different languages are equivalent. Think of synonyms in English - "happy", "glad", "joyous", "ecstatic", "cheerful" etc do -not- mean exactly the same thing. You can't use them entirely interchangeably. When was the last time you heard someone say "I'm joyous" instead of "I'm glad"?

This isn't a great example, merely the first I thought of. Other languages vary even more. The Japanese word "arigatou" is 'thank you' - but it's also used in a large variety of other contexts, including as an apology.

The idea of FIA is to give words in context, to show how they're actually used. Trying to memorize English -equivalents- (which is a natural reaction of many people learning their first foreign language), as opposed to using English as a rough guide to meaning, guarantees incredibly strange results.

The FIA developers aren't sadists. Using the FIA videos, with no background in French, and no other materials, isn't how it was intended to be used; I can see how this could be frustrating.

TerryW wrote:

I did the first Pimsleur 15 hour French cassette course many years ago, and no French since. Watching the first French In Action immersion video just now, I could only pick out the "easy" words for "thank you" and "now," etc. Besides feeling stupid and inferior, it seems like an incredible waste of time, when I could be learning to speak and understand French for real.

Everyone seems to say it's a great course, and I believe them, but I cannot imagine that it wouldn't be better with English transcripts available. (I will feel even more stupid if they are available, but I hope you get my point.)


Why feel stupid and inferior? It's another language, and you've studied it very little, and a long time ago. If other languages were instantly comprehensible, the world would be a very different place.

TerryW wrote:

Can somebody clue me in on the merits of 100% total immersion for learning?


There are several. You hear words in context, and used correctly. You gain an idea of the shades of meaning. You can think in the target language, without getting distracted; this is a huge benefit.

That said - I do agree that total immersion, from zero, is a fairly questionable/frustrating tactic. I think purely target-language resources are extremely important, but to start from them, in a language that isn't quite transparent (ie, comprehensible to you, because of other languages you know - like my Italian/Spanish example), can be an exercise in wasted time and frustration.

10 persons have voted this message useful



236factorial
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4730 days ago

192 posts - 213 votes 
Speaks: Mandarin, English*, French
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 6 of 40
30 June 2007 at 6:45pm | IP Logged 
TerryW wrote:
If total immersion is so good, then I challenge somebody who knows no Spanish to watch a Spanish cable channel for 10 hours a day for a few months. He would watch all of the conversations and interaction of the soap opera (telenovela) characters, etc.


The reason that the person will probably learn nothing is because the subjects presented are too complicated. Children do learn with "total immersion" because they begin with simple topics. Their parents may say "good morning" or "do you want a cookie" or something like that. By repeating simple phrases, the child will learn slowly when to use them.

On the other hand, watching TV, the person will hear about marriage, troubles at work, complaints about people and places, etc. which will do no good to the learner because he will never figure out what is going on, and even less figure out when to use the words.

So, ultimately, a total immersion method of teaching in a classroom CAN work if the phrases used are carefully graded as work continues.
But, the time required is probably enormous. A child hears at least 5-6 hours of his native language per day. That would require thousands of hours to match, although possibly less since adults can learn more directly.

Is immersion better than learning based on native language? Hard to tell, because they both will work, given the time invested.
4 persons have voted this message useful



Silvestris
Bilingual Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4754 days ago

131 posts - 136 votes 
Speaks: English*, Polish*, German

 
 Message 7 of 40
30 June 2007 at 6:45pm | IP Logged 
Hm, I think that focusing on only one type of immersion (such as Spanish soap operas or Pimsleur) or very few would probably cripple your language learning because the sort of language used in every medium is a bit different. You wouldn't watch MTV for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week and then expect to be able to write an essay about Shakespeare, would you? Or read classic novels and then go out and try to converse with American teenagers?

I don't believe in 100% immersion, at least not at the very beginning of language learning, but I will say that many people I see are STILL using transcripts, translations, and bilingual dictionaries and they are way past the stage where they should need them.

My opinion is that one should use it at the beginning, to get accustomed to the language but then wean off until they are using materials completely in the target language. I can't see total immersion making language learning any easier than throwing someone who can't swim straight into a river.
2 persons have voted this message useful



Volte
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Switzerland
Joined 4629 days ago

4474 posts - 6724 votes 
Speaks: English*, Esperanto, German, Italian
Studies: French, Finnish, Mandarin, Japanese

 
 Message 8 of 40
30 June 2007 at 6:56pm | IP Logged 
People - let's not jump on Terry. He or she is trying to learn languages, and experimenting with different methods. Yes, his post was a rant - but it contained questions, and very valid observations. It looks like he/she is trying to find -how- he/she can learn effectively, and looking for feedback on what methods work, which ones don't, and what factors to take into account.



5 persons have voted this message useful



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