HOW SPANISH IMMERSION GAVE ME AN EXPERIENTIAL UNDERSTANDING OF LANGUAGE LEARNING

HOW SPANISH IMMERSION GAVE ME AN EXPERIENTIAL UNDERSTANDING OF LANGUAGE LEARNING

This summer, after only nine Spanish classes, I spent three weeks in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, four hours a day in Spanish immersion. I believe the intensity of the learning experience deepened my emotional understanding of the language learning process. I couldn’t help but think that my experience was very similar to that of my language learners.

10 Elements of that Experience 

  • Slow speech helped—a lot.

If the words came too fast, I could miss the entire message.  Missing the beginning was even  enough for me to never catch up.

 

  • I needed my teacher to write the words on the whiteboard so I could see them. Sometimes I also needed gestures.

The visual helped me picture the information in my mind and consequently remember. I didn’t have to guess the spelling or need the wherewithal to look it up when I returned home, hoping my spelling was actually accurate.

 

  • Understanding was ten times easier than word retrieval and verbal expression—well, until after the fact.

Like so many of my students, when given the word, I often could be heard saying, in a sudden moment of recognition, “Oh, of course. I know that.”

 

  • I was learning so much so fast that at times it all became a jumble before becoming clear.

Other times, it would be clear, become a jumble then become clear again.

 

  • Feeling comfortable making mistakes, and guessing were huge positive learning strategies.

Accepting my errors as helpful and often funny was a life-saver.

 

  • Being patient with the process, trusting repetition, practice, and visualizing words and associations were invaluable.

I had to respect that language learning is hard work. I had to be patient with myself or resilience would evaporate.

 

  • Sometimes when I was totally lost in the moment, I had to wait until later to ask the teacher for clarification—and even then I could walk away with only a vague understanding.

I knew that not understanding everything was part of the process, and with practice and more explanation, increased understanding would come.

 

  • Using working memory was immensely helpful.

My familiarity with French, another romance language, helped me go into my brain, retrieve similarities, and use the information for learning.

 

  • When the learning was extra challenging, I often became mentally exhausted.

I sometimes had to abandon physical or mental activities I had scheduled to incorporate extra extended downtime to recuperate. (FYI: even the twenty-two year old minds became exhausted.)

 

  • Talking and talking and talking—even when I was decimating the language—helped imbed the language into my brain.

Sometimes I would even say something in English and ask how to say it in Spanish. The kindness of my accepting listeners was helpful beyond words.

“How we communicate affects our joy of being alive.” – Linda

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