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How Spanish Immersion Made Me Look At Language Learning Differently

Updated: Jan 1, 2019

Here are my top 10 Elements of Experience I learned from my trip to San Miguel.

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.

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

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.

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