What is language immersion? Why is it so important to surround oneself with Spanish speakers in the long run? Traveling to a Spanish-speaking country doesn’t only have to do with seeing the sights, but also with gaining new experiences like learning Spanish. We’ll tell you how to do it, where, and the best ways to acquire the language through tourism.
Studying a Language Through Spanish Immersion
Language immersion is a learning and teaching strategy that consists of an extended stay in a foreign country to gain knowledge of a second language. Language immersion also implies a focus on speaking the language in the classroom and outside it, to come into contact with Spanish (in this case) as frequently as possible. By “a second language”, we’re referring to speaking another tongue apart from a student’s native language, of course. If you’re looking into Spanish lessons, and because Spanish is widely spoken, it’s likely you already know English, or that English is your native tongue.
The usual challenges a student faces when learning a second language are more or less constant: pronunciation, idiomatic expressions (that is, slang and colloquial language), grammar, general vocabulary and spelling. However, there are some specific mistakes that are repeated as patterns, depending on a student’s mother tongue. That’s where language immersion comes in; there are obstacles that are more easily overcome if a student–or a casual traveler–learns by listening to Spanish speakers in natural, social settings.
What’s more, the spontaneity involved in this type of language acquisition strategy benefits students much more than learning exclusively from a textbook. Textbooks, on the one hand, can be especially challenging for first-time speakers at the A1 level, or even for higher levels, for they’ll have to adapt to formal evaluations and standardized, internationally-approved testing either way. The rigidity of exercises, which tend towards textbook-approved content, and the challenges of structured learning methods, can paradoxically hinder the learning process overall.
Of course, immersion on its own is not enough and does not ensure fluency. Taking Spanish lessons–individually or in a group–is extremely important as well, and will, as we’ve said, give you the necessary structure and formality. Guidance when learning, especially when it comes to guidance by a native Spanish teacher, will allow students to systematize topics and tackle what’s difficult for them specifically.
Choosing the Right Spanish Course
In relation to this, it’s been shown that personalized instruction using multimedia tools motivates students to imitate language patterns. Multimedia (i.e. movies, literature and other digital or interactive media) encourages students to think about language in diverse, real-life settings. Figuring out meaning by context, contextualizing and filtering out information in order to comprehend general meaning, and interacting with elements of Spanish-speaking cultures are all correlated with an immersive learning experience.
Choosing the right Spanish course is a challenge considering that each student has a personal history with the language, a relationship to language acquisition and, of course, different pacing when it comes to both learning and the language itself. There are some courses that are more textbook-based than others, and aim to instruct students based on more rigid didactic methods such as memorization and repetition; these types of courses might also require students to take a standardized test to move forward, and towards more advanced classes. Some courses have a more innovative approach. This methodology could include a focus on speaking rather than memorization; cultural outings; a process-oriented stance more than a goal-oriented one.
Of course, it’s not mandatory that a potential student become familiar with language teaching methods. However, knowing the didactic orientations when it comes to SSL (Spanish as a Second Language) can be a deciding factor to choosing the right lessons.
Most schools and academies nowadays choose a process-oriented approach. Group lessons have become popular, which, of course, imply grading and pairing students of similar language levels to ensure an equal and horizontal progression or, at least, a more uniform discussion within the class environment. There are many determining factors when it comes to choosing the right instructor.
Firstly, it’s important to note that there are no objectively good or bad instructors per se; instead, one should factor in personal goals, the time that’ll be spent learning Spanish in total (or to plan ahead in case you are interested in an extended stay), and your proficiency in the language. In any and all cases, the instructor should provide support, constant communication and appropriate input for all students.
Why Learning Spanish in Argentina Can Improve Speaking and Writing Skills
One of the most important factors of language tourism is immersion itself, both as a learning experience and as a cultural one. Immersion means that the student or interested party will necessarily have to come into contact with another culture. By “culture” we’ve come to understand many different things, such as a way of living and processing information, a relationship to the arts and other forms of production. Most importantly, cultural immersion implies deeply acclimating to what’s perceived as different or even menacing.
A study on the impacts of SSL teaching through immersion by language tourism states that “the most successful learners seem to be those who are more open and mature, who avoid maintaining a close contact with their home, try to integrate in host community or host family activities, and are persistent”. These impacts can be negative if immersion gives way to a cultural clash, or to anxieties and inhibitions. However, according to many international studies, it’s highly likely that contact between cultures–whether it’s the culture in the target language or other students and peers–will reduce prejudice.
Language immersion in Latin America, and learning at a Spanish school while traveling, benefits students for precisely this: Latin American culture on the whole is much less well known than Spanish culture (a.k.a. Spain), and there can be negativity surrounding Latin-Americans, at least as a (perceived) ethnic group. Visiting a country like Argentina, for instance, with its strong European cultural background and demographic, makes for a good option so students can transition from English into Spanish more smoothly. Another part of language immersion, as we’ve said, are cultural activities and group outings in the city.
Other classes that are not directly related to SSL learning, such as workshops, are also beneficial. There are many aspects of cultural immersion that aren’t strictly related solely to language learning. For instance, in Argentina, national film is a big part of artistic culture; drinking mate (a hot, herbal infusion) and fernet (a herb-based alcoholic beverage originally from the Córdoba province) are all important to socializing properly while in the country. Lunfardo and Argentine body language are key to understanding this Spanish variant, as gestures greatly influence verbal communication.
Some schools even offer accomodation and airport transfer if you’re not traveling with a Spanish immersion program from your home country nor with other businesses that provide similar services. Studying in a Latin-American city, and especially in a centric area, rather than in a more isolated setting like a rural town or a small village, is one of the main reasons to choose Buenos Aires, México D.F. or Lima over other locations. Latin America is home to many variants of the Spanish language that are between borders, so one benefit of choosing the area to study Spanish is just how many regional varieties there are.
Lastly, it’s important that a school provides teachers that are native Spanish speakers, and this is not the case with all schools. Teachers often cover multiple roles, such as orienting students for how to get around the city and what to see. Although this doesn’t replace a full language immersion program (with a “study abroad” focus or with a language tourism orientation), finding a school with a flexible program will allow students to shift their learning style and focus to either incorporating learning elements or to specifically prepare for studying Spanish.