Why Immersion Courses Are Anti-Adult

You attended your first Spanish class by choice (or someone’s choice).

You sat down, and more likely than not, the teacher spoke to the class slowly, patiently, and with a friendly smile on her face… in Spanish.

Besides speaking very slowly and clearly, she did a lot to help you understand what she was saying through gestures and other clues. She also helped you understand what you needed to say to reply appropriately.

It’s likely she related in full sentences some greetings and introduced herself as the teacher. She probably helped you and each of your classmates to introduce yourselves in full sentences and to add that you were students or studying Spanish. It’s possible she asked you where you live or where you are from and that you learned to reply then ask the same of her and each other. Finally, it’s almost a sure bet that you left that room having learned at least one way to say please, thank you, and goodbye.

The immersion-only method was and would be the means by which she would guide you through your new language. If you had questions about the language, you would have to figure out how to ask these questions in Spanish and then figure out what the answers meant in Spanish. This meant you would not be asking your own questions anytime soon but would have to wait patiently for the answers to come through further instruction.

Thankfully, the teacher did not expect you to know more than she was able to relate in that short period of time. She didn’t expect you to know anything else than what you had so far been given and that she expected you to simply and fully accept at face value. The immersion method school boasts that its learners learn a new language just as they learned their first one and as all children naturally do. There was and is just one problem with this: although it works, it works well for children.

For very young children, there are realistically fewer and lesser expectations. Very young children’s lives are such that they have the time to let vital information come when the need for it comes up.

This kind of time, however, wasn’t your reality at all. In fact, there was a quiz coming up right away. Rather than asking questions that you couldn’t yet formulate, you would have to do the next best thing: memorize, cram, and hope for the best.

You may have passed all the quizzes, perhaps even with flying colors. You wonder and lament now why you can’t remember much at all or maybe even why it sure feels like you didn’t learn anything. If you never missed a class, how can this be true? You did what you were supposed to do.

You followed a language course. You didn’t learn a language.

You may understand more of the language than you can produce, and that is also typical, but if you spent any significant amount of time taking language classes, that is a disappointing result.

You might chalk it up to what everybody else says: Adults simply don’t learn as well as children do. But here's what really happened:

You were taught as if you were still a child, so sadly, you learned neither as well as a child would nor as well as an adult could.

It’s nearly always assumed that immersion-only, the method of teaching and learning a new language in that same language, is superior to any other, and with the many other sorry ways that have been employed to teach and learn languages, that is almost true. That would be true if it weren't for The Parlay Way, Parlay Vacay's method we call "insertion" which efficiently uses immersion but isn't immersion-only.

Very young children in natural immersive new language environments may learn to communicate with confidence more quickly than their adult counterparts, but it must be pointed out that these children’s vocabularies, even in their native languages, are usually in the low hundreds at best and grow more slowly than an adult can learn new vocabulary. Adults who speak with very young children use repetitive vocabulary within certain parameters appropriate for their understanding.

Most people are surprised to hear it when I say that the ideal recipient of formal language instruction is the adult and not the child, but it makes perfect sense for two major reasons:

  1. A child's intelligence is relatively fluid as he or she is capable of contemplating new ideas with less judgement, but he or she will not care about or comprehend the importance of understanding the larger picture of how the new language actually works or the best methods for learning the new language. Children will grow frustrated easily if expected to deal with any of these extraneous details, possibly resulting in a hatred for the language as a subject and its lessons one more chore.

  2. Children prefer to play rewarding games with exciting vocabulary and phrasing. An instructor has to become a type of performer or emcee to capture and maintain the attention of children for brief periods of time for lessons that feature vocabulary more than anything else. Although vocabulary is a very important part of language learning and languages cannot be learned without it, it can be best used to make a list rather than a language.

On Day One, young children might be able to get a good head start at memorizing the vocabulary related to the major colors or the numbers one through ten and some favorite animals if this information is presented in a highly engaging way.

Adults have two game-changing advantages that if utilized can catapult their learning:

1. Adults who elect to learn a new language can see the value in not just learning words and phrases but in understanding how that new language actually works and how it is similar to or different from their own language. This understanding of the bigger picture provides a solid foundation for their new learning to grow deeper roots and expand exponentially.

2. Adults, with a reasonable knowledge of their own language already possess a vocabulary that is far more vast than that of the typical very young child. Like children, adults can memorize new information too, but, more crucial is that they have relatively higher crystallized intelligence allowing them to connect existing knowledge to new knowledge, making it more meaningful, useful, and ultimately, more retainable.

On Day One, most mature learners will be able to lay a solid foundation for their learning of the new language and are capable of coming to an understanding (with no emphasis placed on memorization) the following key machinations: how articles and descriptors work with nouns, how to make plurals or that there are various ways to make plurals and what they are, and how the verb conjugation chart works. Given a sample of regular vocabulary in the above categories, they will be capable of attempting short sentences.

What's the takeaway here? Well, a couple of things.

Not only is it never too late to learn a new language, but there are clear advantages in learning later, or with maturity, as that learning can be structured more efficiently at greater speed and can be more meaningful and thus, lasting. Adults can learn new languages better than children do if taught like the adults that they are.

Which language is on YOUR bucket list?

Parlay Vacay: Language Vacations offers intimate group destination course packages that help you learn a new language or level up your existing foreign language skills while on a real, relaxing vacation.

Contact Parlay Vacay to learn more: email@parlayvacay.com

  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Quora-icon
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn