Full Immersion Chinese – best method to learn Chinese if you avoid one thing
Full immersion is a popular method for language learning. You bring yourself into an environment that is fostering your ties with the target language exclusively. All communication should be in your target language and all media consumption as well.
Effective: Certainly! Simple: yes, but not easy to put into practice…
What is total immersion language learning?
The idea is to use Chinese not only in the classroom, but in everyday conversation outside the classroom. With friends, buying groceries, at the train station, you name it. And not only for active communication but also all language input should be in Chinese, whether that is podcasts, TV shows or newspapers. The mind can then fully immerse into a new language and start to pick it up in a natural way – without going back and forth to other languages.
Let your brain activity process language like a native!
The main difference in a full immersion language learning session is to create thought processes that are getting more and more native like. The idea is not to “translate” from your native language or English, but rather to use expressions and conversations that are native to a certain language.
What are the main advantages of full immersion Chinese learning
There are three main advantages: first of all, your pronunciation might progress and improve much more as you are more exposed to listening to Chinese and the right tones and you directly wire your brain in a way that the focus is on natural expression and not on translation.
The second main advantage is that your ability to understand and speak is enhanced. You might not use better grammar or more elaborate language compared to a classroom language learner, but you can react faster and participate more effectively in everyday conversation.
The third main reason is that you don’t get lost in translation. You do not translate ideas, concepts and sentences from your native language into Chinese but you use expressions that might make sense right away in Chinese. This prevents you to get lost in translation or expressing things that you might not want to express. Let Kungfucius give you an example about it: Hygge and 好舒服。。。
Why is full immersion Chinese different from French or English?
Full immersion language learning is often much more prevalent in the study of French and English for native speakers of the other language. There are several reasons for this.
On one hand learning methods of English and French are often more advanced, while learning Chinese is still partly influenced by an old method of classroom teacher to student communication. Let’s stop associating it with Kungfucius. Let’s say Kungfucius wants students to master a language quickly and thoroughly and the best way to do so is full immersion.
Another reason is that German and Dutch speakers will naturally pick up a lot of English words due to many similarities. Even more, Spaniards can basically become fluent Italian speakers simply by living in Italy for some months without any specific language training as 90% of the words have the same roots. Even though English and French are not really in the same language family, still English speakers will be able to pick up a lot of words in French over time.
The third reason is script: most European scripts use the Latin script to reproduce the phonetics of words. Hence, it is simple to use written language to help immerse yourself in the target language. As an English speaker, you might not speak Portuguese at all, but probably understand “futebol”. Now in Chinese, that would be “足球”. Impossible to understand without context! Or try “自行车” as a Chinese learner you might know this word, but maybe you don’t. I promise you, however, that you will know what it is when I provide you with the Romanian word: “Bicicleta” or Portuguese: “Bicicleta” or Spanish: “Bicicleta”…. Ok, these are all written the same. Let me give you a word that is written differently and you still understand it. Here is the Italian expression: “Bicicletta”.
The biggest challenge awaits outside of the classroom: Students that study English in England will usually communicate in English with their classmates, if they are in an international group. Plus: The whole environment is English speaking. Similar pattern can be observed with French learners, even though some classmates switch to English in their free time. There are many great French language courses that focus on instruction in an immersive way and use clear rules and a lot of amenities so it is easy for students to be so immersed. One example is Institut de Francais near Nice.
How to achieve full immersion into Chinese?
First point is to select a school that uses a wide variety of lessons and methods of language teaching or enabling students’ different forms of language acquisition. In other words, there should be classroom teaching, audio courses, videos, debates, activities in Chinese and much more.
That means, the school should be rather modern and up to the highest standards of language learning. But at the same time, there shouldn’t be the constant allure of English. That means: Either in a Mandarin-chinese speaking city, or at least in a city where students can sort out many Mandarin speaking opportunities. A key is extra-curricular activities. Speaking with other students should be in Chinese from the get-go. This is easiest achieved, if other students are from Asian countries and students have a certain threshold of knowledge corresponding to HSK3 that allows meaningful conversations in Chinese. (find out more on HSK levels here)
Krashen’s comprehensible input and full immersion Chinese
As mentioned above, learning Chinese is quite different from learning a European language as the writing system is not phonetic and as it is much more difficult to pick up Chinese on the go. Krashen advocates for a comprehensible input. He is a Champion of reading. Something that doesn’t work too well in Chinese.
However, his idea of comprehensible input is very useful for Chinese learning. In other words: Don’t be this student:
Rather use comprehensible input via interviews and simple dialogues. Get as much comprehensible input as possible! Listen and watch Kaufmann, a proponent of comprehensible input, speak Chinese here.
Where to do full immersion Chinese training?
There are not that many options. In South China, a lot of people speak different dialects besides Mandarin. In Beijing, the local accent is sometimes rather strong. Plus: Many people in China are happy to practice their English which diminishes the ability to be in a Chinese environment. A school that talks about full immersion is this one in Chengde.
Following Kaufmann, you can learn Chinese almost everywhere nowadays with the help of online tutors, youtube and Lingq. Best however, if you can supplement this with being in at least a partial Chinese speaking environment. China comes to mind, but Malaysia or other countries could also work. Even in Vancouver or Toronto, Canada you might be able to find your favorite Chinese cafe, restaurant, hairdresser and gym to get yourself into a Chinese language environment. And if you are lucky, you will make some friends along the way!
Youtube Chinese immersion
Kungfucius special tip: Nowadays you can immerse yourself from everywhere using Youtube. Here is how in three simple steps. Step one: Create yourself an account just for Chinese. Whenever you are logged in, only follow Chinese youtube videos. Step two: Make a list of topics you like and write them down in Chinese. Travel videos for example. Third step: Follow Chinese youtubers that speak normally without having a lot of pre-scripted talks. You want to learn everyday language and that is what you learn when listening to people. Therefore, the best way is either simple interviews or when there is a couple or a group of friends traveling and when their audience is normal, native speaking Chinese. Step three: Now indulge and watch several videos. If you want, you can slow down on youtube to 0.75 speed. It is better however to just follow people that speak naturally and slowly. Do not follow pre-scripted talks as these are often faster and more difficult to follow.
Finally, if you want, you can break this full immersion a bit and look up some words so you get most out of this exercise.
Whom to follow on youtube? How about Anko&Max who travel extensively in Malaysia. Pick up a lot of conversations about traveling and food.
Full immersion Chinese for Children?
Definitely possible for a limited time. Usually full immersion means that you have a different language compared to your native language around you. Obviously that doesn’t work in terms of children that have contact with their parents and sometimes friends and children should not be separated from them. During some hours however, children can easily play and learn in a pure Chinese speaking environment i.e. at Kindergarten or elementary school! More and more Mandarin Kindergarten get established around the world.
Total immersion outside a native speaking place?
This is possible. A good example is Stephen Kaufmann who learnt Mandarin Chinese in Hong Kong, where Mandarin was not often spoken when he was there. He mentions that the most important point is motivation and use materials and resources to your advantage, even not staying in a purely Chinese speaking environment. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the best apps for Chinese study.
Cut out the monitor!
This is the main point. The monitor (a brain process that checks grammar while we speak), makes us slow and not natural. Be brave to make mistakes! The good thing is: There is not that much grammar in Chinese. So you don’t need that monitor anyways.
Do not worry about tests
One aspect that might be negative for some is that full immersion Chinese might not prepare you perfectly for official language tests. While achieving fluency in a language is often only somewhat correlated with the outcome of tests, it is often still good to go for the HSK test. Just take some time specifically for test prep and check out Kungfucius’ best tips to master the HSK test.
Your hobbies in Chinese
Find your hobbies in Chinese. Make it interesting. Nowadays, there is a lot of possibility to find material in your hobby in Chinese, no matter if that is hiking, cycling, tea ceremony or art. Just make sure that the level is 70-80% comprehensible to continue to make progress.
Conclusion on full immersion Chinese learning
Full immersion is a great way to learn Chinese, but make sure you get exposure to comprehensible input. You can also achieve a lot outside a purely Mandarin speaking environment. Sometimes, even in Europe language exchanges and meetups in Chinese can be helpful for that.
Read more about Chinese learning in these articles: