This month’s blog post is written by Caitlin Morgan, daughter of Alex Morgan our Managing Director here at Abbey Communication. Caitlin is currently on a year abroad in France and below she describes the benefits of an immersive learning experience on her language skills so far!
“It’s been said time and time again by those in the know: immersing yourself entirely in a different country and culture is the best, and most effective, way of improving your language skills. As someone currently on their year abroad in France, I have, and am continuing to have, first-hand experience of the immersion experience. As of the 27th October 2019, I’ve been living in France, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that this has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to do. But, I can also tell you that it will end up being one of the most useful things I will ever do. The immersion experience is a completely overwhelming experience, but there are undeniable benefits.
Firstly, an unavoidable benefit of immersion is that you are absolutely forced to speak and listen in your target language. You can’t just revert back to your native language, because the chances of someone being able to speak your native language are slim to none. You are forced to find ways around saying things instead of just copping out and pointing and shouting in English like many Brits Abroad do. Although it is incredibly difficult, this obstacle allows you to find ways to express yourself and your language develops at an unbelievable pace. While your sentences may be a bit convoluted and not exactly grammatically perfect (my sentences in English aren’t even grammatically perfect!), you’re still forcing yourself to speak in the target language no matter what. Indeed, by doing this, the native speaker with whom you are interacting will be able to tell you what you mean and how to express the idea in a much more simplistic way. You would not be able to get this if you had given up and reverted back to your native tongue. Immersion is a forceful process. It pushes you far, far out of your comfort zone, but this enables you to reach into the depths of your brain and find the vocabulary that you need. Repeating this daily means your vocabulary and grammar will improve.
On a similar note, immersion also allows you to truly speak like a local. It’s all good and well learning a language in a classroom or university lecture theatre, but, undeniably, this is an artificial environment where rigid, old-fashioned grammar rules are taught and where slang is completely banned. By immersing yourself in a language and culture, you pick up on the small phrases and responses that locals genuinely use, but which would never in a million years be found in Bescherelle. These modern, colloquial words and sentences that you hear make communication with a native speaker much easier and certainly, in a business environment, the facilitation of communication is incredibly important. Of course, sticking to rigid, classroom-level language is fine, but using local slang and colloquial terms is imperative in becoming a fluent speaker, and, in my experience, this is only truly achieved through immersion and through hearing the phrases used in the real world and in context.
However, as with everything in life, there are some drawbacks and difficulties that you will come across when you undertake an immersion, no matter the length of your immersion. You can undertake an immersion for seven months like me, or just for a week or two, but, no matter what, you will be tired. Having to think and speak in a different language, all day, every day, is genuinely exhausting. But, it is really important to realise that this is totally normal and every single person gets like this during an immersion. What you’re doing requires a lot of mental strain, so it’s important to rest when you can and be really kind to yourself. If you don’t feel capable of going travelling on a particular day because you are just too tired, that’s totally fine! You won’t have the same energy levels as you do in your home country, but, with time, they will come back. Unfortunately, it is a case of having to persevere through the brick wall to get to the other side!
What I’ve also found during my year abroad so far is how much I miss weird, small things from the UK that I never ever thought I’d miss. Having grown up in Malmesbury, I was used to the picturesque Abbey, the little, perfectly-sized cottages and the quaint little cafés. Nothing was particularly new for me. But, now, I miss them! I ache to see the Abbey again. Where I’m currently living is very medieval, very French and incredibly beautiful. But, there is this rich sense of very brash Britishness about my town, in its architecture and its people, the humour and the cuisine, that I really, weirdly, miss. Before I left, it was frustrating and really rather boring. Now, it’s a quirk that I never realised I actually quite liked, deep down. Forgive me for sounding like Bill Bryson (although there is no shame in that), but it’s true. Being immersed in a different country means being plagued by things that I didn’t really know I cared for in the first place, but is now all I can think about when I think of the UK. Homesickness is a big obstacle that you will face during an immersion – homesick for the food, your family, your friends, the HUMOUR (when will I learn how to be sarcastic in French?), the buildings, the weather (weirdly enough)… the list goes on. But, once again, everyone deals with homesickness to varying degrees whilst on an immersion. It’s only natural. You’ve grown up in one environment your whole life, and then, for a week, or several, you have to go and live like a local in an environment totally alien to your own. Mercifully, immersions only last so long, and you will be able to go home eventually!
But, if homesickness is a big obstacle, just know that what you’re doing is a means to an end, and the benefits of an immersion far outweighs the drawbacks, in my opinion. The language and communication skills that you develop will be invaluable in your career or just in later life, and the resilience and determination that you develop when you are confronted with the difficulties will be immensely important in any situation that you face, whether that be in business or at university.”
To find out more about the immersive learning experiences Abbey Communication offers please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org