Language Trips- the importance of immersion

Languages Trip
February 10, 2017

The importance of immersion when learning a foreign language cannot be understated. Scientists have said for some time that language learning begins in the womb. The child listens to the words uttered by the mother and their brain begins to become attuned to the sounds and although they will not yet understand the meanings, they are already beginning to notice the patterns. During a child’s first few years of life it learns to connect these sounds with the associated objects, eventually beginning to understand how to voice more complex notions and thoughts. Immersion is the key to language learning; it is the way we all learnt our mother tongue.  

Learning a second language is no different. Whilst bookish levels of grammar are important, connecting objects with their associated words and voicing thoughts in another language, without needing to first translate from the mother tongue, can only be achieved through prolonged contact with the target language. The easiest way to do this, like a newborn baby, is to fully immerse yourself.

But, can you really master a language if you do not understand the culture that helped form it? A famous, controversial answer to this query (for you linguists out there) is the Sapir & Whorf hypothesis. To those who are less familiar with this theory, it is the idea that language is relative to the culture in which it is spoken. According to this theory, the speakers of languages such as French, Spanish and Italian where the speaker must choose the pronoun which denotes the social relationship between themselves and their interlocutor (‘tu’ and ‘vous’, ‘tu’ and ‘usted’, ‘tu’ and ‘Lei’ respectively), are therefore more sensitive to social constructs, and are more versed in whether they should address someone in a formal or an informal manner. Languages such as English, for example, where there is no distinction between ‘you’ to a Lord and ‘you’ to a friend, according to the hypothesis, are therefore less sensitive to this social difference. Of course, this is quite a bold, generalising statement as native English speakers are clearly able to tell the difference between formal and informal conversation and change the way they address someone accordingly, using perhaps the conditional mood rather than the more direct indicative, and it is now generally accepted that Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf went slightly too far with their theory. However it is undeniable that culture and language are intertwined and have an influence over each other, and in order to be able to be bilingual, you must learn to become bicultural.  

An example which demonstrates the importance of enveloping yourself in the culture in order to learn the language is Italian. Italians are stereotyped as being very expressive in their communication, however, these movements are not meaningless, they add depth and a subtly to a conversation that words alone could not convey. For example, you may be sat in a café in Venice and see a couple sitting across from you, one turns to the other and clasps their hands together in mock prayer and slowly shakes them forwards and backwards, staring into the eyes of the other. Whilst you may not be able to hear the conversation, the movement itself suggests deep incredulity and complete bewilderment at what the other person is saying. Similarly, if the person were to finish eating their meal and press their index finger into their cheek, twirling it into the skin, this would suggest that the meal was particularly good, an expression which means more than simply stating that it was tasty. These are communicative habits that would be difficult to understand had the learner not watched them in play themselves, in Italy.

This is why, here at Adaptable Travel, we put immersion at the very heart of our language packages. The start of your trip will reflect what is to come, direct contact and practice with French. You will be welcomed into the hotel by native speakers, where your students will get the chance to ask questions and exercise their French. You will be accommodated at the European Campus Sainte-Thérèse, where you will also have your French tuition, mimicking a university campus and placing your trip in an academic, student-centred setting.

Your visits carry on this immersive aspect, allowing your students to practise ordering meals in the target language, conversing with the waiters, asking questions and hearing their replies. They will experience a French cheese tasting session with their tutors, cuisine being an important aspect of French culture. You will sail along the Seine on the Bateaux Mouches river cruise, listening to descriptions of the Eiffel Tower, le Louvre, la Notre Dame and le Museé d’Orsay, all in French, learning about their history and architecture. You will also visit the Medieval Château de Fontainebleau, which once housed Napoléon le 1èr, and learn about the French monarchy and eventual République, and the arduous revolution which changed the entire course of French politics. You will eat in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, climb to its 2ième stage and gaze over the infamous ‘toits de Paris’. You will experience the more modern side of Paris, wandering around the Disney Village, listening to conversations between French families and drinking in the attractions of the resort. Each day, your students will return to the ECST where they can put their newfound vocabulary into practice with the expert tutors, playing around with the grammar and learning more about why the sentences are structured the way that they are, so they can understand how to structure their own. At the end of the trip, each student will receive a course certificate to commemorate their achievements and allow them to remember their time in Paris.  

Take a look at our language immersion trips now, including our popular French language immersion in Paris school trip.

Blog written by Lauren Tandy, our linguist, Educational Travel Consultant at Adaptable Travel and has a joint degree in French and Italian.