Learning through Immersion?

General discussion about learning languages
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Learning through Immersion?

Postby vivirloca33 » Thu Mar 14, 2019 4:47 pm

Hello Everyone,
I am writing to get a bit of advice. I am currently living in Colombia and have been living here for the last 2 months. I had several years of Spanish learning under my belt before coming however once I arrived I realized that I didn't know as much as I initially believed. I can have conversations and I know a ton of vocabulary but I have problems with listening comprehension. I am still unsure about how I should proceed to get to the next level. I am living with a family of Colombians now but just wondering if anyone has any suggestions on how to improve daily. I also work 9 hours a day teaching English at an institute here.
I am watching tv and speaking everyday but I still get frustrated with my lack of ability.
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Re: Learning through Immersion?

Postby Speakeasy » Thu Mar 14, 2019 9:34 pm

@vivirloca33, welcome to the forum! I look forward to reading your comments on a host of language-learning related issues. My first comment would be that your situation is far from unique, that millions upon millions of migrants go through the same process, that the disheartening sense of being disoriented will pass, and that you will most definitely succeed! Now, then …

I had a similar full-immersion experience in French. Somewhat like you, I had studied French in high school but had never had an opportunity to use the language. Then, some 25 years later, at my request, my employer transferred me to a small town in the interior of Quebec where no one in my entourage spoke English. My poor colleagues had to put up with my most elementary efforts at communicating with them in the workplace and I had to learn to survive linguistically. In addition, in order to enjoy the privilege of practicing my profession in the province, I was given one year from the time of my arrival to prepare for and to sit a CEFR B2 examination in French which, were I to not succeed, I would be barred from practicing my profession, which would give my employer cause to review my continued employment. The only supplemental resource at my disposal was a bilingual dictionary. Other than that, I was on my own … as are millions of migrants.

The first three months were sheer hell, both for me and for my colleagues. Although the following three months were painful, things started to fall into place, at least with respect to brief, one-on-one discussions related to my duties. During the final six months, my ability to converse with several people, more-or-less simultaneously, on work-related topics grew tremendously. I sat the provincial exam and achieved a score of 94%. I am NOT suggesting that this was a significant achievement. On the contrary, in my view, given the enormous number of Latinate cognates that are part of the English language as well as a reasonably-similar basic sentence structure, Anglophones are well-situated to learn any Romance language, even in cases where they are plunged into a full-immersion situation. Now, despite my initial, rapid progress …

I hit a plateau during the first year, braking out of it during the second year was significantly harder than I had anticipated. I recall encountering two types of difficulties: (a) the ability to engage in multiple conversions without missing a beat (for example at the dinner table, where the topics change like greased-lightening), and (b) in social contexts where the locals, who share a lifetime of social references, unwittingly use coded language when referring to commonly-held held knowledge, experiences, beliefs, values, and the like. During the first six months of my second year of full-immersion, although I hit a snag from time-to-time, I was able to handle myself in “type a” situations. It took me, what, another year to develop a good-enough feel for the coded language in the “type b” situations. In all cases, the solution was simply maintaining intense contact with the language.

The trials that you’re enduring are absolutely normal. You will hit a plateau, perhaps several of them. You will likely regress or, at the very least, you will experience the feeling of doing so. But, if you keep at it, you will most definitely crack this nut.
Last edited by Speakeasy on Thu Mar 14, 2019 9:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Learning through Immersion?

Postby StringerBell » Thu Mar 14, 2019 9:41 pm

I think of a language as having different "versions". There's the version that you encounter in books, the version in newspapers/news shows, the version taught in schools, the version that's used conversationally (every day language), the version used in academia, etc... Knowing one of these "versions" is no guarantee that you'll be able to understand or converse in a different version; each one requires practice, exposure, study, time.

Typically, schools teach grammar rules, vocabulary words in isolation, or scripted artificial dialogues. This kind of stuff can be useful as an introduction to the language, but it is not likely going to make anyone proficient in speaking with native speakers. Textbooks and classes teach how the language should be spoken, not how the language actually is spoken. This is the reason why, for example, my husband studied English in school for over a decade, but then had no idea what native English speakers were saying when he first started encountering them. In school, he learned "pretty = beautiful" but in school they never taught that native English speakers often use "pretty" to mean "very", so he was really confused when he first started hearing things like "that's pretty ugly".

It sounds like you're already doing a lot of good things to improve your listening comprehension, which will take time. There's no short cut, unfortunately. The only way to get better at understanding native speakers is to listen to them speaking a lot and ask questions (when possible) when you don't understand something they've said.

Maybe you can ask your host family if they would be okay with you recording some conversations so that you can listen back to it later? You could try to pinpoint the parts you're having the most trouble understanding and then ask a teacher or a native speaker to help you understand and/or write out those parts.

I found it useful to read as much short contemporary text as possible (social media posts and articles, for example) because people tend to write these the way they speak, so there is a lot of spillover of vocabulary and phrases into conversation. Look up anything you don't understand and you'll start noticing these things popping up in conversation.
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Re: Learning through Immersion?

Postby AndyMeg » Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:44 am

Maybe these could help to give you some context:

Interesting and confusing aspects of Colombian Spanish

Colombian Spanish

Colombia has different spanish "versions" depending on the region. And the difference between one and another version can be highly contrasting. This talks about the main eleven broader regional versions:

Understanding Colombia’s different accents

I think you could probably progress faster if you initially focus on the regional variant that is predominant in the place you are currently living in.

The variants that are usually more represented on national TV are the "rolo", the "costeño" and the "paisa", so if you are in one of those regions you could get a good amount of audiovisual material like telenovelas or so that can help you get used to them and practice your listening comprehension. For other regional versions, you could try to watch the local TV channels (those that are specific for the city or region you are living in) and focus, for example, on the local news.

And, of course, it is important to ask the locals about the meaning (and the context of use) of key words (and/or expressions) that you find confusing.
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Re: Learning through Immersion?

Postby vivirloca33 » Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:07 pm

Speakeasy wrote:The trials that you’re enduring are absolutely normal. You will hit a plateau, perhaps several of them. You will likely regress or, at the very least, you will experience the feeling of doing so. But, if you keep at it, you will most definitely crack this nut.

Yes, you are completely right!!! There are times where I am able to have in-depth conversations and then the next conversation I am stumbling over my word! Thank you for your encouraging words. Knowing that this experience isn't new (though I should know that) Is extremely helpful!!
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Re: Learning through Immersion?

Postby Axon » Sat Mar 16, 2019 3:06 pm

You mentioned that you have a ton of vocabulary but problems with listening, and that makes me think that there's a disconnect between how you pronounce words in your head and how they actually sound when others speak them. I suggest that you work on your pronunciation so that you have a more accurate mental picture of the sound.

As for listening practice, here are two videos from Colombia in Spanish with Spanish and English subtitles:

I've always found that watching things with subtitles in the target language is really good for me to learn to connect the written word with the spoken word.

Lastly, as someone who's gone through two immersion experiences before, don't discount the usefulness of active study. It's extremely easy for me to just think "Well I spoke my language for several hours today and watched a bunch of TV, that's all I need." In my experience, that's helpful but definitely leads to a plateau, especially if you also use English a lot throughout the day. Something as simple as doing online grammar exercises or making wordlists can have surprising results. For example, I try to read articles in Mandarin regularly, and I can definitely follow certain genres without a dictionary. But when I go through and make a list of the new words in each article, suddenly I see those new words everywhere! It's easy to skip over unknown words (written or spoken) if you can still understand the general message. Making an effort to continue actively learning will probably show results faster than you realize.
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