How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

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drp9341
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How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby drp9341 » Tue Jul 16, 2019 2:48 am

Hello everyone!

I have a question / discussion for everyone here. In your experience, how fluent / close to a native-like level can one achieve without immersion and / or using the language daily in a wide variety of situations?

Please Note: I'm using the phrase, "some sort of immersion" in a very loose and general sense. Think: Regular, Frequent and Meaningful Contact with Native Speakers
Examples of what would "qualify" as some sort of immersion would be
- Living with a boyfriend / girlfriend with whom you primarily speak your TL.
- Spending lots of time doing diverse activities with a group (or at least 2) friends who are natives speakers of your target language.
- The vast majority of coworkers are natives / the primary language at work is your TL, AND you maintain some degree of friendship / informal contact with these natives.

--------------
(OPTIONAL READING / BACKGROUND INFO BELOW)
My Experience as an American who's lived abroad since finishing University:

I've met two non-native speakers of English who had achieved (more or less) native level American English speaking and writing skills. Neither of them satisfied any of the requirements above, however both lived their whole lives in Europe, and loved English, and studied it very intensely over a period of many years. I think English in Europe, (even though one was Italian, and the other Romanian) might be in a unique situation though due to its dominance, especially it's dominance on the internet and social media.

Other than these two very intelligent and driven individuals, I have yet to meet anyone else who was able to express themselves as well as the average American. I've met another dozen or so who come very close, (think Luca Lampariello for example,) but out of the hundreds of non-native English speakers I've had a decent amount of contact with, there's only been those two - and they were both even younger than me - one was 3 years younger, and the other was 5 years younger. Note: I'm not counting people who've spent more than a year living in America while also meeting my above definition!
[edit] The people who I'm referring to above as having come very close to it generally reveal their non-nativeness when it came to "simple things" especially word order, pragmatics (formal/informal), and using complex sentences to express things (especially commands or suggestions) that even the most pedantic of natives would say in much simpler, possibly idiomatic ways.
Note: For reference I'm comparing them to the average American with a high school education (minus jargon,) which honestly isn't a very high standard. I'm not comparing them to law students and professors.

*** I'm especially interested in hearing what native speakers of languages other than English have to say about this! ***
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Re: How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby nooj » Tue Jul 16, 2019 5:54 am

how fluent / close to a native-like level


These two things do not belong together. One can be very fluent in a language without having a close to native like level, depending on what you understand by fluent of course. I understand fluency as comfortableness in the debit of speech.

Let me just say that many people, I'd dare to say most people, don't need nor want to speak a foreign language at a close to a native-level.

If you live in Italy and you need to speak English to deal with German tourists on a daily basis but about a limited range of topics, why would you need or want to speak English like an English native speaker? That would be a waste of time and effort.

For someone like that, they can make huge strides towards financial and laboral success without ever running the risk of being mistaken for a native speaker by anyone. I would consider such a person with B1 in English just as successful in terms of meeting their goals as someone who has worked towards C1.

how fluent / close to a native-like level can one achieve without immersion and / or using the language daily in a wide variety of situations?
If you are looking for native level, then it is impossible.

It is like asking 'how can I become a master cellist, but unlike how master cellists become master cellists, I'll only practice an hour every week ?' It is a contradiction in terms. Native speakers are native speakers/insanely good speakers of their languages because they use the language everyday. If you set yourself such a lofty goal, then I see no other way than to use the language...A LOT.
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Re: How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby Saim » Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:12 am

drp9341 wrote:Note: For reference I'm comparing them to the average American with a high school education (minus jargon,) which honestly isn't a very high standard. I'm not comparing them to law students and professors.


I think you're severely underestimating the communicative competence of the average American with a high school education. Being able to speak like the average American with a high school education is a very serious, ambitious goal as a non-native.

In fact I'd say that being able to express yourself to a native standard in a specific technical field would be a more straightforward project than learning how to master the colloquial language in all possible situations.

To give you an example: I remember in Spoken language analysis class in my MA program (in Linguistics) we spent most of the second semester analysing the pragmatic structure of 'narratives', which is basically just telling a story to your friends ("so I go to my friend's place and he's like..."). One girl did her end-of-semester presentation on a 'storytime' from YouTube, and she managed to say a lot more than I did when analysing a political speech (maybe that's just indicative of my competence as a student, though :P ).

To answer your question: no, it's not possible without "some sort" of immersion. But you can do immersion purely in native media without necessarily using the language at work or in your social circles. I'd suggest looking at the YouTube channel Matt vs Japan, he gives very concrete advice on how apply the idea of largely media-based immersion in practice with the goal of getting to a near-native level. But it's going to take ages even when applying efficient strategies, so you should make sure to consider whether this is something you really want.
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Re: How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby Adrianslont » Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:40 am

Saim wrote:
drp9341 wrote:Note: For reference I'm comparing them to the average American with a high school education (minus jargon,) which honestly isn't a very high standard. I'm not comparing them to law students and professors.


I think you're severely underestimating the communicative competence of the average American with a high school education. Being able to speak like the average American with a high school education is a very serious, ambitious goal as a non-native.

In fact I'd say that being able to express yourself to a native standard in a specific technical field would be a more straightforward project than learning how to master the colloquial language in all possible situations.

I basically agree with you - high school native speaker level is not too shabby! Native is native.

However, I’ll add one qualification, it’s surprising how limited some high school graduates literacy skills can be. Of course many are fine but a surprisingly large number of high school graduates struggle to string together a coherent, articulate email. I base this comment on observation of those I have worked with. My context is the same as yours Saim, Australia.

A highly educated L2 learner with a really high level of a that foreign language can often put together a more coherent piece of extended writing than a native - even if it has obvious grammar issues or occasional non-idiomatic expressions.

We see this phenonemon on this forum, plenty of non-natives writing in English yet expressing themselves better than many high school level natives. And I guess a number of our fellow members would have achieved this level without immersion.
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Re: How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby Saim » Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:53 am

Adrianslont wrote:However, I’ll add one qualification, it’s surprising how limited some high school graduates literacy skills can be. Of course many are fine but a surprisingly large number of high school graduates struggle to string together a coherent, articulate email. I base this comment on observation of those I have worked with. My context is the same as yours Saim, Australia.

A highly educated L2 learner with a really high level of a that foreign language can often put together a more coherent piece of extended writing than a native - even if it has obvious grammar issues or occasional non-idiomatic expressions.


Of course. Literacy is acquired later in life than general language competence and access to it is not universal.

I'd just add that I think literacy skills are to a large extent transferrable between languages (especially when you're dealing with the same script and a written tradition from the same 'civilisation' for lack of a better word, for Urdu and Chinese this might break down a bit), so if you're already literate and read widely in your own language it's probably going to be more straightforward to develop good writing skills than to completely master the colloquial language.

In fact, I think that your comment demonstrates coherence in writing and native-like writing are not directly related, that coherent writing is a skill related to our general language competence but not part of it. Of course, reading (because it's a great and easy way to get lots of input) and writing (especially if you make an effort to look things up, proofread, etc.) are also activities that can help grow our general language competence in a foreign language.
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Re: How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby Adrianslont » Tue Jul 16, 2019 8:48 am

Saim, again I absolutely agree with your comments here.

I will again add a little more - I think many people just don’t write much in their native language so they don’t build skills. Or they write in a very limited number of contexts. And more and more literacy-writing tasks are of the tick a box or fill a box variety these days.
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Re: How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby Cavesa » Tue Jul 16, 2019 3:13 pm

drp9341 wrote:Hello everyone!

I have a question / discussion for everyone here. In your experience, how fluent / close to a native-like level can one achieve without immersion and / or using the language daily in a wide variety of situations?

Please Note: I'm using the phrase, "some sort of immersion" in a very loose and general sense. Think: Regular, Frequent and Meaningful Contact with Native Speakers
Examples of what would "qualify" as some sort of immersion would be
- Living with a boyfriend / girlfriend with whom you primarily speak your TL.
- Spending lots of time doing diverse activities with a group (or at least 2) friends who are natives speakers of your target language.
- The vast majority of coworkers are natives / the primary language at work is your TL, AND you maintain some degree of friendship / informal contact with these natives.

...

*** I'm especially interested in hearing what native speakers of languages other than English have to say about this! ***


C2. My French. For vast majority of the time (like 95-99% of the time it took me to get to C2), I had nobody to talk to and definitely not a group of natives :-D. Contact with living natives is not necessary.

However, if you redefine immersion more widely and closer to the usual meaning of it around here, the answer will be different. Immersion with tons of tv series, movies, books, pc games, blogs,etc. This kind of immersion is in most aspects equal to the few rare situations you describe. And it is much more accessible.

Without the immersion in the wider sense, you can't get that far. Some people get to C1 without it, just with tons of classes. But that is only for the rather rich learners (or with rich enough parents willing to pay for having their kids dragged to C1, that is more common), who are not in a hurry (and they tend to struggle with things more different from their class content). Most people without this "at home immersion" don't get further than B1. However, I wouldn't want to assume the lack of immersion is the only cause in most cases.

TL,DR version: Without immersion with real natives: C2. Without "the canned immersion"? Only as far as your course goes.
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Re: How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby Iversen » Tue Jul 16, 2019 6:01 pm

To really activate a language I need a long preparation and then some heavy activity that makes my head buzz - and this is most likely to happen during some kind of immersion. When my head buzzes it generates random noise in my target languages as a response to the avalanche of input, and with sufficiently comprehensive background knowledge this noise can be shaped into real sentences by the conscious part of my brain. Without the buzz the output dwindles to a mere trickle, and there's a limit as to how much you can do with a trickle.

The same thing can be said in another way: when my head is buzzing it is so full of sentences that they come pouring out like a fountain (=push). When there are too little noise in my head then I have to drag each sentence out from its comfy resting place between my ears (=pull). This is good enough for writing, but not for speaking.
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Re: How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby drp9341 » Tue Jul 16, 2019 6:30 pm

Saim wrote:
drp9341 wrote:Note: For reference I'm comparing them to the average American with a high school education (minus jargon,) which honestly isn't a very high standard. I'm not comparing them to law students and professors.


I think you're severely underestimating the communicative competence of the average American with a high school education. Being able to speak like the average American with a high school education is a very serious, ambitious goal as a non-native.

In fact I'd say that being able to express yourself to a native standard in a specific technical field would be a more straightforward project than learning how to master the colloquial language in all possible situations.

To give you an example: I remember in Spoken language analysis class in my MA program (in Linguistics) we spent most of the second semester analysing the pragmatic structure of 'narratives', which is basically just telling a story to your friends ("so I go to my friend's place and he's like..."). One girl did her end-of-semester presentation on a 'storytime' from YouTube, and she managed to say a lot more than I did when analysing a political speech (maybe that's just indicative of my competence as a student, though :P ).

To answer your question: no, it's not possible without "some sort" of immersion. But you can do immersion purely in native media without necessarily using the language at work or in your social circles. I'd suggest looking at the YouTube channel Matt vs Japan, he gives very concrete advice on how apply the idea of largely media-based immersion in practice with the goal of getting to a near-native level. But it's going to take ages even when applying efficient strategies, so you should make sure to consider whether this is something you really want.


I don't know about you, but since coming back to New York for the summer about 2 months ago, I realized that I seriously overestimated how fluent and 'proficient' (in a CEFR kind of sense,) the average native speaker is.

I see you're living in Poznań, which probably puts you in a situation similar to the one I was in when I was living in Warsaw the last two years. While there, I had occasional real life interaction with a few native speakers. I know that this affected my perception of how proficient most Americans actually are. To sum it up, significantly more than half of the people I know, (including college graduates,) make lots of 'mistakes' and need to pause often when they leave their linguistic comfort zone. I've been realizing that almost all the Expats I knew tended to be much better at English. If this interests you, I can elaborate in a separate post.

I seriously like the example you used from your MA program. Appropriately using this type of idiomatic speech would require either 'some sort of immersion', or tons and tons of input if you're a very linguistically minded learner. This is something I'm going to start paying a lot more attention to from now on.

Saim wrote: In fact I'd say that being able to express yourself to a native standard in a specific technical field would be a more straightforward project than learning how to master the colloquial language in all possible situations.
I agree completely
I couldn't agree more. I think I need to clear up my definition of "near-native level American English speaking and writing skills." I'm not referring to to mastering colloquial English for all situations.

Let me try to re-define the 'speaking' element: They almost never say things that "sound off" to a native speakers, and on the rare occasion when they do say stuff that no native would say, they realize it and either correct themselves, ask for clarification, or just laugh it off (i.e. showing that they too notice when something they say isn't quite right.)

In order to speak like this, you don't need to master the colloquial language in all possible situations. That isn't a sign of nativeness. A friend of mine from the a country town in the midwest couldn't understand most the the black slang that she heard when she first went to college in her same state..
I also have friends who sound pretty stiff and formal all the time, and other friends (although much fewer) who can't say more than 3 consecutive sentences formally.

The one thing they all have in common is that they rarely say things that sound off to native speakers, and if they do, they almost always immediately notice it.


Cavesa wrote:C2. My French. For vast majority of the time (like 95-99% of the time it took me to get to C2), I had nobody to talk to and definitely not a group of natives :-D. Contact with living natives is not necessary.

However, if you redefine immersion more widely and closer to the usual meaning of it around here, the answer will be different. Immersion with tons of tv series, movies, books, pc games, blogs,etc. This kind of immersion is in most aspects equal to the few rare situations you describe. And it is much more accessible.

Without the immersion in the wider sense, you can't get that far. Some people get to C1 without it, just with tons of classes. But that is only for the rather rich learners (or with rich enough parents willing to pay for having their kids dragged to C1, that is more common), who are not in a hurry (and they tend to struggle with things more different from their class content). Most people without this "at home immersion" don't get further than B1. However, I wouldn't want to assume the lack of immersion is the only cause in most cases.

TL,DR version: Without immersion with real natives: C2. Without "the canned immersion"? Only as far as your course goes.


Just so that we're on the same page, could you show me a video of non-native speaking what you consider to be English (or even Spanish / Italian) at right about a C2 level? (Like someone who is barely C2?)
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Re: How far can you progress without immersion of some sort?

Postby Saim » Wed Jul 17, 2019 5:54 am

drp9341 wrote:I don't know about you, but since coming back to New York for the summer about 2 months ago, I realized that I seriously overestimated how fluent and 'proficient' (in a CEFR kind of sense,) the average native speaker is.


The thing is that the CEFR isn't a universal measure of language competence (and definitely not for native competence), it's specifically designed for non-natives and skews heavily towards professional and academic use, because it's only ever employees or universities that are going to ask for a language certificate from you. Of course if you don't have formal education you might have trouble with some aspects of the CEFR, but that's not an indicator of (a lack of) language ability.

I see you're living in Poznań, which probably puts you in a situation similar to the one I was in when I was living in Warsaw the last two years. While there, I had occasional real life interaction with a few native speakers. I know that this affected my perception of how proficient most Americans actually are. To sum it up, significantly more than half of the people I know, (including college graduates,) make lots of 'mistakes' and need to pause often when they leave their linguistic comfort zone. I've been realizing that almost all the Expats I knew tended to be much better at English. If this interests you, I can elaborate in a separate post.


I've had the opposite experience when visiting Australia after living overseas for years.

What do you mean by "mistakes"? In the context of language learning natives by definition don't make mistakes because our goal is to imitate natives. Of course they may misspeak ocassionally but that is universal, and if they make a "mistake" systematically that's just a nonstandard form that you can choose to acquire or not depending on what your desired linguistic model is (some proscribed forms are near-universal and have covert prestige[1], while others are limited to certain social groups).

[1] Since you know Polish, I'm sure you've come across the phenomenon of Poles saying tak się nie mówi referring to forms they themselves -- and indeed almost everyone -- use.

In order to speak like this, you don't need to master the colloquial language in all possible situations. That isn't a sign of nativeness. A friend of mine from the a country town in the midwest couldn't understand most the the black slang that she heard when she first went to college in her same state..


That's because black slang isn't her language. When I say "mastering the colloquial language" I mean mastering a single language variety.
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