Remember how hard you had to concentrate when you were a baby trying to learn your native language? Of course not! But any parent of a small child can tell you that the effort of understanding what’s going on can be energizing—but it can also be tiring. The immersion learning experience at the Language Villages can be a little bit like that.
Because immersion learning is different than most classroom learning situations that villagers might be used to, participants often find our programs to be intense, fun, perplexing, rewarding and definitely unique—and sometimes, all of those things, all at the same time!
It’s a new style of teaching, and while it’s fun and energizing, if you find that it makes you a little tired sometimes, you’re not alone. But just remember that it’s a good kind of tired—your brain is working really hard to put lots of new things into your long term memory. Sometimes, you won’t even realize how much you’ve learned until you go home and have a moment to think about what you knew when you started, and how all those games and activities and songs really did seep into your brain with new vocabulary and cultural knowledge.
The best way to adjust to this new immersion learning experience is to practice good listening skills, have an open mind, make sure you’re well rested and have a lot of fun. If you’re ready for anything, you’ll find yourself soaking up new experiences, learning new things and ready to ask questions when you need some help to figure something out.
How do villagers learn the language when counselors speak only that language and don’t explain in English? Speaking the language to villagers, without using English, is a hallmark of immersion language learning. Counselors help villagers understand the Village language in many ways: gestures, pictures, pointing, facial expressions, actual objects, mime, repetition, examples, demonstrations, use of themselves or villagers as models – just to name a few!
Although providing an English translation is one way to support understanding of another language, it’s not one we use very often. For instance, we could tell you that a certain new word means “lake,” and say the word “lake” in English to explain. However, we can also explain it just as clearly by saying that new word and pointing at the lake. This follows immersion philosophy, current beliefs about the best language teaching methods, and our own experiences since 1961.
Context is important! Everything is grounded in daily life in the Villages, and that helps language learners to understand: If the meal is finished, it’s logical to clear the table, so that’s what the counselor must be talking about. If counselors and villagers gather in the cabin during the day, with brooms and garbage bags, then villagers understand that it’s time to clean and that they will hear directions.
Another example of the usefulness of context is all the activities in which villagers participate, from karate to going to the bank to an ethnic art project, the counselor is talking about the activity in which they are participating.
We make deliberate use of routines. Villagers hear some of the same, exact language before every meal. During each meal, certain key phrases are used over and over. Announcements after a meal may follow a particular order. The waterfront manager uses similar phrases each day to announce open hours at the beach.
We have plenty of counselors to assist understanding, about one staff member for every five villagers.