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emuboy

How much immersion is enough?

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emuboy

I read a forum post the other day where a person basically said they went hardcore for their time abroad, not communicating or consuming any content in their native language at all. This got me wondering how much of a difference does it make if you spend say, 90% of your day using only your target language and the remainder using your native language (say reading, listening to music etc.).

 

I spend most of my day communicating in Chinese but at night I'm generally too buggered to use it anymore and end up reading for about an hour before bed, I also occasionally listen to podcasts in English etc. How much would things like this detract from the overall learning experience? I've definitely made progress but in learning a language you lack an objective metric, which is something I'm not used to. The closest thing I currently have is the locker-room conversations I have with old blokes at the gym - can handle all the bs easy questions now (age, country) but there's a breakdown beyond this - yesterday some guy mentioned a comedian or something (guodegang?) and I was totally lost.

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abcdefg
On 4/28/2018 at 6:11 PM, emuboy said:

I've definitely made progress but in learning a language you lack an objective metric, which is something I'm not used to.

 

One objective metric for me was how long I could interact in a totally-Chinese environment before my brain maxed out, eyes rolled back in my head and smoke poured from my ears. At first a couple hours of dinner conversation was all I could handle; then a weekend away at the country home of local friends was my limit. And gradually the limits disappeared completely. 

 

I still do pleasure reading mostly in English, but I watch movies in either language with equal ease. Sometime last year I realized that I often don't remember whether the film had English subtitles or not; I just didn't notice. 

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vellocet

Could someone tell me where the "don't you dare use your native language or you'll wreck your progress" idea comes from?  It sounds specious.  I understand immersion is helpful, but jeez this sounds like some kind of weird reverse xenophobia (oikophobia).  Is there any science that shows speaking your native language is harmful?  

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Flickserve

Well, sometimes you need a rest. Scientifically proven that it helps consolidate what you learn.

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emuboy

Yeah, this is basically what I'm curious about. Ever since I bought a Kindle I can't stop reading at night! Was starting to feel guilty I guess. I feel like studying hardcore and then not allowing yourself to use your normal language is a recipe for disaster. @vellocet I've got no idea on the science behind it but I've definitely seen it written around online and even heard it in person.

 

Better to be in it for the long run and not burn out seems to be the consensus.

 

@Flickserve Indeed, I feel like it's particularly the case with Chinese more so than anything I've studied before. Definitely a grind and not a cram type of thing.

 

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889

As said, I think that while you're sleeping the brain somehow consolidates what you've learned and heard during the day. You know you're making some progress when Chinese starts popping up in your dreams, or when you wake up with your head awash in bits and pieces of Chinese.

 

So to help that subconscious process while asleep, I've always felt that the couple of hours before bed is the best time for intensive study. That is, if I were you I'd put my English break earlier in the day and wrap up the evening immersed in Chinese.

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NinjaTurtle

Sometimes I think I learn Chinese better when I am in America than when I am in China. When I am in China, there is this constant pressure to communicate in Chinese and improve my Chinese, which wears me down after a while. But when I am in America I can 'relax', study Chinese when I want to, and put it completely aside when I want to. In America, if I am not studying Chinese, there is no pressure from my surroundings to learn Chinese whether I like it or not.

 

Some of the posts here remind me of how I used to feel guilty speaking English to Chinese people on the street in China. I have now learned that, especially when someone on the street in China is giving me a hard time, I have no guilt feelings at all about telling them what I think in English.

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mungouk

Re: "pressure" and "burnout"... I think we need to be careful here, particularly with regards to mental health.

 

@DavyJonesLocker has it exactly right IMHO: the most important thing is motivation.  The danger is that motivation overwhelms what you're capable of dealing with.

 

After getting together with a German girlfriend back in 2001 (motivation), I accompanied her on her internship to Berlin and I did an intensive (25 hours per week) German course in a language school there for 2 months.  The teaching was total immersion in German, since the other students were from all over the world — mostly Mexico and Korea.  (Aside: German grammar is particularly challenging.)

 

I still can't really work out why, but this triggered what I have since described as a depressive episode ("nervous breakdown" in old language).  I literally couldn't get out of bed some days.  Although in the end I passed the course. 

 

Sure, by all means throw yourself as much as you can into your language studies (I am, right now), but please do be aware of what you might be letting yourself in for, especially if you already have a history of mental health issues.  If you're going to be overseas, culture shock also plays a part.

 

Look after yourselves.

 

 

 


 

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DavyJonesLocker

@mungouk

 

I think there are good ways to help one motivate oneself when learning Chinese. Ultimately its very individualistic but mine are, after a lot of trial and error!

 

1) Ignore people and language schools who like to claim that they, or their students passed HSK6 in one year, or learnt 17,267 characters by Christmas. a), I only every hear about these people on forums and b), I find there is always an underlying  element of bragging about it.

 

2) Set your own standards and realise there is no one way to learn Chinese. I have tried and failed miserably at the " established" ways of learning Chinese. Find your way and even it its not 100?% effective, as long as your enjoy it, whats the rush. 

 

3) If and when i do study, I like to give myself a treat. Usually its a huge pizza and some beer every Saturday evening with a movie, as it stops me procrastinating all day long. I am wonderfully gifted at "preparing to study" :D

 

4) Realise its a hobby and like all hobbies it should be enjoyed, otherwise whats the point

 

5) Chinese is not your life. So even if you do fail, you are not failing at life.! Focus on the process not the end result. Its a bit like going to the gym. I am very keen at fitness and bodybuilding. As a younger man I used to get  depressed if I lost my six pack, couldn't lift the same weight etc despite the thousands of $$$ and hours spent in the gym. 20 years down the road and you realise as you get older you realised its all going to pot anyway due to age so you eventually work out its the process that you should savour. You end up in a much better place mentally I  believe.

 

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Flickserve
3 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

1. Never use English when teaching.

- Nonsense, I need an English translation most of the time for words, sentences, grammar. If that was true we wouldn't need dictionaries.  Its a sliding scale, the better your Chinese level the less reliance of English you naturally become. 

2. You need total immersion.

- Being in a native environment is definitely better for learning but you don't need total immersion.

3. Think like a Chinese person.

- I am not Chinese and never will be and no intention or ability of thinking like a Chinese person. i still don't know what that means. 

 

The above 3 have never helped me and other learners I know one iota. If they help others, go for it.

 

Biggest factor in learning Chinese for me is: finding motivation. Trumps all others. I have no interest in entomology, strict stroke order of characters Beijing opera, martial arts , Chinese TV etc I find them all dull as watching paint dry. However I like living in China, thats what motivates me and find things to do that doesn't feel like "study", for example reading lyrics to Chinese songs I like and reading subs on movies I enjoy watching. My friends however loves them all and thats what motivates him. Just a personal tastes.

 

Oh, definitely cool post. 1 and 2 all the way. 

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abcdefg

I used to run marathon footraces, the 26.2 mile kind. Training hard and steady was required to do well, but "overtraining" was always a risk. It led to musculoskeletal injuries and setbacks, or it led to exhaustion, which could be viewed as a metabolic injury. But one had to continue to push, couldn't get mellow or complacent; had to continue to do enough to have built a strong base by the time of the race. Required a good deal of judgement, and I never had any guarantee of getting it exactly right. 

 

Same, I think, with learning a language. Train hard, but don't beat yourself up. Immersion is a great stimulator because it gives you lots of immediate feedback, both negative and positive. You don't have to wait until the end of the semester to find out whether or not you are making progress. Plus you can make small adjustments as you go along and get a better idea of what is required and as you get a better understanding of your personal limits. You can fine tune the overall process.

 

And, beyond any doubt, one size does not fit all in the language acquisition game. People I look up to and admire  may do it like this or like that. Sometimes I can imitate them; but sometimes I can't. 

 

 

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Jim
13 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

3. Think like a Chinese person.

- I am not Chinese and never will be and no intention or ability of thinking like a Chinese person. i still don't know what that means. 

Agree with your other points but while the idea that a whole nation thinks the same or that you can magically become someone you're not is obviously a bit off I do think it's worth getting into the mindset of the language you're trying to speak rather than just using Chinese vocabulary to say what you would have done in English - in the sense that there are modes of expression that suit Chinese that are quite different to English and if you can adopt them so much the better. Bit vague I realise but think you get the point.

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vellocet
2 hours ago, 艾墨本 said:

Subjectively speaking, the students who invest more time in being immersed see greater improvement in their language. Those who spend less time studying and being in Chinese environments, and more time walking around malls chatting in English, simply see less improvement. This doesn't seem hard to imagine.

You're saying that students that spend more time achieve greater results.  I don't think this is even mildly controversial, it happens in any subject, from microbiology to basket weaving.

 

What we're talking about is damaging your Chinese ability by speaking English.  This seems a widespread belief.  Is there any data that shows this is the case, or is this a myth?

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艾墨本

@vellocet You are saying a lot there. I'm gonna take it statement by statement.

 

13 minutes ago, vellocet said:

You're saying that students that spend more time achieve greater results.  I don't think this is even mildly controversial, it happens in any subject, from microbiology to basket weaving.

I think you misunderstood me. Perhaps revisit @abcdefg's metaphor. What I'm saying is that blindly increasing study load does not equal greater results. To use your words, more time does not necessarily achieve greater results. What I aimed to do above was enumerate on some of the factors that indirectly impact language acquisition.

 

19 minutes ago, vellocet said:

What we're talking about is damaging your Chinese ability by speaking English. 

No, this is not a question of damaging your Chinese ability. It is a question of learning less Chinese due to spending time in English.

 

21 minutes ago, vellocet said:

Is there any data that shows this is the case?

I tend to avoid diving into academic stuff here because, frankly, I don't come here to write academic papers with a list of cited research. It takes a lot more time on my part.

 

Short answer, kinda. I haven't seen any papers that directly address "Is there any correllation or cause/effect relationship between amount of English used while relaxing during an immersion course reduce how much the student learns."

 

Studies of successful and unsuccessful language learners studying English have showed that those that use study strategies that take into account things like mental health and burnout tend to do better and become the successful stories. Unsuccessful language learners tend toward blindly using study methods without fully grasping what situation they are applicable to. (see below attachments, especially the overview of research in "comparing theories" as well as this book: http://product.dangdang.com/20917786.html)

 

Additionally, the question OP asked isn't of time, but rather degree of immersion. You could spend all day studying Chinese by reading English books about Chinese grammar. Historically, many assumed this was an important part of learning a new language. I don't think any on this forum would agree with this any longer. Also, it's not a matter of immersion or not immersion, it's a matter of 90% vs 100%, reading your daily news in your native tongue, or only reading dumbed down articles on the Chairman's Bao. Being able to do the latter requires a set of skills outside of just studying to avoid burnout. Rebecca Oxofrd lists these out quite wonderfully in "Language Learning Strategies," though I hope your local library carries it since it is rather expensive out-of-print book. Regardless, the student would still be in the target language environment surrounded by their target language and frequently required to use it in communicative contexts.

 

You could join the conversation, too. Jump on jstor.org and look for some articles. You can search and read abstracts without access to the site.

 

《什么样的汉字学习策略最有效?——对基础阶段留学生的一次调查研究》赵果.pdf

Comparing_Theories_of_Learning_Strategies-R_L_Oxford.pdf

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vellocet
24 minutes ago, 艾墨本 said:

No, this is not a question of damaging your Chinese ability. It is a question of learning less Chinese due to spending time in English.

 

Maybe I need to rephrase this.  If you could learn X Chinese by studying without speaking any English, and learn Y Chinese by studying and sometimes speaking English, then the difference is Z.  This Z is the damage done to the learner's ability by speaking English.

 

I have seen people online get angry because a McDonald's clerk wanted to practice his English and the learner thought he was damaging her ability.  Thus, the confused clerk is trying to be polite and helpful by using the English he learned in high school, and the visibly upset foreigner is stubbornly replying in Chinese.  This interaction is viewed by the learner as harmful to her skill by contaminating the immersion environment.  I would like to know if there is any scientific basis for this perceived harm, or is it a canard.  I suspect that it is but I have no proof.

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Flickserve

I suspect it is a canard. But depends on the learner. If a B2/C level, then they dont need English.

 

A2/B1 - so long as they had a go at guessing what is going on and then get the English. I dont think that's a problem. 

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