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The psychology behind learning English: why an immersion will get you better results

The psychology behind learning English: why an immersion will get you better results

When you're teaching English as a foreign language, there are many different kinds of obstacles to be overcome. Students will have to learn how to pronounce sounds they are not used to pronouncing, they will have to understand a set of different grammar rules, and they will have to learn how to avoid 'false friends', to name just a few of the challenges. However, while much attention has been dedicated to the different techniques to help students drill knowledge into their brains, very little attention is paid to another aspect: the psychology of learning a language.

Learning a language, like many other challenges we set ourselves, is as much a question of psychological factors as intellectual ones. Motivation, self-consciousness, engagement - all these elements play a part in learning a language and need to be addressed before your students can thrive. This infographic lists different methods that are useful to help your students get to grips with the intellectual or technical aspects of learning a language, but in addition, several methods serve important psychological ends. By properly understanding the psychological factors at play in learning a language, you will be able to engage with these aspects in your teaching and ensure that your students are getting the best learning experience they can.

Make your students comfortable with English

A very important and much-overlooked aspect of language learning is the question of comfort. A new language can be disorienting, full of unusual sounds that students struggle to identify as separate words. Students need time to get used to hearing and using a language other than their own. This is why acclimatizing students to hearing a new language is such an important aspect of language teaching. Watching movies or listening to songs is one very easy way to allow students to get used to hearing English around them. When watching movies, they will follow the action, which helps to fill in gaps where their knowledge of English is still lacking. Songs that are simple, clear and repeat lines or phrases are also a great way to help students recognise the words they have been learning. Best of all, songs get stuck in students' heads, meaning that they retain phrases without even having to try!

The question of comfort is also one of the reasons that immersions are becoming increasingly popular. Spending time in a place where the language they are learning is the main language is a great way for students to immerse themselves. When learning English, for example, spending time in England, America, Australia or any other English-speaking country can help learners to get used to hearing English. As they start to become more relaxed, students will be more receptive and therefore better able to learn. However, in many cases, traveling abroad may not be an option: not everyone has the time or money to spend several weeks or months in a foreign country. This is doubly the case for younger students, for whom leaving their parents and home country may be a scary prospect. For those who can't or don't want to travel abroad, language homestays in with native English families and teachers living in France, like those organised by Talk to Teach, are a great way to create an immersion experience in their own country.

Overcome shyness

No matter how good a teacher you are, you will struggle to get results if your students are too self-conscious. Shy students will tend to avoid speaking at all costs and may end up experiencing too much stress over making a mistake to learn anything at all. A classroom setting in which they are being observed by their peers and graded by their teachers makes it even more likely that shy students will shut down and may, in the end, learn nothing all year.

This is where the benefits of language immersions are crystal-clear. Immersions offer a magical combination of pressure in a relaxed setting where the student will gradually lose his or her self-consciousness. On one hand, an immersion requires students to use the language they are studying. As student groups are much smaller than in a classroom, they will not be able to slip into the background as they would during a class, allowing more proficient and confident students to take over. Being surrounded by people who speak only English, students will be forced to start communicating in English for practical reasons. The pressure created by the need to communicate, while daunting at first, is incredibly helpful when it comes to helping students get over their hesitations and fears.

In addition to this urgency, immersions also offer a much more relaxed environment in which to learn and practice. Immersions emphasise practicing a language in real-life situations, where students are not graded or judged by their peers but simply communicating as best they can. It can take a few days for a student to get used to, but once they do, they'll be talking away happily without a care in the world!

Make real connections to the language and the people

A key aspect of language learning, which is much neglected in traditional teaching methods, is the emotional connection that students establish to the language they are learning. When taught in a classroom, languages can appear as simply any random subject of study, a series of words and grammatical rules to be memorised. Consequently, students will lack the motivation to really engage with the language, and may not see all the benefits it can bring them now as well as later in life.

This is why socialising with friends and immersions are two such powerful tools to help really 'click' with a language. In both circumstances, students will get to experience first-hand how learning English opens up new worlds to them, enabling them to connect with others, giving them the confidence to make friendships across languages and cultures. They'll experience the thrill of suddenly understanding something they've been studying in theory for years, and start to measure the progress they make, not by grades on exams or the progression from textbook to textbook, but instead by how much they can express to others themselves.

Psychology plays a hugely important role in language learning. Psychological factors can be enormously detrimental to any teacher's best efforts, as they can block students and prevent them from absorbing new information or using it. By examining the different factors at play - from shyness and self-consciousness to emotional connections and the question of comfort - teachers can develop their teaching methods to overcome these difficulties. Language immersions are one great way to tackle many of the issues raised above in a way that is simply impossible in a traditional classroom. Rather than send young students abroad, Talk to Teach organises homestays with native English speaking families so they get all the experience of an immersion, without necessarily having to leave France. We're always looking for new native English families with at least one qualified teacher parent to host French students and give them a great English learning experience. If you'd like to find out more about teaching English through immersive language homestays and how to become a host, get in touch with us today!