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Saturday, 01 July 2006

Language Immersion Programs - Page 2

Written by Rebecca Seicol
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As I stepped off the airplane and walked into the small, busy airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, the feeling of panic that I had thus far been able to ignore, hit me like a cheap blow to my gut. Every thought I had, every fearful and worrisome notion that filled my head could be summarized in one all consuming question. What the hell was I doing there?

Since my time in Costa Rica, I have been on immersion programs in Mexico and Portugal. Despite some slight differences between them, each program is essentially the same.  As the term “language immersion” suggests, the concept of such programs is to completely immerse the individual in the language of the land.


bone chapel
Portugal program
From day one, the participant takes classes in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation – all of the necessary fundamentals to build a working knowledge of the language.  In this way, it is possible to learn much more than through a high school or even college language course because the person is surrounded by, and living in, the foreign tongue. The language, instead of being distant concept of diagrams within a textbook, is suddenly real, immediate, and alive.  The knowledge gained in only a few weeks of such a program is equivalent to a semester, perhaps even a year of a standard language course.

In a language immersion program, learning does not end when the student leaves the classroom. Typically, in such a program, the student lives with a host family, and, therefore, is speaking the language all throughout the day.  This reinforces and solidifies everything that the student has learned in class.  It also helps to make the language real and almost intuitive.

By the end of my first week in Costa Rica, because I spent every moment outside of class (and apart from when I was sleeping) hanging out with local teenagers, I was able to understand most of what was said to me, provided the speaker did not talk too fast. By the time I left (4 weeks later), I no longer had to ask people to speak slowly. When I conversed with the people there, not only were my words in Spanish, but so were my thoughts.  I wasn’t fluent; after all, I had only been there a month, but I spoke with confidence.  I understood aspects of the Costa Rican language that a textbook could never begin to explain.  Phrases like “Pura Vida” rolled off my tongue with natural ease.

portugal program

I no longer have the same fears and anxieties about leaving my home country and stepping out into new territory.  Now I know that wherever I travel to, I will encounter unexpected treasures that will forever change me at my core.  Someone once said, “He who learns a new language acquires a new soul.”  Though I had heard this quote before I went to Costa Rica, Mexico, and Portugal, I never truly understood what it meant until I went on an immersion program, but now I look forward to earning every new soul that I can!

©Rebecca Seicol

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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