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Immersion - The golden Graal of learning

Immersion - The golden Graal of learning

One of the most important element of learning is immersion. We will define immersion as an increased exposure to a discipline you learn. It is best if it requires you to operate in this discipline (and practice), but just being surrounded with the discipline is also a useful form of immersion.

Immersion is a popular technique for foreign language learning. In a simple form, it might mean watching movies or reading texts in the language we are learning. A deeper form might be traveling to the country, where this language is used.

Although immersion is also important on other disciplines. Let’s say that you want to use immersion to help you learn programming. We could do that, by surround ourselves with code, spend time with developers, talk about programming whenever possible. A great idea is making a group of passionates and writing a project together. Finding your first job as a programmer or an internship in a company is a deep immersion, and trust me, with that, people’s programming skills accelerate.

Those where just two disciplines, but immersion is a universal technique, helping with nearly anything we might want to learn. To understand why is it so powerful, we first need to understand that the majority of what skills consist of and learning those skills are subconscious.

Subconscious is essential

Why does it take so long to learn to speak another language? All necessary knowledge, like word definitions and grammar rules, can be fitted into a single book. However, even if someone would memorize it all, it would be far from being enough for using this language. We need to get fluent in formulating sentences immediately, feel where a word fits and where it does not, hear word mispronounced enough times to recognize it anyway… Those are subconscious skills. They cannot be described, they need to be trained. You need to spend enough time with language. Notice, that when you are a confident foreign language speaker, you build your sentences subconsciously, based on what feels right. Depending on definitions and learned meanings can be a good start, but it is unconscious that is essential.

Here are a few examples of subconscious skills, essential for learning a foreign language, programming, mathematics and many more:

  • True understanding and finding good words - keywords and functions in programming (if, while, class, filter), words in language, operations in mathematics, biological structures and elements in biology - they all can be explained, but understanding them requires seeing them in use in many concepts, and where they cannot be used.
  • Recognizing patterns - algorithms and patterns in programming, grammar and stylistic in foreign language, common ways how equations can be solved in mathematics.
  • Seeing what is important - learning what is important in practice and what is not.

As you see, many things cannot be learned by memorization. To learn them, you need practice and exposure. Immersion helps with both.

Immersion and practice

Immersion is strongly bound to practice. When you practice, to some degree you immerse. Good immersion requires you (or encourages you) to practice. Although those are different concepts. Practice, especially deliberate practice, is the key activity to acquire any skill. Immersion, surrounding yourself with discipline, supports and complements practice. You need to use both, to achieve the best results.

Healthy immersion

Watching a movie in a language you do not understand at all has little utility. Moving to a country whose language you do not use at all might cause more frustration than benefits. The key is to find a healthy immersion level, but there are no easy rules to find it. My suggestions are:

  • Immerse for as much as it feels conformable to you. To avoid frustration, that could block you or make you quit learning.
  • You should understand at least half of the concepts. Learning is not efficient when you understand too little. Some say, that you should look for comprehensible input, that can be defined as “what you understand plus a bit more”.
  • Consider having a mechanism for correcting your errors. Using language incorrectly might only deepen your misunderstandings and mistakes. That is why it is useful to have some who could correct your mistakes.

Immersion examples

To see how immersion might be used, let’s consider some examples in different disciplines. We will start with the most obvious discipline, that is learning a foreign language, and then we will touch completely different disciplines: chemistry, drawing and running.

Immersion in foreign language learning

We can use immersion for language learning by surrounding ourselves with the language. Here are a few examples:

  • When you learn the names of furniture or utensils in another language, you can use stick notes to label all the furniture in your house.
  • Switch the language in your phone or computer.
  • Read books, watch TV, listen to the radio in this language.
  • Attend meetings in this language (there are such meetings organized im big cities, you can also attend Erasmus meetings).
  • If your housemates use this language, set days when you use it only.
  • Use applications that connect to people using the language you are learning.

Find the conformable level for yourself, you can start with a child book, or a movie with subtitles in your own language.

Immersion in learning chemistry

Here are a few examples how we can use immersion for learning chemistry:

  • Make chemical experiments, or some useful things like soap or detergent (Assuming you are learning for some exams anyway, making experiments is not required, but it might be really helpful anyway, as it makes everything you learn much more real. You can find all ingredients and recipes in the internet, just be careful to not hurt yourself).
  • Watch fun lectures about chemical experiments (an example).
  • Watch movies about great chemists and great chemical discoveries.
  • Label substances you use in your everyday life their structure drawings and/or chemical formula.

Immersion in learning to draw

For drawing, practice is essential, but even more than using deliberate practice, it is important to draw as much as possible. That is why, it might be really helpful to have a pencil and some paper, and use it for drawing whenever you can, like:

  • During a boring meeting or lesson, you have no trouble following even while drawing.
  • Listening to an audiobook instead of reading a book.
  • Waiting in a queue or in a bus.

Except for that, a good form of immersion might be surrounding yourself with drawings. Look for a beautiful drawings in the internet, start reading comics or manga (if this is the kind of drawing that interest you), decorate your home with beautiful drawings.

Immersion in running

To learn running it mainly requires… well, running. Though there are also important components, like having a proper mindset or being inspired for running. Immersion can be helpful in here as well, and here are a few examples:

  • Reading books written by or about great runners.
  • Leaving your running shoes visible, to remind you about running.
  • Looking for occasions to run somewhere instead of driving there.
  • Attend some running club or make connections with other runners.
  • Listen to podcast for runners.

What do you think about the article?
Marcin The author of the Effective Kotlin and Android Development in Kotlin books, founder of the Kt. Academy and Learning-Driven, programming trainer, speaker at international conferences, experienced developer.
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