Immersion/Study Abroad: Is it the best way to acquire an L2

Immersion/Study Abroad: Is it the best way to acquire an L2






  2.  Understanding immersion and study abroad

Immersion is the state of being deeply engaged or involved; absorption. Another definition might suggest that immersion is concentrating on one course of instruction, subject, or project to the exclusion of all others for several days or weeks; intensive. Immersion can also be seen as a method that is used in teaching a second language. The second language is used as a way of communication through the classroom (Mikal, 2011). The learners use the second language in all their learning activities with the aim of mastering bilingualism. The learners aim is usually to master second language in communication and gain a mastery of the language itself.

            Study abroad refers to leaving your homeland country and studying in another country. One can decide to go abroad to study a lot of things. This project however will focus on studying a second language abroad. In order to be completely immersed in another language, one has to travel to a place where the population there speaks the chosen language (Mikal, 2011). For example, if a student wants to learn the French language then it would be most probable that the students choose to travel to France where the French is spoken as a primary language.

  • Relationship between Study Abroad and Immersion

Immersion is very important in learning a second language because it takes the student deep into the not only the language, but also culture by allowing you to be right in the middle of it. Study abroad is the best form of immersion because you are in the home country of the language, you are made to be part of the everyday culture, and you even get to become even closer by indulging in the extras activities.

            Immersion helps a learner to achieve fluency in the language that they are studying. Immersion will also help in a big way in helping the student master the language that they are studying. This is because the learner is surrounded by native speakers and therefore it becomes easier to practice the language (Isabelli, 2003). Cultural understanding of the host country is also another advantage that immersion is preferred as a tool to learning the second language. One gets to become one and even get involved in the cultural activities of the host country therefore understanding the language even more. Immersion is therefore the best method of any student willing to learn a foreign language. Studying abroad is the best way there is currently in learning a foreign language (Isabelli, 2003).


When immersed in L2, it is particularly common for the learner to use their first language. The amount that the first language (L1) used will determine in the long run how it affects the learner in particular settings (Ballinger & Roy, 2011). The amount of L2 being taught on contrary to L1 being used will also be a determinant of fast and efficiently the learner adapts to the new language. This can be looked into using two perceptions;

  1. The amounts of the L1 still being used and the amounts of the L2 being learned

When a learner moves into a foreign land that means contact with the L1 speakers has been limited to a certain extent. However, the generation that we live are obsessed with social media, it can be called the “Net generation.” (Mikal, 2011). This generation has quite a lot of technological devices and networks that can help them to reconnect with their families and friend from their home countries.

Mikal (2011) notes that “In the context of study abroad, the maintenance of dual on-and-offline personas provides students with the opportunity to demolish communication barriers with the home culture created by geographical distance.” This means that even if the learners go to another country to study another language, it does not completely mean that the learner completely gives up the L1 language and culture (Mikal, 2011). Mikal goes ahead to point out that the online communication helps in breaking the communication barrier created by linguistic and cultural differences which provides the learner with opportunities for face-to-face interactions with the host nationals Mikal, 2011.

Going with these explanations and findings from Mikal it is clear that some students still use their L1 even when they are in the host country. As much as it is not as much as before the level of usage of L1 are still there even in immersion Mikal, 2011. The usage of L1 is however not much as compared to what is learned of L2. Learning of L2 can be facilitated by the first language. This can be achievable especially in situations where the learner uses the native language to learn more about the second language (Isabelli, 2003).

B.    What should the students do to increase their learning of the L2 in the study abroad setting?

When studying abroad, a lot of students have to come up with ways that they will use to cope with the new cultures and also to learn the new language in an advanced way.  Mikal (2011) noted that students used the internet not only for communication with their home countries but also for helping them to penetrate into the new culture.

The internet is therefore seen as an important detail if the students are willing to learn the new language. The subjects in the study, used the internet for three reasons one of them being “quickly and efficiently establish routines in the target market culture.” When one understands the culture of a certain community, it becomes easier for the person to learn their doings and even master the language in the process (Ballinger & Roy, 2011).

Forming relationships with host citizens can be a major way of increasing one’s learning capability. When one has close relationships with the hosts of a certain community, it becomes easier for one to live in the country without a lot of pressure and they also help the students in learning their language. According to Christina Isabelli (2003), for a learner to improve in their oral skills they need have constant tasks in communication involving narration and descriptions. The learners also need to increase their “utterance length” characterized by long pauses.

Rodriguez (2014) notes that the desire of a student to learn helps them to have an increased learning experience. She says that if a student has the willingness to learn then it will be easier for them to learn new languages and even the culture without much push compared to those students who do not have the push to learn.

C.    The effects of communication in the L2 with family/friends and even listening or watching different media sources from back home (generally in the L1)

When communicating with people from home country, it is uncommon for people who are learning the second language to communicate with the second language. They therefore use their first language to communicate to people back home including friends. Students especially those of this generation do not want to be left behind with things that happen in their home country.

They will therefore use any available medium to know what is happening in their countries. The study carried out by Mikal (2011) shows those students in foreign land use the internet to “fulfill their professional and social obligations back in the USA while abroad.” While doing this they use L1 to get all this information and communicate with their peers back home. Watching a new type of media and using a different language to communicate to friends and finally might be a great step that shows that one is improving on the new language (Ballinger & Roy, 2011). Using the new media will help the student to appreciate the new culture that is being presented to them. This can also be used as a platform to learn new cultures of the host country.

However, communication in L1 is not all that bad. It has some positive impact on the student when it comes to learning of the new language. This is because the students, according to Mikal, use their native language to translate things that are new to them. That means that using a media source that has their native language to get information could have a positive impact on the learning of the L2.


There are different skills that students learn while they are immersed in the host country. These skills may include accuracy, fluency and special skills in other fields like cookery. The skill that will be focused here is the oral skills of a student. This part will focus on the duration that a student takes to become fluent and accurate in their oral skills. A study that was carried out by Christina Isabelli (2003) on how fast the students take to become fluent in a language will help me out in this part. Activities carried out by the students are also something that influences how fluent the students become.

  1. Immersion settings

Ballinger Susan and Roy Lyster (2011) carried out a study on Spanish students and what influenced their language of choice. As much as the case studies preferred the use of English language for communication, there were also factors that contributed to the using Spanish as well. Some of these factors include the student’s language background, the use of Spanish by the teacher, doing cultural activities that are relevant to Spanish use, and students desire to help others in accommodating from Spanish to English (Rodriguez, 2014).

There were students who had Spanish as their L1 and understood little or no English; therefore other students used the little Spanish they knew in order to make them feel comfortable. In the study the immersion programs bring together students with the minority language (Spanish as the L1) and people with the majority language (English as the L1). During the programs these students are in the same classroom and the content is taught in both Spanish and English. Doing this helped students from both the English and Spanish culture learn a little more about the other culture.

In this study, it was also discovered that the teacher could sometime teach Spanish more often than the English language. There were times that the instructor would instruct the speaking of Spanish seventy to eighty eight percent of class time (Rodriguez, 2014). This encourages the minority language group to feel more at home and also helps the other to be able to learn the other language easily at a faster rate. Going with this study, it is quite clear that the activities that go on in a classroom will encourage foreign students to be able to learn a foreign language quite easier. Making student feel at ease when you are teaching by using their language then will definitely make the immersion experience better.

Mary Dwyer (2004), in her article ‘More is Better: The Impact of Study Abroad Program Duration’ notes that the longer a student stays in the immersion settings the better the results. These results can be seen in personal development, cultural development and even better academic understanding.

B.    Student/teacher communication level

The student and teacher relationship will most definitely how effectively the immersion program goes. If the teacher encourages the students to speak in the L2 then the students will be encouraged to use it. The language that the instructor uses is also important in the immersion success (Rodriguez, 2014). The teacher needs to be willing to help the student even outside the classroom so that the student can improve on their skills.

The teacher can also help the student by encouraging other students to speak the language with the minority people in a classroom. In the study by Ballinger et al shows that the teacher encouraged the students to use Spanish most of the time so that he could make the other students feel at home. This helped the majority of the students who did not understand the Spanish language understand it a little better than before.

In the study, the teacher also used adequate ways of communication by using the Spanish language when in class so as to make sure that the students got what they were being taught. Therefore the methods and tricks that a teacher uses in communicating her message to the student can also influence how well the student understands things around. Immersion of a student places them in a different world. The instructor and fellow peers might be the only link that the student has in terms of communication and understanding of the particular settings. Therefore the level and the method of communication that the teacher uses is important for any student learning a second language in a foreign country.

            The level of communication between the two parties should happen a little more and the communication should involve the use of quizzes to gauge the students understanding of the language and even the culture of the particular group (Dwyer, 2001). The quizzes might involve narrations, descriptions of certain things and even writing stories and essays. This will help the user to acquire skills not in the oral part but also in the written form of the second language.

Rodriguez (2014)  in ‘Cultural Immersion: Achieving the Elusive Perspective Shift’ however states that the students too should be willing to learn the new language if they are to be successful even with adequate communication between the student and the instructor (Rodriguez, 2014). She sees the immersion like baptism where an instructor can do so many things but they cannot force the student to learn if they are unwilling to.


As stated earlier when one is put in a foreign country that have different cultures, they are needed to learn the new culture in order for to be able to live well with the host country. Learning of the new cultures serves as an advantage to the learner because it helps the learner learn more about things like history of words and why they are used in the certain settings that they are used. The cultural differences are there to be appreciated and there for we should learn to appreciate different cultures.

  1. Cultural Understanding

When people are placed under new settings, the first thing they do is fall into confusion. In order for one to overcome this confusion one needs to start learning their surroundings. In this case, people who have been put in different new culture, they start by learning the culture that surrounds them. Understanding these cultures could take some time and as time goes by, they are able to learn more and more of the culture. Antonio Reyes in ‘A Next Level Experience: benefits of Studying a Foreign Language Abroad’ says that “learning abroad helps one understand how language is used colloquially to complete everyday tasks and activities” (Reyes, 2012).

Reyes adds that studying abroad will help one understand how language is used to shop, eat and communicate between close friends. When this happens, it will make understanding of the words used not only as just words in a book but also understand the origin of the word in the way that they are used (Reyes, 2012).  One will be will be shocked at how the languages they speak and the second language have similarities.

  • Appreciation of New Cultures

When we understand the importance of new culture and how we can use it to our advantage then we will learn to appreciate new cultures. The world today has become a small global world where people are becoming closer. This means that people are learning new cultures in order to fit in this small globe (Reyes, 2012). Part of appreciating the culture becomes learning a second or even third language. For students new settings are usually more demanding than what they are used to. Immersion means that one is being put into a totally different culture. Appreciating new cultures means that you understand the importance of that culture and how it will help you to come learn more about the specific culture. When one learns to appreciate a new culture, then it becomes much easier for them to love the language more and even have spirits to continue learning the new language. We cannot appreciate a language if we really do not why they use certain terms (Mikal, 2011). It is therefore clear that learning a new language and appreciating it can go a long way in helping any student learn the second language. This appreciation of culture is possible when a student studies abroad and lives with those people of that particular culture.

  • Restating  topic

So through all this discussion, Immersion/Study Abroad: Is it the best way to acquire a second language? The main aim of this project was to show that this is the best way. From the discussion it is therefore quite clear that immersion is the best way to study a second language. It has a lot of advantages with very few cons. The cons can however be overcome within a short period of time since they include being homesick, missing home cultures and missing family and friends. These cons can be easily overcome in the long run. The period of immersion also can be increased if one is to have best results in the long run. My points of discussion serve to show that it is indeed an advantage to study a second language abroad.

  • Summary of main points

This paper has discussed several points on reasons as to why immersion is the best way to acquire a second language. One of the reasons is that when one is immersed in a different culture far from home, it becomes easy for them to concentrate on learning the new language. The distance from home as much as at times is bleached; it helps a student to the student to be assimilated in the host country’s culture.

Another reason as to why studying abroad is encouraged is because development of social, cultural and oral skills is better when one is closer to the L2 speakers. Oral skills development was found to be much better as subjects continued to live in the foreign country. It was a much speedier activity than when one learns when he/she is surrounded by people who use L1 in communication.

Another reason as to why studying a foreign language abroad is important is that the students get to appreciate other cultures rather than their own.  This is because they are put in different settings those that are what they are used to and they are supposed to learn how to live with their host. Appreciation of cultures in our world today, shows that we are evolving and appreciating the small global world we are living in. appreciating new cultures help the learner to easily understand the language and how it is used. This ensures that the learning capability of the learner is boosted to a notch higher.

  • Conclusion

Immersion can be seen as a method that is used in teaching a second language. Study abroad is a program that enables people to study away from their home country. Studying abroad for a second language is an important thing to ensure that the learner has firsthand experience with the host country and their culture. This helps the learner to be able to adapt to the new culture, learning and participating in the new culture helps the learner learn the second language at more ease. Therefore for anybody who is thinking of learning a second language, it will be advisable for them to choose a country that uses the language as their primary language.

At the end of the day, it is however up to the student to make the decision to be committed in learning the new language. The instructors are just there to guide and help the student to gain knowledge but if the student is not willing even they were to study abroad then nothing would actually come of it. Rodriguez (2014) puts it as, “immersion is like baptism”.  The instructors in the baptism helps the students find the river; push them into the water but the power of transformation lies in the students themselves. In order for the transformation to happen the student need to have the urge to push and discover more about the second language that they are learning.

Dwyer also supports this point by starting that the learning outcomes of any student depend on foreign language commitment and use. She states that students who continue to use the second language for a long time will achieve their dream of fluency and even accuracy. So, for any student who wants to gain knowledge in a second language, it is advisable for them to first know the reasons as to why they are learning the new language and appreciate that a lot of hard work will be put into making sure that they achieve their dreams.

Moving into a new country and starting to learn their language and culture can be hard sometime but with perseverance and the right attitude it is easy for one to learn a new language even in a foreign context. Moving into a new country with the target language being the native language is the easiest and best way to get to know the language better in more familiar surroundings.


Ballinger S. and Roy Lyster, “Student and Teacher Oral Language Use In A Two-Way Spanish/English Immersion School. “ Language Teaching Research 15.3 (2011): 289-306.

Dwyer, Mary (2001).“More Is Better: The Impact of Study Abroad Program Duration.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary. Journal of Study Abroad, pp.151-63.

Isabelli, Christina (2003). Development of oral communication skills abroad.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary. Journal of Study Abroad, 9: 149-173.

Mikal, Jude (2011). When Social Support Fits Into Your Luggage: Online Support Seeking And Its Effects On The Traditional Study Abroad Experience.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary. Journal of study Abroad, 21(2011): 17-40.

Reyes, Antonio. (2012) A “Next Level” Experience: Benefits of Studying a Foreign Language Abroad (2012). retrieved from

Rodriguez, Karen (2014). Cultural Immersion: Achieving the Elusive Perspective Shift. retrieved from,0005/cultural_immersion.shtm

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