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Progressive Immersion

How people communicate

How people learn

Effective language learning

Effective language learning

We've seen that traditional language learning strategies often fail to engage learners in interesting, enjoyable conversation until their vocabulary grows.

We've seen that in natural use of language, bilingual people mix their languages as they see fit.

So, why not resolve the vocabulary problem by speaking like a true bilingual? Let's say you've only learned one word in your foreign language. You'd be hard pressed to find an interesting dialog to practice your word. But, if your word, for example is "I", you could easily have a very interesting conversation with a bilingual friend just by speaking in English and replacing the word "I" with, for example "wo" (Mandarin for I) -- and you'd certainly get enough practice that you wouldn't forget the word. With this much practice, you might be able to take on ten or more words a day with no problem.

This is the essence of Progressive Immersion -- mixing languages like a bilingual person, while progressively immersing yourself deeper and deeper in the language you are learning. Always having interesting conversations, always having enough practice that memorizing new vocabulary is easy, and that learning is enjoyable, comfortable, and effective.

Still not convinced?

Most language teachers recommend to their students "if you don't know the word, find a different way to describe what you want." Progressive immersion appears to contradict this... it appears to recommend: "if you don't know the word, use English." There are two reasons why this concerns teachers: first, the practice of finding alternative descriptions is itself good practice that is lost if English is used, and second, if the student were really in a foreign environment, they "should" speak the foreign language.

The answer to the first concern is simple. Finding an alternative way of explaining what you want is great practice. By all means, do it if you comfortably can. But with a 100 word vocabulary, or even a 500 word vocabulary, it will usually be impossible or overly frustrating to do so. Don't underestimate the importance of enjoyment and enthusiasm on memory. Watch how you're feeling and be your own judge of when to use English and when to find an alternative description.

The answer to the second is interesting. Imagine you hear the following sentence from a bilingual Chinese / English speaker:

"I brought some kungfu flicks to watch and some tofu to eat while we wait out this typhoon"

About one in five words in that sentence were Chinese, and yet you understood it just fine. Now imagine, instead, that you hear this sentence:

"wo dai le yi xie martial arts dian ying, hai you bean curd. deng hurricane de shihou women keyi yibian chi yibian kan."

Unless your Chinese is too advanced for our introductory lessons, you're going to understand only "martial arts bean curd hurricane" and wonder whether this is an ad for a new soy energy drink.

Why is this relevant? English has become the defacto language of the world economy, and the populace of nearly all major cities have memorized a large vocabulary list of English words. If you use a single English word in a Chinese sentence, there's a very high chance that word will be understood -- just like English speakers understand the "kungfu tofu typhoon" sentence above. But, for the most part, the world populace has not had enough practice with English grammar to understand a fully English sentence -- just like English speakers can't understand the "martal arts beancurd hurricane" sentence above.

Our strategy is to teach you the common words and constructs that you need to make your sentence fundamentally Chinese. With this base, throw in an English noun, verb or adjective here or there, and you will certainly get by in most major Chinese speaking cities. Venturing away from the cities, you can always bring an electronic dictionary to quickly look up the words in case you're not understood.

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Unit One, License to use