You’ve probably heard that the best way to learn a language is through total immersion. Well, that is certainly true to some extent, but there’s a catch. Immersion is only effective if you take care not to drown in the sea of foreign words. (Ohh, isn’t that poetic?) Ever wondered why some people move to a foreign speaking area and never learn the local language? Of course, there are plenty of reasons, but one of them is that they are overwhelmed by the language. In this post, we will talk about the ways you can avoid drowning in language learning.

Learning languages is like learning how to swim, sure enough, you need to be submerged in water, but you also have to slowly challenge yourself and learn gradually. Chris Lonsdale talks about this concept in a TEDx Talk. If you throw a man who can’t swim in the middle of the ocean, he won’t learn, he will drown. Language learning works in the same way. You need to be immersed in it, but you must use your surroundings in a way that gives you the chance to learn from the experience. Total immersion can work, but it has to be constructive, not destructive. The good news is that you won’t die if you’re in a drowning situation while learning a language. Well, not usually anyway… You just won’t learn much and feel a bit frustrated.

Meet Bobby Bobofella. Sadly, he only speaks English. Bobby just had a very important meeting about the fate of the rhubarb pie throughout the world with people who only speak Mandarin Chinese. What a great immersive language-learning experience, right? Yeah, no… Unfortunately, Bobby didn’t learn a single word, he only got a serious case of the jitters. Why didn’t Bobby learn anything? Well, simply because he drowned in the foreign language. But what if Mr. Bobofella had learned the language for a few months before finding himself in that all-important rhubarb pie meeting. He would at least have basic knowledge of the language, be able to understand some of the conversations taking place, practice what he knows and learn a few new words. He would have had a much more positive experience. In this case, he would still struggle, but he would stay afloat and get stronger. A program like Ouino can help you maximize the effectiveness of immersion and external learning sources by teaching you a solid foundation in your new language.

Now, we are not saying that you should always feel comfortable to speak in your new language, it is quite the opposite actually. In order to learn a language successfully, you must be in situations that are out of your comfort zone, without being totally overwhelmed by it. It is a very important distinction to make. For example, if you want to read a book in your new language, it might not be the time for Shakespeare or Moliere, not yet anyway. How about the Cat in the Hat? Choose something that is simple to understand and that you’ll enjoy. But if you’re understanding everything you’re reading, time to move up! Increase the difficulty of the book. The goal here is to learn and challenge yourself.

Remember to stick to material that is slightly above your level, this will increase your skills without that abominable drowning feeling. If the material is too far above your current level, everything will seem like one giant blurry hazy mess. If you are just getting started and want to watch movies to help you learn languages, it is best to choose a movie that is easier to understand. Perhaps a Disney movie or anything you used to watch as a kid. Being familiar with the story helps even more! In order to progress, the content must keep your attention. You might be interested in the new Cold War spy mystery movie, but if it’s packed with subtleties that are hard to understand even in English, you won’t enjoy it, you’ll soon fall into daydreaming land and it won’t be effective. Learning to match your learning material with your current level will work wonders on your language-learning skills and will prevent you from drowning in that sea of foreign words.

Note: This post was inspired by a quote from Chris Lonsdale in a TEDx Lingnan University conference. “Immersion per say does not work. Why? Because a drowning man cannot learn to swim.” Thank you Mr. Lonsdale for this great metaphor.