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  • Writer's pictureKrista

Is Immersion Possible in our Globalized World

(the following is an excerpt of a speech given to American linguists by Ms. Julie Chamberlain, Director, Spanish Language Institute.)

Two weeks ago I attended a reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Costa Rica. The purpose of the reception was to introduce several new staff members who had just joined the embassy team….

No, immersion has never been easy, and as a consequence, the maxim has always been: IF YOU WANT TO LEARN THE LANGUAGE AND ADAPT TO THE CULTURE, YOU’VE GOT TO GET “OUT”—out of the house, out of the missionary compound and into the community.

But what happens when the community itself gets infiltrated with transnational companies, restaurant chains and entertainment media? What happens when “globalization” enters my mission field? If you’ll pardon my adaptation of Psalm 139, I may begin to feel like this: “Where can I go from my language and culture? Where can I flee from its presence? If I go out to eat, McDonalds is there; if I turn on the TV, CNN is there; if I go the movies, if I check my email, even there English pops out, or “pops up” at me!”

Joel and his wife Krista are journalists in their third trimester at the Spanish Language Institute. I asked Joel if he could share a few thoughts on his experience of language immersion and he wrote this, as a page from his personal journal:


Help… I’m drowning in total immersion. An endless barrage of conjugations and pronumbres are floating around in my head. My lifestyle has been turned upside down. I can’t wait until class is over when I can just plop down and watch a good movie with a big bowl of popcorn. And then my wife graciously reminds me we are here to learn Spanish. I find it terribly ironic that we left the cozy couch of English-speaking at home and yet, over half the channels on TV are in English, which is no different, in fact, then when we were at home.

I’m not drowning. I’m floundering.

Isn’t total immersion giving up oxygen for an underwater wonderland? Yet, I double-check the movie listings to make sure they’re in English (with Spanish subtitles, of course).

My classmates speak English.

My music is English.

My Bible is in English (or at least the side of the page I read).

Even my dog responds to English.

And the news comes in a pleasant blend of both. But, of course I opt out for the one I understand.

I’m not drowning. I’m slashing around in the kiddie pool hoping to make the Olympic swim team.

If I’m going to master this thing called a “foreign language,” I’ve got to jump into the deep end. Subjunctive is not going to kill me and nether is the girl behind the counter who’s looking at me like I just said a bad word. Well, I probably did, but at least I didn’t do it on purpose.

With a little help, this language blundering can be remedied, just so long as I stop inviting my classmates over for “movie night” with chips and salsa and actually think I’m saturating myself in the culture.

In this new language, it’s not just because I’m a gringo that they don’t permit me to eat in the local “cafetera”…it’s because that’s the coffeemaker!

I guess things could be worse. We discovered that we call our dog the name of the national utility company here — “Izze” which sounds extremely close to “ICE.” It’s like finding out the neighbors think you’ve named your dog “AT&T.”

Unfortunately, a foreign language is not going to come by osmosis. Otherwise, I’d be in the Olympics by now, metaphorically speaking. So, before I plop down for a little brain siesta I have to remember that total immersion means total change and change is more than just a geographical location. It’s a lifestyle.

As Joel says… Immersion is more than changing locations, it’s changing lifestyle. And that is not easy. E-mail and satellite telephone service are wonderful blessings that enable us to keep in touch with loved ones back home. E-mail can even be an important tool in enlisting prayer support. But it can also be a huge distraction that keeps language learners from staying on task……

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