T.I.P. | The Power of Immersion —— Melissa Chew
“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
—— Ludwig Wittgenstein
You have each experienced the opportunity to immerse yourself in the English language through TIP – the Total Immersion Program. Perhaps some of you struggled at first or were even fearful of your ability to communicate. However, at the end of your respective session, you were able to communicate more effectively in oral English. What a great accomplishment. The power of immersion is that you must find a way to communicate in the language in which you are immersed. It is an effective tool that does not focus on tenses, grammar or sentence structure. It gives you the opportunity to build your vocabulary using day to day common situations and using the language in a similar way as a native speaker.
In America, most high schools (senior high) require at least two years of learning a foreign language. Traditionally, those languages offered are French, German and Spanish. When I was in high school, I decided to take French. Since this was only one class of the day (out of six total classes each day), I figured it would be fun. After all, that was only five hours of language a week! Besides, most of my friends had decided to take French as well.
On the first day of class in my first year, the teacher told us her name, gave us seat assignments, group assignments, and materials such as workbooks and textbooks. She then informed us that in her class, we were not going to be allowed to speak English. The only English we could use was to ask “How do you say….?” But even that had to be in French. So we frequently said: “Comment dit-on…?” followed by the English word for which we had no translation as yet.
My teacher proceeded to tell us about herself – where she grew up, where she went to school, her brothers, sisters, mother and father, that she lived in a house and had a cat. She talked about how many years she had been speaking French, and that she had even travelled to France while in college and studied there for one year. She did all of this in French. So, you likely would ask how could we possibly understand what she was saying?
First of all, my teacher used a variety of “realia”, real objects, as she talked about each part of her life. On a map, she showed us her hometown, using hand gestures to indicate that was where she had lived when she was a little girl. She held up a magazine with the name of her university to indicate where she had gone to school, and even her diploma. She used photographs of her family pointing to each person as she said the words for sister, brother, mother, father. She drew a picture of a house on the chalk board, and mimicked the “meow” of a cat to tell us about her pet. She had a small model airplane and an outline of France that she used to tell us about going to France to study, and held up fingers to indicate how many years.
Second, while we did not understand every word she said, we got the big picture, the general idea, and it was all while listening to French. We were engaged, excited, and learning French.
I was so enthralled with this learning, that I ended up taking four years of French in high school (remember…only two years were required) and continued on into college. As we became more and more comfortable understanding some French communication, we gradually began to learn the more difficult aspects of tenses, grammar or sentence structure. The class often would perform skits for younger students to interest them in the French language. We eventually even selected French pen pals to write to and improve our skills. For some of us, those friendships continue to this day.
You also have the power to take your English skills and make learning interesting by using simple, diverse techniques learned in your TIP sessions. You can use realia, incorporate games, sing songs, role play, and provide partner or group work assignments to enhance your teaching. You will have fun, and so will your students.
As Ludwig Wittgenstein said, our world is limited to the scope of our language(s). TIP helped you to expand your world, now it is your turn to help expand your student’s world. Immerse them in learning!