Teaching in the Immersion Environment

Teaching in the Immersion Environment

Chances are, if you are reading this, you’ve decided to move halfway across the world to do a little traveling and a little bit of teaching, to earn some money. It may seem that teaching is just a means to an end, an easy way to fund a trip abroad, but it is actually so much more.

Teaching in TaiwanOur impact as teachers in the classroom leaves a lasting effect on our students. Even if we think the students are too young to truly remember who we were as teachers, they will retain the lessons we taught them. There are various studies that say shaping a child before the age of five will shape who they become in the future.


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Regardless of age, teaching has a meaningful impact on all students and it’s our job as teachers to make sure the impact is a positive one. Whether you have taught before going abroad or if this is your first time, teaching in another country can be nerve-racking.

You’re in a new country with new customs and a new language. You may be thinking, “How am I going to teach students who don’t even understand what I am saying!?” Well, think about it, you have learned language the same way too.

When we were babies we learned through the constant exposure to language and environment. How many times do you think our parents said “mama” or “daddy” to us before we finally said something? Just because our students are older than babies doesn’t mean the same principles don’t apply.

Teaching in an immersion environment is actually proven to be the MOST effective means of language education.

To be an effective immersion language teacher, there are steps we need to remember when we are in the classroom: teach authentic language that is important to our students, use comprehensible input, only use the target language, and be patient.

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Teach Authentic Language

The age and level of our students is very important to consider during this step of planning and implementation. We need to make sure what we are teaching something our students actually want to learn! When students WANT to learn what we are teaching and are ENGAGED in a lesson, you will find a major increase in their retention of information.

Should you teach kindergarten students vocabulary about global warming or Vladimir Putin’s idea about Manifest Destiny? Probably not. Inversely, should you teach adult students about Goldilocks and the three bears or rainbows and unicorns? Again, probably not. Make the lessons meaningful for your age group.

Your new school will likely not let you create your own curriculum and teach completely independently from their lessons; however, there are plenty of creative ways to spin lessons into your own style.

Incorporate “extra” vocabulary every now and again to spice things up. Make the language important to your students! Make them not only want to learn what you’re teaching, but make them need to learn what you’re teaching.

Comprehensible Input

Comprehensible input, in short, is teaching language that students can comprehend. First, assess the level of the students and then teach language in a way that they can understand.

Regardless of age, we need to make sure that we’re not giving a beginner level student language that is far beyond his/her level. Expecting a beginner student to understand and respond to a minute long speech about, well, pretty much anything, will not result in a positive reaction.

Use very simple vocabulary that students can build from. Start with a simple “hello, how are you” sentence pattern, find creative ways for the students to practice it, make sure they have mastered it, then add “my name is.”

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After students understand these types of patterns, break down each individual piece. “Hello” means [this], “how” means [this], “are” means [this] (you can probably skip that one), and “you” means [this].

Students will already have a better understanding of what each piece means after they have practiced the sentence patterns over and over.

Teach in the Target Language

Stay in the language! If you know the language of the country you are moving to do not let your students know that! Especially if they are beginners!

This one is so so important.

Remember, language is learned best in an immersion environment, so explaining everything in that country’s language gives the students an “out.” It gives them the idea that they will always be able to revert to their own language when they don’t understand the target one.

For anyone that has lived abroad we of course know that is not the case. There are so many different ways to explain a pattern or phrase or word while staying in the target language.

Use plenty of visuals. Visuals help students understand the meaning behind a word.

Use body language. Body language is the global language. While certain actions and motions may mean different things in other languages there will likely be some cross-over.

Slow down your speech. Talking slower will help students understand what you are saying. After you sense the students have a better grasp of the language you can slowly increase the speed of speech.

I have studied Mandarin for three years and have a decent grasp of the language, but, as far as my students know, English is the only language I know. Stay in the target language!

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Be Patient

Learning a new language takes time….a lot of time. It’s not a process that can be rushed or moved faster than it can go. Our minds naturally can only process so much new information at a time.

If we really focus and have an exceptional good grasp of learning languages we can learn about 10-20 new words a day. I mean learn them. Not just memorize and forget, but really retain what they mean.

Our students will likely need more help remembering this many words. Depending on the duration of the classes 10-20 words could be the goal for a few days or a week, with constant practice and review.

Knowing this information, you should keep your cool and understand that learning will happen. It just takes time. Learn to enjoy the process, not the results.

Do you have any points that you would like to add? Do you teach in a fully immersive environment? What tips and tricks could you add? Let us know in the comments below.  

pic_for_TVadim Rubin is an ethnic Belarussian learning to speak Mandarin Chinese. He is a coach, teacher, linguist, athlete, and an aspiring world traveler. As an avid volleyball player and coach, he spends a majority of his time on the court with sweaty volleyball junkies. Off the court he enjoys to travel, write, and teach world languages.

In the summer of 2012 he traveled to Taiwan to study Chinese and wrote about his adventures in his blog: 三個月在臺灣 My Three months in Taiwan . He documented his adventures in Taiwan and China on his blog  Where’s Your Inner Child? He is now back in Taiwan teaching English, traveling, and discovering what life has to offer. – See more at: Vadim Rubin, Author at Baltimore Post-Examiner

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