Immersion language courses (such as a Business English coursein London) are those in which the delegate finds him/herself in a country where the target language is one if not the national language. The benefits of being in a position to experience and use the target language naturally in social and professional situations outside the training room is extremely beneficial to the learning process. As Mike Bostick states in his article ‘What is Immersion?’: ‘Language is acquired most effectively when it is learned in a meaningful social context.
Fritz and Wagner state that ‘Language is not only a cognitive phenomenon, the product of the individual’s brain; it is also fundamentally a social phenomenon acquired and used interactively in a variety of contexts for myriad practical purposes’. The delegate is focused on specific language and forms in the training room during the day and then has the opportunity to practise his language skills in the evening and at the weekend. Examples of different possible social situations could be an evening in a pub, going to a sports club, the theatre or the cinema. Professional situations might also be organised. A visit to the local law courts could be a feature of a legal English immersion course or an organised guided tour of an accountancy firm might find its place on a financial English training programme. If the delegate stays in a host family, then the opportunities for social interaction obviously increase.
The mental efforts involved in manipulating one’s own linguistic resources in order to interact socially aide the memorization of structures and vocabulary. Being able to use the training room language in real social and professional situations can also give a big boost to the delegate’s level of motivation. In addition, associating the target language with a culture at first hand can also add an extra motivational factor.
If we were to take note of Stephen Krashen’s theories on second language acquisition, the higher the delegate’s level of language before the immersion course, the more beneficial this course would probably be. This is because the American Linguistic, Krashen, believed that language is best acquired when the delegate receives a lot of comprehensible input. ‘Comprehensible input is language input that can be understood by listeners despite them not understanding all the words and structures in it’.
This roughly tuned input needs to be slightly above the delegate’s productive level (i + 1, where i is the delegate’s current level of language). The delegate on an immersion training course is faced with an enormous amount of comprehensible input and should therefore be able to acquire language more easily. Krashen distinguishes between acquired language (the language which is subconsciously acquired and which is readily available for spontaneous conversation) and learned language (what we use to monitor or check the acquired language as we use it). Acquiring and learning both of these sorts of language is more possible on an immersion course where the language of the training room is complimented by social language.
In addition to the increased linguistic opportunities available to a delegate on an immersion course, one important practical advantage should not be neglected. Immersion nearly always takes place in a country that is foreign to the delegate. He/she is therefore definitely ‘out of the office’. Consequently, the chances of first language interference and professional interruptions, which both hinder the learning process, decrease significantly. The delegate is also away from his/her family, which also implies that he/she can pay full attention to practising and learning the target language.