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2A: Types of Active Immersion

In Stage 2, your goal is to achieve level 5 comprehension in your first domain as fast as possible. There are several tools in your toolbox to accomplish this: active immersion, passive listening, and active study.

As mentioned before, active immersion is when you pay full attention to the content you are consuming. Active immersion is the most important activity in language acquisition.

Many learners ask: how often should I look things up while actively immersing?

On one end of the spectrum, you could look up every word and try to understand 100% of the content. On the other, you could look up nothing and just let the language wash over you.

Rather than trying to find a middle ground between these two, we recommend doing both as separate exercises.

Any media with a reading component can be used for either intensive or free-flow immersion. Some examples include:

  • 3-channel: Watching TV with TL subtitles
  • 2-channel: Reading a comic
  • 2-channel: Listening to a podcast while reading the transcript
  • Pure: Reading a novel or blog

Intensive Immersion

In traditional language learning, students are encouraged to look everything up so that they can understand 100%. This is called intensive immersion. Language learning tools like LingQ, Language Learning with Netflix, and Lingopie are built on this idea. They make it easy to look things up so you can understand as much as possible.

Intensive immersion is a powerful tool for learning vocabulary and grammar directly from real-world content. As you immerse, you attempt to puzzle out the meaning of each sentence by using lookups. In this process of puzzling out meaning, you use your analytical mind to break apart the language and try to understand it. Intensive immersion builds a pool of conscious knowledge that your brain can later acquire.

In the beginning, you won't always be able to figure out a sentence and that's OK! If the sentence is too difficult to understand or there are too many unknown words, just skip it and move on. It's better to focus on the low hanging fruit.

Free-Flow Immersion

Intensive immersion is great for learning vocabulary and grammar, but it's not great for acquisition. When you constantly interrupt your immersion to look things up, your subconscious doesn't have the opportunity to internalize the language and build linguistic instinct.

The alternative is free-flow immersion where you let the language wash over you. You still pay full attention, but you shouldn’t be looking things up constantly. The occasional lookup is OK, but avoid constantly interrupting your immersion.

Free-flow means accepting and embracing the ambiguity of the language. If you are watching a TV show, accept that you aren't going to understand everything. Don't try to look up every unknown piece of dialogue.

Free-flow doesn't mean you need to go quickly. Go at whatever speed feels comfortable to you as long as you're not breaking your flow. If you are reading a comic or novel, then take your time, but don't linger on incomprehensible sentences. Accept that they are currently out of your reach and just move on.

Free-flow immersion builds automaticity: the ability to understand words and structures instantly, without thinking. Automaticity relies on the subconscious mind. To build automaticity, you need to turn off your analytical mind so that your subconscious has full access to the input.

Free-flow immersion is where the majority of acquisition happens. The conscious knowledge you’ve obtained through intensive immersion and active study helps your subconscious comprehend the language and make the connections between the words you hear and the pure thought in your mind.

In the beginning, intensive immersion and free-flow immersion are very different activities. Over time, as you acquire the language, you won’t need to do as many lookups in your intensive immersion and it will start to feel more like free-flow until the two eventually converge into the same activity.

Best of Both Worlds

For the rest of Stage 2, we recommend immersing in two pieces of content simultaneously. One piece is reserved for intensive immersion while the other is just for free-flow immersion.

It’s important to find two pieces of content in the same domain. You want to have as much overlapping language between the content as possible so that the conscious knowledge learned through intensive immersion can be acquired through free-flow immersion.

For example, the TV shows “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” are a good pairing. Both are slice-of-life sitcoms. Both take place in New York. Both are romantic comedies. There is a lot of overlap between them. By intensively immersing with Friends, you would learn the same vocabulary that you’d find while free-flow immersing in How I Met Your Mother.

Intensive immersion takes a lot longer than free-flow immersion so you will finish one series long before the other. When searching for new free-flow content, remember to keep your domain small and choose something similar to the shows you have already watched.