On immersion

For the past six weeks or so I have been sharing a flat with a couple who only speak a few words of English and German. When I moved in my Polish was probably hovering around A2, having received a boost over the summer from my reading, writing and use of a grammar book. I was still quite hesitant about speaking, and had only really started to build my confidence during a weekend away organised by my flamenco teacher, again with a few people who didn’t speak any English but who still wanted to communicate with me. Both the people on the flamenco weekend and the couple I was living with were great interlocutors for me, patient, happy to rephrase and repeat themselves as much as necessary, and supporting me in trying to communicate my ideas. The woman I lived with was also very good at correcting me consistently which had a massive impact on my grammar.

One of two kittens entertaining us when we weren't dancing flamenco :)
One of two kittens entertaining us when we weren’t dancing flamenco 🙂

Six weeks on, it’s like I’m a different person. I feel like my Polish is probably now into B1. I can speak about most everyday things, my accuracy has improved in quite a few areas, and my confidence is at similar levels to my much stronger languages. I’m not normally shy about pushing myself to speak, which is why the last year has been so strange for me as I was very reluctant to speak Polish if I didn’t have to. I felt like I didn’t really know what language I was speaking in, and it was a real mix of Polish, Czech and Russian. I’m very glad to be past that point, and feel like I’m now in a very good place to continue improving.

On reflection, I’m also wondering whether having such a long (almost) silent period has also helped me to speak more fluently and more confidently at this point than at the same point with other languages. A year of building my vocabulary and listening to and reading whatever I could has certainly helped me improve my understanding, and I feel it’s also made me more accurate when I finally did speak, although I’m sure Czech and Russian probably also had something to do with it.

This is the most conscious I’ve ever been of my speaking progress, as I’ve either already been at least B2 when I’ve been immersed in a language, or I haven’t been in a complete immersion situation for more than a couple of hours at a time. Six weeks of having to speak Polish most mornings and evenings for at least a few minutes meant I had no choice but to communicate. Talking about things which were relevant to me and trying to explain things which had happened during a very eventful few weeks, sometimes with Mr. Google’s help, extended my language and provided a huge amount of motivation.

I know that it’s theoretically possible to create similar situations through the use of Skype conversation partners for example, but I’ve never had the motivation to do it before, confident that I’d eventually learn as much as I needed to through constantly plugging away at the language. After this experience of immersion, I think I might try harder to recreate it with the next language I want to study (not sure what yet!)

I’ve only had two or three Polish lessons, and I’m wondering just how much and how accurately I can learn without having any, even though I know I definitely want some at some point as I need correction. Watch this space…

6 thoughts on “On immersion

  1. I can see a potential topic of our (future) workshop, Sandy. 😉 Possible title: “Put yourselves in their shoes”. I think it might be interesting to juxtapose learning English with learning Slavik languages.


  2. Droga Sandy,

    Thank you for posting this, it is very encouraging for those of us out here trying to learn some Polish (in my case in Mediterranean Spain). Well done, your flatsharing experience sounds to have been really positive in boosting your confidence in speaking and how great to feel a real sense of progress.

    I was really interested to read your remarks about (the importance of) a silent period and would like to know, when you get a chance sometime, whether you’ve been spending much time with the radio/tv on when you’re not teaching. I’ve been finding having a Polish soundscape (Polskie 24) going on very helpful with being able to produce certain sounds I’ve been finding pretty, well .. challenging. Though obviously at beginner level meaning escapes me! I can also relate to that sensation of not knowing quite which language you are in, sometimes.

    My super patient teacher Kasia who I see on Skype twice a week has been great in making me say things, from the go really, though we do use English in those sessions too. She told me recently, which I found very cheering, that Polish is really hard when you start but then it gets easier, unlike her experience of learning English. In her view, English is easy when you start, but then it becomes a nightmare. So there’s a positive thought to start the week – it can only get easier for us!


    1. Hi Charlotte,
      I didn’t really have Polish radio on much, just the occasional couple of hours of RMF, and I haven’t had a TV for a few years now. But I did download an audiobook of the first Harry Potter which I listened to a few times, and being in the country obviously helps too. For me, it’s really important to expose yourself to the language as much as possible and not to worry too much about understanding – that way you get used to the rhythms of it and expose yourself to lots of vocabulary and grammar patterns, which you’ll gradually become aware of as you become ready to learn them.
      As Kasia says, I think English does indeed get harder as you continue, unlike many other languages which are much more regular once you’ve mastered the initial rules. I always admire people who can learn any language to a high level, and particularly those who master the nuances of English!


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