I often talk about how diving into a language is the best way to learn it; today, I focus on the immersion process through my first Canadian immersion experience.
In my article about the French box, I mentioned my journey with English language and how, after 10 years of English lessons at school and university, I was barely able to have a conversation.
Now, I speak English fluently and still love learning more words as I meet new people and experience new things. Most English speakers that I’ve met told me that I speak very well (#proudofmemoment 😀 ) and I know that it is thanks to my first Canadian immersion experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I speak perfect English, because first, there is no such thing as a perfect language, and second, most of native speakers (not only in English) do not have an expert level in their own language.
I believe that when it comes to speaking a language, the learning never ends; not because it’s too difficult, but because the languages evolve so you can always learn new things, even more if you travel around the world! But let’s go back to the point here.
First travel to Canada
In 2012, after graduating university in French teaching, I booked a flight to Ontario; my very first travel to Canada! I spent 5 months with a family there, taking care of the kids. I already knew that immersion was the best way to improve, so I decided to go for it while making my dream to go to Canada come true!
I still remember the very first day: I arrived in Toronto on a beautiful sunny day of August, was waiting for the family to pick me up, I was so excited and stressed at the time! On the way home from the airport, I couldn’t stop smiling; looking at the window, discovering and brain-recording every single detail of everything I was watching, trying to remember all my English words to answer as good as I could the questions from the family…
When we got home, the kids took me by the hand on a tour of the house and the eldest (10 years old) was speaking so fast that I didn’t get half of what she was saying! I was overwhelmed, but in a good way: super happy to finally be in Canada, surrounded by English, excited to start this adventure and worried when I realized that I didn’t know anything about what the kids were talking about in the house… It didn’t really matter at that time, I was just stoned with happiness lol!
After the house tour, I remember stepping outside on the deck, looking at the view and thinking: « Wow…this is it, this is where my heart belongs… ». That’s the day I fell in love with Canada; one of the happiest days of my life!
2 and 4. The family’s backyard
3 and 5. The pond, in the middle of the neighborhood
photo credit: Sarah Dessert
After a few days of adjusting both physically and mentally, I started to take care of the kids. One thing after the other, I was realizing how much my English lessons from school were not useful: I was missing vocabulary for groceries, trees, clothes, things around the house, pretty much everything you need in your daily life! Sure, I was able to introduce myself and I knew that you need an « s » when you use « she/he/it », but I had to learn pretty much everything else regarding daily communication.
My brain received all the information around me in English, so he used my little English box to help me process everything; she was trying very hard to listen, learn and memorize, but with the hours I was doing, I was very tired. Then at some point, my brain allowed my English box to take over and the switch happened…
Honestly, it’s like body magic! I was swallowing every single thing around me and improving every day: the vocabulary, the expressions, the language structure, the pronunciation, the tone of voice, everything! Without even trying to learn, I was learning all of it!
Well, it took me quite a few times to actually remember « shredded cheese » or « pond » lol; but my English box got bigger like never before in those 10 years of classes. My accent got more round and Canadian, I could speak better and faster, I was able to follow a conversation easily and I even started to think and dream in English!
The wisdom and potential of our bodies will never cease to amaze me; it’s really remarkable how your body can adjust to any situation to help you « survive ». Because that’s actually what happens: when your brain realizes that to « survive » where you are, you need to adapt to the language, he will open wide and work hard to record and program this new « box ». That’s what the switch is. In an immersion situation, you give your brain a challenge and at some point, he’s going to understand that to get over this challenge, you need to have a new (or better) language box! 🙂
Remember that your brain always loves a good challenge, it’s what keeps him in good shape; so don’t underestimate him! Yep, it’s not because you’re older that your brain can’t build boxes anymore! 😉
Benefits from an immersion experience
The improvement in English is the main benefit of course, but so much more came from my first Canadian immersion experience! What else? Well, let’s see: my first Canadian school experience, first Thanksgiving, first real Halloween (yes, with pumpkin carving and trick or treating! 😀 ), travels in North America, first Canadian winter (my hands didn’t like that…), first Christmas parades, learning all the Christmas songs in English (that was actually such a good practice, still is!), and the list goes on! So many little and big dreams came true; it was beyond everything I could have imagined… And you know what? I was also capable of understanding the kids! Yay! 😀
There are many benefits you can get from an immersion experience: diving into a new culture, knowing yourself, evolving, discovering, being more human, humble, open and confident, meeting new people, getting life experience, thriving… Here are just a few examples of these benefits.
A life-changing experience
As I was saying at the beginning, my first Canadian immersion experience is the reason why I’m capable of speaking (and writing) like this today, even if my birth language is French. It was a life-changing experience because it shaped my English box in a way that I can switch from one language to the other, easily enough. Sometimes, it’s actually easier for me to express something in English, rather than French.
When I came back to France in January 2013, a part of me was still in Canada and my English box didn’t understand right away that she wouldn’t be needed as much. I still remember one day at the bakery, waiting in line to buy a baguette (how cliché! Lol), I bumped into somebody and said « oh sorry » in English; after a brain-freeze moment, I smiled…
Something else happened: the songs or movies that I used to watch or listen to in English, suddenly had no more secrets for me. Just like you lift the curtain to see the show, I was able to understand the words and notice the expressions I had learned in Canada. It was actually really funny to realize that some of the stories in the songs I was singing were not what I thinking at all…lol!
It took me a little while to figure out what was next for me, but in my room, I wrote this quote from Henry David Thoreau: « Go confidently in the direction of your dreams; live the life you’ve imagined… ». I put it on my wardrobe as a reminder of my first Canadian immersion experience and the promise that if I chose to live in Canada, then no matter what, I would find a way to make it happen… You know the rest of the story. 😉
I’m sharing my experience here to prove you that it’s not about how many lessons you took, it’s not about how you translate every single word, it’s about diving into the language to really build your new box properly so that after, you can use it whenever you need to!
That’s exactly the reason why I always offer an immersion experience in my classes, from the very first one! And I promise you that you can do it, you can follow the lesson, you can build your French box following this process; but for this, you will have to trust me, trust yourself and never give up! It might take some work, but it’s so worth it!
I will always be proud of my first Canadian experience, because it’s a huge part of how I got to live the life I have today. So who knows, your French journey might be YOUR life-changing experience… 😉
If you have questions or want to share your immersion experience, leave a comment! 🙂