For those studying a language, the importance of practice and immersion is well known as a way to better synthesize information and apply it on the fly. Outside of the classroom, however, students who don’t speak the language at home rarely have a chance to practice with others. This is why study abroad and other immersion resources are so important for language students: it allows them to practice applying and testing their skills in a variety of different environments and with different speakers. This helps them better understand the language even when various accents and vocabulary are used. Immersion programs also expose students to the culture surrounding their language, which helps them contextualize the language, so they might better use it in the future and appreciate its origins.
The German program, for example, offers study abroad options in which students can take a trip to Germany, host students themselves or do a direct exchange in which they switch houses with a German speaker. German teacher Susanne Kanning is also the director of a German immersion camp in Carnation that has activities and workshops designed to engage students with the language. Opportunities like these help students feel comfortable speaking and improvising, which expands their language ability. This also makes it easier to apply the language in oral exams, while traveling and even at work in the future.
In fact, a 2016 Aim Overseas survey reported that 61 percent of employers agree that an overseas study experience is positive on a resume. Additionally, 72 percent of employers agree that knowing a second language adds to the appeal of a prospective employee. The same study reported that 95 percent of students found the exchange experience as useful with regard to their future career plans.
Students who participated in hosting other students and studied abroad through their Japanese class said that the experience gave them a deeper understanding of the language that they will carry with them to the future. Initially, they described their experience in dealing with so many native speakers as awkward, but that overcoming this discomfort communicating really helped them to grow. They said the memories and the learning experiences they garnered from the people and culture wouldn’t have been able to be gained in a classroom. While the language department has some wonderful external study options like this, they are not available for all students or language courses.
While all higher-level language courses participate in in-class immersion, the opportunities for students to study outside of the school or outside of the country vary between languages. This is because every language would require separate planning for each country, sister school or immersion program. However, taking steps to create more universal learning opportunities for every language and student would be worth the effort.
Even if global travel isn’t accessible, there are many small language immersion clubs and camps that students and teachers could look into and invest in to provide another level of education and ability within the language. These options would also be good free alternatives to study abroad if finances are an issue for students or classes. Whether close to home or overseas these are opportunities offer great learning experiences. Especially at a school that strives for an international focus through its challenge programs such as IB and AP, as well as its cultural diversity initiatives, it would be beneficial to continue to make these opportunities known and available to all students.