"Travel", they say. "Go to the country and learn the language for a few months."
"You'll be fluent in no time".
That's what I always used to hear when I was first learning Italian, long before I took the leap and actually studied abroad there.
Quality language learning, it seemed, was inexorably tied to one's ability to buy a plane ticket and spend time in a place where a specific language is spoken.
The reason, of course, is immersion. If what makes us better at a language is simply speaking it, hearing it, reading it, and writing it as much as possible, then there's no better place to do that than the place where all of those things happen all of the time.
Wouldn't you agree?
But what if you can't travel? What if you can't spend thousands of dollars to buy a plane ticket, or potentially much more to enter a university program abroad?
Are you doomed to forever suffer sub-standard learning methods?
I think not.
Where immersion environments were once limited to the country in which you find yourself, that is no longer the case, thanks to the Internet.
If you've got an Internet connection, a good-quality immersion environment is only ever a few clicks away. Not only that, but with smartphones and tablets, you can even take your immersion environment with you on the go.
The following are the first five of ten easy ways you can get more language learning immersion at home.
1. Change Your YouTube Content Location
Let's start with a website you probably use every day: YouTube.
YouTube is massive. Collectively, YouTube users watch over one billion hours of content every day—anything from cat videos to Photoshop tutorials can be found on the platform.
Without knowing your specific viewing habits, I can guess that most of what you watch is in English (or English and your mother tongue). The videos you search for and the recommendations you see are all limited to English, and you see little, if anything, in other languages, even if you want to.
Fortunately for us language learners, there's a way to tweak YouTube so that nearly everything it shows and recommends is in our target language—the home page, recommended videos, recommended channels, and so on.
And that requires changing your content location.
On YouTube, your content location is not the language you see in the menus, but the source from which YouTube pulls most of its videos. We human beings tend to have most of our interests in common with people from the same country as us, so if YouTube knows nothing about you other than what country you're from, it will show you popular videos and channels from that country as a catalyst to get you watching.
Fortunately, no matter which country in the world you are from, changing your content location doesn't take more than a few clicks of your mouse:
- 1Visit YouTube.com
- 2Click on the Settings icon (the three vertical dots) on the upper right of the page, next to either "Sign In" or your user icon. A dropdown menu will appear.
- 3Locate and click on the option that says Location: [your current country]. Another menu will appear.
- 4From the menu titled "Choose Your Location", choose a country where your target language is an official language.
In most cases, the content on the YouTube homepage (and any other subsequent page) should change to reflect the content that is currently popular in your chosen country.
Keep in mind that if you are currently signed in, the effect of changing locations may be overshadowed by recommendations from your watch history, so click the "Trending" button on the sidebar to get a clearer idea of what happened. The Trending menu should only show you the currently trending videos in your chosen country.
2. Join Online Groups in Your Target Language
One of the Internet's many strengths is its ability to connect people with shared interests who speak the same language.
For example, you and I have probably never met, but since we're both English-literate people who have an interest in language learning, we're basically communicating via this blog post.
The same thing happens in your target language too, whether or not you're actually aware of it. Speakers of different languages gather all over the web to meet and chat about any topic under the sun.
And while these meeting places and forums are usually intended for native speakers of those languages, there's nothing stopping you from joining in on the conversation and interacting in your target language.
The two easiest places to find forums full of native speakers are on Discord servers and Facebook groups.
Discord is a community-based voice- and text-chat application. Though originally designed for and primarily used by members of the video-game community, Discord communities (called "servers") can be made or organized around virtually any topic.
To use Discord for the purposes of at-home immersion, the goal is to find a community that:
- Features your target language as the primary language
- Is organized around something you're interested in
To do this, you can use a website called Disboard, which is a searchable public Discord server list.
To find a Discord server in your target language, simply follow these steps:
- Make an account on discordapp.com
- Log into your new account on your web browser, or download the desktop or mobile apps.
- Go to disboard.org
- Type the name of your target language into the search bar in the center of the page, and hit Enter.
You will then be presented with a list of public Discord servers that contain that language as a "tag". Typically, these servers are either for people who are learning that language, or native speakers of that language (or both!).
For the purposes of immersion, I recommend that you look for a community that is not built around languages or language exchange. This way, you'll have the greatest odds of reading, writing, and communicating all in your target language, which is what immersion is all about!
One last note before moving on:
Be careful of the types of Discord servers you are joining. If you are not sure what the purpose of a given Discord server is, read the description, or run it through a translator. Not-Safe-For- Work (NSFW) servers are tagged as such on Disboard, below the description. If you need more information or context before joining, you can also read reviews of each server, if available.
Finding Facebook groups populated by speakers of your target language is not difficult, but finding a group that suits your needs and interests may take some work.
Facebook's group recommendation system seems to be based primarily on several factors:
Because of the above, for example, it may be difficult to organically find all-French-speaking groups if you're not already in France, don't have French-speaking Facebook friends, or aren't already a member of such groups.
To get your start with target language Facebook groups, I recommend that you make a list of your own interests, and then translate that list into your target language.
Once you’ve done that, complete the following steps:
Since you're searching for groups with target language words in their titles and/or descriptions, you'll likely find groups solely intended for native speakers.
When selecting which groups you will join, I recommend looking for groups that have a mid-to-high frequency of posts. This will be visible to you under the group description, where it will say something like "10 posts a day" or "7 posts a week".
From there, you can even click into the group and get an idea of how active the group is. If the group is public, you can view posts directly. If it is private, you'll only be able to see things like the amount of members (and how many signed up in the past 30 days), as well as more detailed info about the posting history.
3. Stream Target Language News
Another great way to get more immersion from home is by streaming target language news.
For better or worse, many countries around the world have embraced the 24-hour news cycle, meaning that there are news broadcasts available in those corresponding languages at any moment of the day.
The easiest places to encounter and stream these news broadcasts without region restrictions is through YouTube.
To find the YouTube channels that broadcast live news via stream, you first need to return to Tip 1 in this article and change your YouTube content location.
Then complete the following steps:
- 1Click "Live" in the left sidebar
- 2Scroll down to "Live Now - News" (if this section is missing, hit ctrl/cmd + f and search for the word "news" in your target language
- 3Enjoy the news broadcast!
An added benefit of these news live streams is that they come with a live chat function. Usually meant to allow viewers to interact directly with the channel owner who is broadcasting the livestream, on news channels the chat messages are more like active commentary.
As the events of the news play on the video, you'll see messages pop up talking about and reacting to them. If you’d like, you can even join in on the action yourself!
4. Watch Livestreams on Twitch
Livestreams aren't just good for news broadcasts. They're also good for interacting with native-speaking broadcasters in real time.
Thanks to services like Twitch, you can search for and find native speakers who broadcast themselves doing all sorts of interesting things, like playing video games, hosting podcasts, playing board games, and just chatting!
In many ways, it's like hanging out with native speaker friends you didn't know you had, all from the comfort of your own home.
Watching target language livestreams on Twitch is very easy, and does not require a Twitch account of any kind.
Simply follow these steps:
- 1Go to Twitch.tv
- 2Click on "Browse" on the left side of the top navigation menu
- 3Next to "Filter by", click "Add Filter +" and type in the name of your target language. If there is a suitable matching filter, your target language will appear in the dropdown list. Click it to continue.
Once you've completed these steps, you will see a list of all of the live channels that are broadcasting in your target language. You'll notice that most channels are broadcasts of individual people playing video games, but just as many are of people who are just there to chat and interact with their audience of subscribers.
This can be a great way to experience casual language, like you would hear in face-to-face conversations with a friend.
5. Purchase and Download Desktop/Mobile Games in Your Target Language
If you're not a fan of just watching native speakers play video games on Twitch, what about grabbing a controller (or keyboard and mouse) and playing a video game yourself?
Desktop Gaming (Mac/PC/Linux)
Fortunately, thanks to the advent of online video game distribution platforms like Steam, GOG, and the Epic Games Store, language-focused gamers no longer have to worry as much about things like region restrictions to play games in their target language.
Now, as long as you purchase and download those games directly online (as opposed to buying a physical cartridge or disk), you can have direct access to all of the language diversity a single game offers, even from your home country.
To find video games to play in your target language for a fully immersive experience, follow these steps:
- 1Go to store.steampowered.com
- 2Click on the magnifying glass icon next to the “Search the Store” input field (even without inputting anything)
- 3Scroll down to "Narrow by Language"
- 4Click the "See All >>" button if necessary
- 5The search results will be updated live. You can then add or change other search filters as you see fit.
- 6If you find a game that you are interested in playing in your target language, click on the name of the game to be brought to that game's profile page.
- 7Scroll down to "Languages" in the sidebar, and click "See all supported languages". The displayed list will show you if your chosen game has the interface, full audio, or subtitles in your target language.
Look specifically for games with "subtitles" and "full audio" in your target language for the most immersive experience.
If you’d prefer to get your target language gaming fix on the go, rather than from home, you can also turn to mobile games, which are downloadable and playable directly on your smartphone.
The most challenging part about getting immersion through mobile games is actually finding games that are playable in your target language.
Here are some tips to help you track down those games on iOS and Android, the most popular mobile operating systems available today:
iOS - Luckily for us, Apple’s iOS App store provides the most direct way to find out the language features of a specific game:
- 1On your iOS device, open the “App Store” app.
- 2Select a game, either through direct search or the “Games” tab. (Alternatively, visit the “Games” section on Apple’s App Store website)
- 3Once you’re on a game’s profile page, scroll down to the “Information” section
- 4Under “Information”, find “Languages”, and look for your target language.
- 5If your target language appears in the languages list, then you can play the game in your target language!
Android - Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, there does not seem to be a reliable way to determine which games on Android’s Google Play Store are available to play in separate languages, at least directly from your phone or computer.
However, I recommend following the steps above for iOS (through visiting Apple’s App Store website) and still looking for compatible games.
If you can play a game in your target language on an Apple device, then you should be able to do the same on the Android version of the same game, provided it exists.
How Else Can You Get Immersion from Home?
The above are only five examples of ways you can use online tools and websites to help you build a good-quality immersion environment without even leaving your own house.
That’s not all of them, though. Stay tuned for the next post on language learning immersion, where I will share five more easy ways to build an ideal immersion environment—including e-books, radio, podcasts, and more!
Written by Kevin Morehouse
Kevin Morehouse is a language coach and teacher who is on a journey to make the world a more multilingual place. A member of the LucaLampariello.com team since its inception, Kevin's principal role is that of writer, editor, and content developer. He is currently learning Korean, his primary language focus since mid-2017.