The Story: Don’t Let the Best Be the Enemy of the Good

ParisJoão sat on the side of the dormitory party, quietly observing the others, students from France and all over the world who, like him, had come to Paris to study. João had arrived here only a few weeks before from his home in Rio de Janeiro and had already fallen in love with the City of Lights.  Tonight, however, as in almost every other situation here, the normally talkative boy found himself resigned to silence. Even after years of French classes, João didn’t feel confident enough to speak with the natives. He needed time to formulate his sentences correctly, often couldn’t remember the precise vocabulary word he wanted, and above all, was embarrassed by his pronunciation.

João spent most of the party listening to the others speak. One girl in particular caught his attention, not for the usual reasons that girls catch a boy’s attention, but because she spoke boisterously throughout the entire evening. Like, João, she had just arrived from abroad — from Madrid, he gathered. Any casual observer would have instantly identified her as Spanish by her marked accent and  mangled syntax.

João wasn’t sure whether to be horrified or amused by the girl.  Some of the French people at the party couldn’t hide their amusement, mimicking her with loud guffaws. He was happy to have restricted his conversation to the few things that he knew how to say well; he surely wouldn’t have wanted to be the butt of French jokes for the way he spoke! He would just have to wait for his French to greatly improve before he could converse with people here in the same way that he could converse with people back home.

But as the months went by, João grew quieter and quieter. He had mastered a nearly perfect French pronunciation of some key phrases that he used every day- he felt very confident ordering his morning café au lait and croissant- but he rarely found the courage to say more than what was absolutely necessary and spent most of his day in silence.

One day, while he was riding his bike home from long hours in the library, a car flew out of a side street with no warning and struck João to the ground. Though dazed by the blow, he jumped quickly  to his feet. Staring at the driver through the windshield, he found himself speechless. After a few seconds of silence, the man tore off, leaving João briefly dumbfounded in the middle of the street until the squeal of screaming tires announced the abrupt stop of the car. A young girl was standing in front of the car, laying into the driver in a torrent of angry and fluent French.  Within minutes, the driver was at João’s side, begging for forgiveness. When it was all over, João had obtained not only a heartfelt apology, but a ride to the hospital and insurance information to pay for medical costs and bike repairs.

João received something else from the bike accident: an important lesson. The girl, his savior, was Ana, the fellow student from Madrid whose French he had so disdained at the beginning of the year. He was sure that none of the people along the street who had heard her give the irresponsible driver a piece of her mind had laughed at her. In fact, the driver looked as if he had seen a ghost after her sermon. Ana, for however sloppy her grammar and pronunciation had been, had obviously made great strides in her French during her time in Paris through constant trial and error while João had let his fear of making mistakes inhibit his progress. On his way back from the hospital, João thought of a quote from Winston Churchill that he had read in a book earlier that day: “The maxim ‘Nothing avails but perfection’ may be spelled ‘paralysis’.”

Immersion Language Learning

Come learn English in Boston!

There are generally two paths to learning a foreign language as an adult or an adolescent- the academic and the experiential route. While either of these approaches may potentially lead to a masterful command of the language, when they are employed together language learning becomes a fast, fun, and life-changing experience. A full-immersion program which combines study with real-life situations is a great option for the eager student of a foreign language.

Living in a foreign country is a 24-hour a day learning experience. Situations abound in which limitations in expression and comprehension must be surpassed, and these are the moments in which a special kind of experiential learning takes place. Given a pressing reason to express ourselves we find that we are capable of saying much more than we would have thought. In addition, the contact with native speakers provides us with a constant influx of new vocabulary and models of correct speech.

The startling number of new situations which we face in a foreign country can often be overwhelming, but a solid academic study of the language gives us the tools necessary to quickly and efficiently interpret this information and incorporate it into our own language skills. In a full-immersion program, students divide their time between real-life language situations and methodical classroom study. Classroom lessons are verified personally by the students in their experiences and situations encountered on the street are clarified at school. The academic and experiential methods thereby work together to accelerate the student’s foreign language acquisition.

There’s no doubt about it- full-immersion is a fast and balanced way to learn a foreign language, but it is also a tremendously rewarding and exciting experience which leaves the student with memories and friendships which will last a lifetime. Exploring a foreign country puts the student in direct contact not only with a foreign language but with a new culture; the possibilities to meet new people and have new, life-changing experiences are endless. Students find that these friendships and experiences remain in their hearts for many years to come and often return to their host city for return visits- or to stay.

Moreover, the skills acquired in a full-immersion program are not just linguistic. Learning to get by in a place which may be drastically different from home instills a great sense of independence in students and helps them feel sure that they will be able to cope with any changes that life may throw at them in the future. Living, working, studying, and socializing with people from other countries gives students a facility of interaction with just about anyone in social and professional settings. Academically, students will find themselves prepared to approach the study of other subjects with the same balance between the academic and experiential paths which they applied to learning the foreign language. Finally, the time abroad and away from their usual life and routines gives them a new perspective on just about everything in their own lives! No matter where life may take them after their experience- around the world or right back to their home- full-immersion students are marked by the maturity which they acquired in their time abroad.

If you are interested in turning your study of English into an unforgettable experience a full-immersion program may be just what you are looking for!