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Full Immersion in TEFL

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Full Immersion – learning to swim.

Full Immersion or Total Immersion is throwing your students in at the deep end: a strategy for teaching English to students.

Essentially the students are given input in English only which means that the teacher does not speak any other language other than English. It is a very effective method of teaching but can take some time before the students are confident enough to produce (i.e. speak/write).

Background

This method is based on the way a native speaker learns English as a child. They are surrounded by English input (people speaking to them, listening to radio and television, etc) and slowly they will begin to speak. At 6 months or so they will be making sounds, at 12 months they will use single words‏‎, at 2 years they will have a vocabulary‏‎ or 150 – 300 words and then gradually they will begin using grammar‏‎ correctly as they get older.

This general principle is brought into the classroom with several important differences.

Practicalities

In the classroom the teacher will use English only. With beginners‏‎ they will need to give a lot of simple, repetitive input.

My name is Fred.

His name is Manos.

Her name is Kumiko.

There is also a strong use of visuals: flashcards‏‎ and the like.

Because the students have their mother tongue‏‎ to fall back on, they will begin to learn a lot quicker than native speaker children. That is, it will not take them 12 months before they produce their first word! At the end of the first lesson, using gestures, repetition and visuals, a typical class could easily be saying things like:

My name is Mario. Good morning!

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

I am a girl.

And so on.

Ideally, if this method is adopted by a school it should be used everywhere. All teachers and staff should be encouraged to speak English only but allow students (especially beginners) to use their MT when they need to. For example, a student might ask to use the toilet in their MT but the teacher would respond in English.

English Only

The idea that the students’ mother tongue is not used at all can sometimes be a little intimindating to the new teacher. However, with the right lesson preparation and specific, defined long-term goals, it can be achieved.

Plus, it is very rare that a student will not know some English words even though they may not think they do! For example, if you go into the class and hold up these flash cards the chances are that the students mother tongue will use very similar words to the English original:

pizza
computer
telephone
taxi

These can act as an anchor for the students to let them know they’re not learning completely from scratch!

Useful Links

English Only‏‎ – getting your class to speak English only.

TEFL Methodologies – an overview of different TEFL methodologies

Learn to Teach English – how to use these methodologies to teach English

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