A Chinese Immersion Weekend

我的沉浸式的周末 wǒ de chén jìn shì de zhōu mò – My Immersion Weekend

Last weekend I decided to take part in a Chinese language immersion weekend, which was hosted by two lovely people on Instagram and the language learning community – Thanks Ru and Julianne! I really wanted to take part in this because I had been doing quite well with my Chinese, wanted to boost my motivation and also see how much more I could learn by using more authentic materials.

Ru and Julianne also created a BINGO sheet and set up an amazing Discord server for this weekend where we could chat with people in our target languages, watch movies and share resources.

Even though I’m a little late in writing up this post, I really wanted to share my experiences with you all and also highlight why I think this is an excellent idea for language learners. Read on for more details and I hope you enjoy the post!

What’s an immersion weekend?

Well, an immersion weekend is where you try to fully immerse yourself in your target language for as much of the weekend (or other period of time) as possible. The idea behind it is to put away the textbooks and really enjoying using as many authentic materials as you can – to engage with the language, have fun and hopefully find some new ways to learn your language!

PS If you’re a teacher reading this, I hope you might stumble across some ideas worth sharing with your own students, because some of my students found this idea quite interesting and I’m hoping they’ll have the courage to try it out as well!

Getting ready for the weekend!

To help me prepare for my immersion weekend, I spent Wednesday and Thursday beforehand collecting YouTube videos, podcasts, blogs and TV shows, and I saved them on my YouTube account, my Internet favourites and my phone so that I had plenty of resources to hand. I also managed to find a few sample or free graded reader books online and via the Apple bookstore!

I told my parents and my boyfriend about my plans, and mentioned that I’d be speaking Chinese as much as possible and also told friends that I may not respond to messages over the weekend in attempt to be as immersed in Chinese as possible. (Funnily enough, my mum got involved with me and my boyfriend learnt a few new phrases! [nǐ hǎo (hello), nǐ hǎo ma (how are you?), Wǒ hěn hǎo xièxiè (I’m well thank you), Wǒ hěn lèi (I’m tired)]

I collected all of my physical resources from around the house and put them in a big box along with a handful of pens, snacks and post-it notes so it was all in one place! I had 3 text books (Chinese in Steps 4, HSK 4 and Ni Hao 4), a dictionary, a guidebook and some old receipts, coffee menus and postcards that I planned on using for some translations. I also got my lucky cat, Panda ruler and a Chinese knotted lucky charm ready for my desk. I was going all out here! All that was missing was some Bubble Tea 珍珠奶茶 (and yes, I really missed that over the weekend!)

What did I get up to throughout my immersion weekend?

To kick things off on Friday afternoon, I decided to get out my Taiwan guidebook and make some pot noodles with little dumplings [饺子] because it reminded me of living in Taiwan as a teenager and not being able to cook (or was it because I didn’t enjoy it??). I also decorated my desk with postcards and pictures of when I lived in Taiwan, and some post-it notes of words I never seem to remember (幼稚 yòuzhì, 解决 jiějué, 表现 biǎoxiàn). This really helped me feel motivated, but also very nostalgic as well.

Unfortunately I had to work on Saturday morning so I didn’t start my immersion until 12 o’clock, when I decided to have a phone call with a lovely lady that I met on Tandem. She’s from Taiwan so we had loads of things to talk about – lots of hobbies to share, places we both like and TV shows that we enjoy. I did feel a bit guilty though because we spent most of the call speaking in Chinese, but today (I have just finished our second meeting) we spoke half in English and half in Mandarin – it was great fun and definitely more fair this time. Here are two pictures from both of our calls, and a sound clip of me (trying to) explain ‘what love is’.

What is love? A discussion with my Tandem partner!

I was in the last few episodes of [Back to 1989 / 1989一念間] on Netflix, so I spent a lot of time watching that – some of the time I wrote new words down and used my dictionary but other episodes I just watched them for the enjoyment. If anyone else has watched this series, please can we chat about it? I think I’m still recovering from the final few episodes!

I also listened to Chinese stories about idioms [成语 chéngyǔ] which was a really interesting experience because it’s been years and years since I last studied them. It turns out that I actually don’t remember very many! Two of my [new] favourites are:

  • 瓜田李下 guā tián lǐ xià – Melon field, below the plum (tree)
    This idiom, like many others, comes from a very old (Han dynasty) poem and the original meaning is that you shouldn’t tie your shoes in a melon field or fix your hat whilst standing under a plum tree (because someone might think you’re stealing them).

    What can we learn from this story? Don’t do anything that might make you look suspicious or avoid any situations that might put you in a bad light.

  • 井底之蛙 jǐng dǐ zhī wā – well bottom frog
    The story here is that a little frog lived in the bottom of a well. He could only see a circle of blue sky, and that’s all he knew. One day a turtle came along and the frog asked him to come in, stating that the well was the best place to be. The turtle couldn’t fit through the mouth of the well, and instead invited the frog to come and see the sea.

    What’s the meaning of this? Some people only know what’s right in front of them. They can’t think beyond their own lives, making them narrow minded or ignorant.

Aside from idioms and Netflix, I also spent time listening to Chinese music via YouTube (I created a playlist years ago and frequently add or remove songs to suit my current tastes – check it out here) and watching Taiwan travel vlogs. I found these really cool but it was nice to see Taiwan through someone else’s eyes and to see what they found interesting.

My absolute favourite Chinese song at the moment is:

I also dedicated some time to reading, (DuChinese App), listening to the radio (thanks to radio.net) and the news (Taiwan TTV ). Finally, I wanted to spend some time learning about different characters and the history / further meaning of them, I used some old textbooks to go over some radicals, and I also watched clips of tv shows based in Taiwan (Amazon Prime) for the nostalgia. So all in all, I had a busy, immersive and productive weekend!

Radio whilst preparing for my English lessons

A quick summary of the materials I used

Apps – I often use Pleco, DuChinese and HSK online as they all work well for improving vocabulary. I am also enjoying using Clockify to track my language tasks because it’s easy to use and the report layouts are really simple (and colourful, if you set it up properly).

Books – For the weekend I just used DuChinese and their graded readers, although I do have a couple of others. It’s easy and I’m not cluttering up my room with extra books. I would really like to buy at least one physical book, but it’s not happened yet! The funny thing about the story I read on DuChinese was that I had actually ‘taught’ this story with my English language learners during the previous week. I couldn’t believe it! And they also found it amusing when I told them.

Podcasts – At the moment I really like Talk Taiwanese with Abby, Learning Chinese Through Stories and The Chinese Sayings Podcasts. I listened to one from each podcast last weekend and learnt a lot of useful (and interesting) vocabulary!

Plus I’ve saved a couple from the website below – but I didn’t get around to listening to them over the weekend.

The Best Taiwan Podcasts

Reflections – Looking back over my weekend, I feel as though it really gave me the boost I needed to keep studying as much as possible. Although in the two weeks prior to my immersion weekend I had been studying a lot, I had been using dictionaries and textbooks instead of radio stations and other authentic materials. This week, I have felt really determined to listen to the radio, try to read some news and Facebook posts, rather than sticking to the learner material.

It definitely pushed me to take part in the language exchange and that was a positive experience and I learnt a lot of authentic language from it as well. Without the immersion weekend I’m not sure I would have forced myself to make the call.

I enjoyed learning the history of some of the characters and idioms, because that’s what really kept my interest in Chinese all those years ago, and also because I don’t believe you can fully learn the written language just by typing the pinyin into the phone / computer (Although I think this idea is becoming outdated).

Overall, this was an extremely positive weekend and I will be planning another one of my own very soon and definitely take part in the next one that is hosted via Instagram. It was completely worthwhile!

Recommendations – If you’re planning to take part in an immersion weekend I have a few pointers for you before you start!

1) This is meant to be a fun learning experience. You can set your own rules, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to achieve X amount of tasks during your immersion and you absolutely can take a break for a bit and, of course, speak to your family in your own language too. It doesn’t have to be 48 hours non-stop of a foreign language.

2) Plan a little before you start. Collect your resources – physical books, online videos, songs or radio stations. Whatever you’re going to use, have some idea first otherwise you might struggle to find activities to do.

3) Step out of your comfort zone! If you’ve been avoiding movies or books in your target language, this is the perfect opportunity to start. Or if, like me, you’ve been too worried about having a language exchange, do it now! I promise, it’s not as scary as you may think.

4) Tell your family and friends and try to gain their support. They might not speak your target language, but they should cheer you on and be excited for you. Their support should help create a positive environment for you!

5) Take note of what you learn, what you find difficult and what you could do differently if you did another immersion as it’s great to be able to look back and reflect on your time.

And that’s about it! There you have my immersion weekend experience, my materials and a few tips in case you want to try it out for yourself (or something similar). I have made some lovely friends through the immersion and I have also learnt a lot about myself and the Chinese language, all of which have given me the ‘push’ I needed to keep on studying hard.

If anyone would like to chat about it with me, feel free to leave a comment here or find me on Instagram @languageslouise ❤

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