Create a Language Immersion Environment with Facebook

Yeah, Facebook is dying–at least that’s what the news keeps saying. But I spend a lot of time on there, and many of my friends do too. So I don’t really think it’s going anywhere for a while.

And okay, admittedly, that headline is a little sensational. Yet I’m torn. On the one hand, I try to shy away from the term “immersion,” which has been overused in language marketing materials. On the other hand, I think that tweaking your Facebook account can accentuate your language studies and surround you with the language in a way that rivals living in country. Language learning happens best when the language is a habit, when it’s front and center in your mind. Tweaking your Facebook page so that you’re getting exposed to your new language whenever you’re just trying to feed your Internet addiction is surprisingly effective.

In most straightforward terms, this might be simple stuff, but it’s powerful.

1. Change your language settings.

You can find instructions for doing so here. Right now, I’m studying German, so I changed my settings to Deutsch.

Instead of a “Like” button, I get a “Gefällt mir” button. Instead of “So and so’s birthday is today,” I get “So and so hat heute Geburtstag.”

There aren’t a ton of words on the Facebook interface, but if you sat down and counted, you might be surprised at how many sneak in. And you’re seeing and using these words day in, day out. They’re actually words that you interact with as you click around the site. There is no way that you’re not going to end up knowing these words like the back of your hand.

2. Subscribe to pages of media outlets.

A page is an official profile for non-person entities, such as businesses or websites. In the graphic above, you’ll notice a post from Spiegel Online‘s Facebook page. That’s because I subscribed to them. For those who don’t know, Der Spiegel is a German magazine.

I’ve also subscribed to other German media Facebook pages, such as Bild, Huffington Post Deutschland, RTL, Men’s Health Deutschland, and several others.

Subscribe to Facebook pages for media outlets–TV stations, blogs, newspapers, magazines, and so on–that publish in the language you’re studying.

Not every post interests me. But inevitably, one will. I’ll read the teaser, and then have to click on the link to the full article. Just today, Huffington Post Deutschland got me hooked with an article titled “6 Vorurteile über Türken, die einfach nur noch nerven”–which I would translate as  “6 prejudices about Turks that are simply annoying.” That’s classic clickbait, but it’s called clickbait for a reason. I felt compelled to see what the article was saying.

Just by browsing my Facebook page and catching up on what’s going on with my friends, I end up sneaking in some German reading, covering topics I’m genuinely interested in. This happens to me at least three or four times a day.

3. Watch the videos.

In addition to articles, the media outlet pages are posting videos now as well. One day I caught myself watching German videos on my timeline–short videos, one or two minutes long, usually on a topic that was interesting to me–and realized how much extra content I was sneaking in. For instance, Men’s Health Deutschland posted a quick fat burning workout, and I said, “Ooh, I need this.”

Take note of why this is significant. First, just as with the clickbait articles, I’m actually interested in and curious about the content. This is more about communication and less about “studying”–a hallmark of immersion.

Second, I’m only expending minimal attention span. I get a short burst of the language and then move on. It’s not exactly effortless, but it doesn’t feel like work either.

4. Read the comments.

Reading comments that people leave on posts and videos is a great way to be exposed to natural, colloquial language. In fact, I often have a harder time understanding the comments than the actual content being commented on.

It’s also a good way to see what the people are actually saying and actually thinking. Most media publications, even trashy tabloids, have an editorial agenda. Commenters don’t. There’s more an element of chaos and a very “man-on-the-street” feel.

5. Join groups related to your language.

Facebook allows you create groups, which consist of several people who join to discuss a specific topic. In the search bar, search for groups that specialize in your language. For example, I’m a member of the groups “Duolingo: German Learners” and “Deutsch Lernen.”

There are groups for practically any language you’d want to learn.

Members post links, videos, and resources related to your target language, which would occasionally appear on your Timeline.

Wrapping Up

Even taking one or two of the tips above would make a big difference. But if you’re up for the challenge, try all five and really see what it’s like to navigate social media in a different language.

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