Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

October 25, 2010

Total immersion English courses – fast, furious and fun!

So what happens on an immersion course?

Hours of study, lots of homework, tests, grammar exercises, listening and reading and writing exercises to do in the evenings. Plenty of speaking practice of course and the teacher pays quite a lot of attention to pronunciation and other errors.

Immersion courses are a great way of getting a lot of language in a short space of time. They are tough, tiring and possibly tedious (?) but the results are worth the effort.

Most of this is true in one way or another, but tough, tiring and tedious – well not necessarily!!

Total Immersion English - Berni-style!

My group arrived at Leeds airport from Holland late on a Sunday evening. They were a little apprehensive but we launched into the conversation and headed towards the car. I had hired a car as I wasn’t sure we’d all fit comfortably in mine. The first problem was finding it in the car park! The next, trying to move the seats forward so everybody could get in and the third – how to open the boot!!

Not a great start perhaps but they all joined in working out the problems and their apprehensions were forgotten!

The journey must have seemed very long. I asked questions and pointed out landmarks where I could in the dark. We arrived they were allocated their rooms and then we all met in the kitchen for a cup of tea and a brief introduction. The chat was polite, if a little strained and we were to re-visit this episode at the end of the week. Soon we all turned in anticipating the start of the course the next morning.

Working hard - of course!

Day One

Breakfast was great with soft-boiled eggs from our hens and home-made jams and marmalade. Everyone was raring to go and trying their best to use English. Claudia, another student also staying (with her own teacher) was introduced to everyone and the day got off to a very positive start.

We moved into the ‘classroom’ and began. A round-robin of introductions followed by telephone practice, formal/informal language and some useful vocabulary and phrases. A coffee break in the aga-warm kitchen and then back to work. Everybody was working hard and contributing well in English. At the end of the lesson I gave them each a lateral thinking puzzle. This was the real ice-breaker! Not only were the solutions annoying and funny, they also brought out a very competitive streak in the group which formed the basis of a lot of what we did for the remainder of the course!

After lunch we set off on a walk with the dogs. This was a good opportunity to get each student alone for a while and find out what made them tick and where any problems lay. A kind of individual testing – enjoyable, healthy and very productive!

An hour of email practice followed with everybody more relaxed and eager to contribute. We all decamped to the kitchen for a well-earned glass of wine.

Dinner, an amazing paella, had been prepared by my amazing business-woman-student from Colombia (and her teacher) who despite her post beginner level of English was certainly life and soul of the party!! Then the first of our two movie nights – ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ .

The first day ended on a high with everyone speaking English and great camaraderie!

Day two:

It was cold so we had to light the wood burning stove which is always a challenge! It behaved and we got down to work. Idioms, more telephone practice, lots of office-related vocabulary and above all speaking practice!  The morning ended with a game – Word Battleships – now the battle-lines were drawn and a re-match would be inevitable. (I should point out that my group were all women in their middle years, working and teaching in a university and normally very mild-mannered!)

The magnificent Silver Swan at Bowes Museum.

Our activity this afternoon was a visit to Bowes Museum an we had to be there at 2.00 to see the Silver Swan  strut its stuff. This 18th century, mechanical, swan is wound only once a day at 2.00 p.m. the performance lasts just 40 seconds but it is well worth seeing! We made it by the skin of our teeth but all were satisfied! The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the ceramics, paintings, rooms sets and other treasures of this amazing museum.

Tea in the museum cafe revealed that the group had amassed a large vocabulary of domestic objects and solicited information from other visitors and the curators! They were proud and I was suitably impressed! We also created our own word for an object they hadn’t managed to identify in English – a butter-float (butter dish) – this was to become the table joke at every meal!

A further lesson on emails and we joined the others for dinner. Our final activity was a trip to the village pub to taste some local beer! A great end to a busy day.

Day Three:

 Our morning sessions are very relaxed now – everybody knows what to expect and we are all very comfortable with each other. We work through the language exercises, all punctuated by laughter and joking – it’s a great atmosphere. The dogs feature large at our coffee breaks and try to join in the lessons too – I think they might be allowed but I am resolute – they are a distraction!

Durham Cathedral - a place worth a visit!

After lunch we all head off to Durham and its wonderful Cathedral. After a visit there, which includes a rehearsal by both the organist and choir – an added bonus, the ladies head off to the shops.

The return journey is quiet – it has been a long day but we have dinner (Shepherds pie) to look forward to and our second movie night. The choice of movie was left up to the group – ‘An Accidental Tourist’ which was less than we had hoped but we endured!

Day Four:

Today we are concentrating on instructions and have decided to use recipes as a launch. Food and the differences between English, Dutch and Colombian cuisine have been very much to the fore over the past few days and so it seemed an appropriate choice. I learn about several Dutch delicacies and they explain scones and christmas pudding! More email etiquette, formal/informal language and we are ready for the daily challenge of Word Battleships – this will be the final encounter!

After lunch we have a tour of the Georgian Theatre in Richmond (N.Yorks), a fish and chip supper and then off to a performance at said theatre.

The tour was excellent – the student who felt on Sunday evening that she wouldn’t say a word all week, asked several questions of the tour guide – we learnt about the theatre in the 18th century explored the auditorium, the dressing rooms and the mechanics under the stage. We moved scenery, created thunder and gasped at the tiny, yet compact little auditorium – the oldest in the country.

We had enjoyed the day immensely and thought it complete, but there were still surprises in store!

 The Georgian theatre is very small and some of the seats are situated over the stage, this makes for inevitable audience participation and the students were all brought into the performance (a play about a British comedian Frankie Howerd). In fact two of them were targeted so much by the main actor that they were in hysterics!

On stage at the Georgian Theatre!

At one point, when volunteers were asked for, my husband was frog-marched backstage to reappear centre stage sporting a centurion helmet and wielding a spear! He delivered an ode with great aplomb and this set all of us into further hysterics. We all had tears rolling down our cheeks.

At the end of the play we were invited to the bar for a glass of wine and we met the actors there. The principal actor told the students that he hoped he hadn’t embarrassed them and was thrilled to know that they had travelled from Holland and Colombia and been taken to see his play. They were bold enough to ask if he would have a photo taken with us all! He was delighted and insisted that we go on to the stage to do this!

The whole experience was thrilling for all of us and we laughed about the experience and re-lived it around the kitchen table well into the night!

Day five:

The final day – we were all a little subdued after the previous evening and a little sad to be finishing what had been an amazing learning adventure together.

We rounded off the week with more language work, an evaluation of the week’s course and some discussion about how to continue the learning process.

After a leisurely lunch I drove them to the airport and we said our goodbyes.

Returning to the house things felt a little flat and quiet. It had been a wonderful 5 days!

I read the comments they had written in a card to me and will share some of them here:

  • “Thanks for this wonderful week. I didn’t expect that English speaking would be so funny!”
  • ” Hope to be back!”
  • “I really felt at home – thanks for making me self-confident!”
  • “We learned a lot and laughed as much!”

The greatest downside for the teacher is that you eat a lot! (preparing typical English dishes and sampling traditions such as afternoon tea!)

The best thing for everybody – it doesn’t matter what you are doing; washing up, looking for lost dogs, learning new phrasal verbs or hobnobbing with actors  – you will be learning :)!!


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