Do You Avoid Contact With Your Native Language When Learning English?

language immersion - hands over earsWhen learning English, some teachers advise that students should avoid using their native language and interact primarily with those who speak their target language. The idea is that by practising total language immersion and by avoiding contact with your native tongue, you will get used to speaking your target language and will improve more quickly.

This technique could be applied for all language learners – but is avoiding your native language a practical way to learn a new language or even a good idea? Should you avoid your native language when learning English?


Avoiding your native language 

If you only speak in your target language and only hear your target language, it seems logical that your skill with your new language will improve more quickly. Learning a new language would take longer if you are trying to juggle your target language with your native language.

But what about your family and friends from home – should you cut off contact and immerse yourself wholly in the new language to the detriment of your relationships?


Of course this isn’t really practical or desirable. In fact, it can feel quite lonely to be surrounded by a new language and culture, never to fee able to express yourself properly to anyone.

Your native language can be like an oasis in the desert, the place where you feel secure, able to express yourself as you intend, without having to worry about the ‘subjunctive mood’ or any other linguistic hurdles. However, the native language must be able to coexist with your target language and not interfere with learning.

Total language immersion - goldfish bowl

Total language immersion

Therefore a good idea is to consciously try to surround yourself with your target language as much as possible with TV shows, newspapers, magazines, social interaction and so on. This is all much easier if you actually live in a country where your target language is commonly spoken.

You will want to talk to those back home in your native tongue and this can not only be an emotional relief, it can also actually help your foreign language skills. This is because your native language can make you more aware of differences in grammar and expression.

This realization, more strongly apparent when you are switching back and forth between the languages, can help the memory remain aware of the differences.


How your native language can help

Native language interaction need not be detrimental to target language practice if you always try to remain conscious of the language you are using and be aware of your native language as you speak it.

Your own native language can be used in this way to reaffirm particular grammar differences. It can also be fun to compare idiomatic expressions and slang words.

Total language immersion can be helpful but you don’t need to avoid contact with your native language entirely when learning a new language. As long as you remain conscious of your native language as distinct from your target language, you could even use the differences to your advantage.

total language immersion

What do you think about total language immersion?

Is it a good idea to cut off contact with your native language when trying to learn a new language?

Do you think total language immersion is practical or even possible?

Is total immersion taking the language learning journey too far?



Is total language immersion the best way to learn a new language?

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3 thoughts on “Do You Avoid Contact With Your Native Language When Learning English?

  1. When I wanted to learn Spanish I went to a Chile and avoided people that spoke English as much as possible. I made friends with local Chileans and from other countries, like Peru and Japan where Spanish was the main way to communicate. I did this on purpose as I have seen expats that have been in Chile for years and years (I now live in Chile) and they can still only make a few basic sentences… if that. Within months of coming here (and avoiding English) I could speak Spanish very well and by the end of the year I was pretty much fluent.

    Now, as an English teacher, I would always recommend to students that they try and make friends, first locally (if possible), and then with those that hopefully don’t speak your language. This forces you to try and communicate in your target language. At the beginning it can be VERY frustrating but the end result is worth it and you will be surprised just how much of the language you pick up along the way.

  2. Hi Rob, thanks for your comment – and congratulations on your Spanish fluency. It is great that immersion worked so well for you. Although avoiding contact with your native language can often be hard and frustrating, your success proves that the results can really be worth it 🙂

  3. Hi,

    I immersed myself twice, once in German and once in Spanish. Now I speak both ! (It did take AGES to get there) But, I will admit that I did find my English got worse over time. I see the same thing in my partner (who is French). At some point your languages co-mingle and you begin to pick whichever expression or phrase suits your situation best regardless of which language it is in. It’s a really interesting sensation!

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