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Having browsed through the posts in this forum, I had came to this impression that an immersion environment is important, even necessary, in training. But a meeting with an active interpreter based in Beijing who graduated from Beiwai and had never spent time in English speaking countries made me change my mind.
Now, as I see it, immersion environment is important because it exposes students to native language with all the right phrases, wording, collocations to let them discern Chiglish or whatever made-up paroles from language usages that actually make sense to native speakers.
But what if a student is trained in a non-immersion environment with native speakers as instructors? Could that count as immersion? What if he/she read and listen to materials in acquired languages to compensate for that? Or what if the student lives in a very international city like Hongkong, Shanghai, New York etc.or the university is itself diversified linguistic-wise, such as MIIS for English As?

asked 03 Jan '16, 03:33

EliChang's gravatar image


But what if a student is trained in a non-immersion environment with native speakers as instructors? Could that count as immersion? What if he/she read and listen to materials in acquired languages to compensate for that? Or what if the student lives in a very international city like Hongkong, Shanghai, New York etc.or the university is itself diversified linguistic-wise, such as MIIS for English As?

To me, that sounds a bit like being surrounded by people who'd tell you how it feels to ride a bike, but never trying and experiencing it for yourself.

There are a thousand things you wouldn't think of mentioning or wouldn't be able to explain even when you're depicting your home country's traditions, history, customs, habits, lifestyle, etc. to a friend. And how often do you do that?

Although it's a bit controversial, Dale's Cone of Experience, I believe applies here. You'll remember and understand things better if you experience them in the country itself, rather than if you read or hear about it.

Without immersion, you can get a good knowledge of your language. But you might sooner or later only be able to be a bilingual parrot and not an interpreter, because you'd be lacking cultural knowledge needed to understand what the parties mean (and not just say). If you're ambitious, you probably wouldn't want to be hired only because there is more demand than supply for just anyone who'd be close to bilingual in the EN<>ZH language pair, but because you actually are a good, qualified, and educated EN<>ZH interpreter.

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answered 03 Jan '16, 09:14

G%C3%A1sp%C3%A1r's gravatar image

Gáspár ♦

Hello Eli,

Just to give one small example, if you never went to the US and looked around you, and you never thought to watch US movies on freeze-frame so you could examine everything in the background, how would you then express the concept that you may not smoke in this room? Would you say "Don't smoke!" or "Smoking forbidden" or "Smoking banned" or "Smoking prohibited" or "No smoking"? Once you know that phrase, then you could extrapolate it to other phrases when something else is not allowed, like littering, gossiping, etc. plus you could see how much the culture reacts to such bans, and compare it with your own, understanding basics about how explicit a culture is in expressing itself and in following the rules, and how not. So I believe even a short time of a few months is invaluable - and for many more reasons than this small example!

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answered 07 Jan '16, 09:46

JuliaP's gravatar image


Julia's point is right on the money, and you can see the kind of absurd mistakes lack of this knowledge could cause in China. Imagine you are an interpreter bringing an American executive to the 40th floor of a big bank building in Shanghai. The executive is concerned about seeing people smoking all over the place despite "no smoking" signs, having heard that Shanghai fire trucks can only reach 20 stories high, and not seeing any life safety equipment, casually asks a secretary:

"Is this building equipped with sprinklers?"

To work with this, you'd need to have knowledge about how both English and Chinese address the same situation. How would a native Chinese speaker ask about "sprinklers"? Use "喷淋'? Or something more general like 自动灭火装置 or 消防系统? (even if those don't necessarily include sprinklers?) Or will they go the distance and say "感应到房间里有烟雾,然后会自动喷水的东西". The first vocabulary item probably isn't appropriate. If an American engineer was inspecting a building in Shanghai, and the Chinese engineer were to say this room has 5 sprinklers, I've seen that 五只喷淋 would be totally normal.

This sort of linguistic knowledge can be gained by being in the context where the language is used. You can't get it from reading a dictionary or reading a guide to a building's life safety systems written by an engineer. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be in America or England; anglophones in China will speak their usual English, but it will be easier to find a community of native speakers abroad.

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answered 07 Jan '16, 19:13

Adrian%20Lee%20Dunbar's gravatar image

Adrian Lee D...

Thank you for the vivid example! But worst case scenario: I don't get to go to English speaking countries for whatever reasons, how could I utilize every possible source for linguistic exposure? You mentioned that there could be English speaking communities in China, how could I make it work for me? Or do you have any example of your own with Chinese?

(07 Jan '16, 22:11) EliChang

The demographics I can find indicate that there's somewhere over 100,000 native speakers of English spread across China, with major concentrations in Shanghai and Beijing. That's a pretty good number. You could start with a classically Anglophone cultural activity; Swing Dance (and perhaps country) seem to have a big following in Beijing and Shanghai, having seen a big renaissance in America in the 90s. Look for expat sports leagues, Ice Hockey seems to be a thing ( There's a pretty big comedy club scene as well, i.e. Comedy Club China and others. There's plenty of groups of expat friends in most Chinese cities, really. If you can make friends with some you'll find a good linguistic community.

I'm also sure you know about the importance of finding media on your own to consume.

Chinese in America are kind of their own ball game. They have large centralized ethnic associations where everyone can meet and greet (CSSAs etc.). They are very helpful in general to second language learners who want to be involved with a community.There is WeChat channel after WeChat channel after WeChat channel. If there's an activity going on 99% of the time it gets blasted across a WeChat channel to 10, 20, 30, 40 people. I think in the past 300 Chinese activities I've attended everything but 7 involved some mix of food or karaoke or walking around outside. For the Anglophone world I think you will find communities to require more independent initiative, organization one-to-one as opposed to channel based, and socialization much more activity driven and much much less food driven. If you make a good effort and are proactive, you can succeed here.

You can also get an Anglophone roommate. You'll learn interesting things like why on earth someone would buy so many paper towels or coffee mugs.

Your English is better than a lot of of what I see law firms getting in depositions, so I imagine you'd do well at SISU or UIBE.

(08 Jan '16, 00:09) Adrian Lee D...

Thank you so much!!!

(08 Jan '16, 01:35) EliChang

In short, it is very important. Right now, I'm adding a new C language that I started learning a couple of years ago, and spending all of the "low seasons" living in situ. Sure, I can read on my own at home, I can get the best teachers money can pay for, I can use the magic of the Internet to watch all the famous movies and go to all the Yahoo language meetups I can find.

Not to discount all of that- it's all very important for adding a language for interpreting.

But nothing beats dealing with local administration, trying to buy medication from a local pharmacist, dealing with local bureaucracy and piles of immigration paperwork, reading a menu in a restaurant and being very surprised once your order comes, watching the idiotic sitcoms that never make it abroad with locals to explain the jokes to you, or attempting to find an apartment when it comes to learning and remembering vocabulary and cultural context.

Many, many people think they know English well enough and are experts on American/British culture because they have seen all the TV shows, read famous books, and read The Internet in English all day. And yet as an autochtone, they will repeatedly shock me with the gaps in their understanding, both linguistic and cultural.

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answered 16 Feb '16, 08:10

InesdC's gravatar image


edited 16 Feb '16, 08:11


Thank you so much. What you said confirmed my assumption. Books, TVs, Movies can cover the width of an culture, but there're always gaps.

(16 Feb '16, 08:27) EliChang

Love the restaurant example! i can't tell you how many times I wondered "was it me or the surly waiter misunderstanding my oh so fabulous pronunciation?"

(16 Feb '16, 09:52) JuliaP

it is a surefire way to remember a word, it took about 5 seconds to learn how to say "без укропа" properly.

(16 Feb '16, 10:10) InesdC

As Gaspar says, immersion is much more than being exposed to the language. If it was only about improving your language skills, you could maybe get the same results by using the many resources online. It's about getting to know the people and the culture. And with two languages coming from such different cultures as English and Chinese, I would tend to think that spending time in the country makes a huge difference.

There is no general rule about immersion, some people seem to be able to do a good job without it (as your example shows) but it's not because you met one person who did not need proper immersion, that you don't need it yourself. It all depends on how you learn the language.

In your case, if your instructors are the only natives you know, it's definitely not enough to have a good knowledge of their culture. Plus if they are living in your country, they have certainly adapted to your culture and are not the best examples of true natives.

Furthermore I imagine that if you have chosen English as your B, it means that you like the language and the culture and will probably enjoy your time in the country. So unless you have excellent reasons not to spend time in an English speaking country, I don't see why you would run the risk of not having a sufficient knowledge of your B language.

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answered 03 Jan '16, 13:55

Camille%20Collard's gravatar image

Camille Collard

The inaugural Dean of Shanghai's CI program is reputed to have learned Chinese to a highly sophisticated native speaker level while living in Canada. William White posted here that one can keep in touch with the Chinese world easily though Phoenix TV, etc. Immersion itself often has more to do with lifestyle choice than geography. But most language learning authorities seem to recommend spending at least a year abroad. There's a good amount of language to be learned by being a consumer.

For Chinese and English A's alike, I think you are right that talking with native speakers is pretty essential. But the key criteria is hard work and lots of feedback. You need an honest assessment of where your language and social competency is, and be able to follow the science in improving from there. You can probably find a circle of English natives in China who don't care for Mandarin, but probably more easily in America or England. But socialization is only one part of English language learning; you will still need to read a large number of books and listen to a range of programs. If it's realistic to go abroad, I would recommend doing it.

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answered 06 Jan '16, 11:04

Adrian%20Lee%20Dunbar's gravatar image

Adrian Lee D...

I never expected to be able to answer my own question before I ever get to interpreting schools. But yesterday I got a job from a foreign teacher who taught me last semester to translate his resume into Chinese. This is my very first paid translation work, and my first time to work with such material, so I said yes without asking for a preview of the text. But today, I got the resume and started to work on it. And after a while it came to me gradually that this one page long resume that appears as 1 hour workload actually would took me hours. He worked in a SPECTRUM of fields across from teaching to database management to law, so the terminologies in one single sentence could be monstrous. It took me all day (and a pre-exam day by the way. Feel my anxiety) to do the background research.
Now this experience spoke to me about 2 things:

  1. Never EVER again accept a job without reviewing it (and think you get quick and good money)
  2. Immersion experience is important.

If I run into a new terminology in the text, I can always look it up. But that means spending hours on searching, reading, digesting and eventually reproducing. Going through the cycle one or two times will be fine and even fun. But anything beyond that kills.
I imagine that time could be greatly reduced if I had spent time in English countries.
What's post online is posted by people. And who's so almighty to know somewhere in the country a poor young man will be searching his eyes out for a Chinese equivalence for "Mortgage Referral Specialist", "Original Notes", not to mention something as trivial as the Chinese name for a little known company? Plus the information can't be of help if you can not verify them or if you simply can't understand what it says. Sometimes there is no information at all. And it is such knowledge which the Internet can't impart that needs to be picked up through immersion. Living in a quasi-immersion environment(like what I mentioned in the question) can help, I think, but with limits. For example, no expat will like to be friend with a native resident just to be held to explain what does this and that means. Even if I find someone that kind, he can "immerse" me only if I ask him to when it comes to specific fields. So it's really a ask-as-you-go curve instead of an automatic one in a real immersion environment.
That's I imagine the greatest difference.

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answered 10 Jan '16, 06:23

EliChang's gravatar image


edited 10 Jan '16, 06:37


Your first couple of translations will probably be slow. Getting a VPN and using Google will help. You'll never find anything on Baidu. If you do a patent there's google patents which will give you lots of examples of filed bilingual patents showing how people have done it in the past. Most industries have a limited universe of terminology that can be learned and mastered.

Expats are more than happy to make local friends. But the principle that birds of a feather flock together rules the day, and you will have to make effort to fit in. Don't give up, though, even if at sometimes your "immersion" feels like an induction to the polar bear club. Chinese students in the US have repeatedly answered surveys saying they they can't fit in to the campus community, so become culturally isolated. But they're very happy to bring on Mandarin speaking Americans.

But a lot of the same people also say they have zero interest in American culture and don't think adopting American cultural norms are important. If you show up in Dallas and try to engage everyone in conversation about hot pot and karaoke and that terrible smog catastrophe in Beijing, you'll get 3 minutes of conversation and disinterest. If you talk with people about the Cowboys and the Redskins, how much you enjoy shooting harmless forest critters and riding horses, and the pleasures of dry rub brisket, you'll get quite far with the Texans (New York has a whole set of different and relatively erudite conversation topics). In China you can't really show up to dinner and talk about football and hunting all day, order your own plate and pay for your own portion - and not the Chinese way of splitting a bill (AA制 ), but paying for the exact menu price like they do in America. A lot of people don't see how the converse won't work in America, and very quickly start saying the Americans aren't interested in being friends. None of this should be taken to characterize you personally, but are common, but surmountable challenges.

(10 Jan '16, 15:27) Adrian Lee D...
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question asked: 03 Jan '16, 03:33

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