The Advantage of Immersion Learning and Freewriting

My language immersion weekend

Due to some strange turn of events that could have only happened in the 1990s, I recall going to a weekend camp with my German language class where for the entire weekend we were to speak only German. It was my first year of taking German classes, so it made for light conversation.

Language Immersion Weekend == a bunch of kids out in the woods in rustic cabins speaking only German to each other.

My reason for sharing this memory is to impart that the weekend was actually very successful. The attitude the teachers encouraged us to have was basically just like “Why not give it your best shot?”

Prior to that weekend, my teacher had given us a really solid sense of some fundamentals with the language, and we were already accustomed to the concept of immersion, since that was the way she conducted each class period. When in doubt, we were just to use what we knew, boil things down to fundamentals, and improvise. It didn’t matter if we didn’t know the right word or if our grammar or conjugation was atrocious.

The more we tried, the more comfortable we became.

Many studies show that confidence alone plays a significant role in language learning. The way I experience this is that confidence can get me to be playful and delve way deeper into my memory than I would otherwise.

It’s totally possible to have learned something exhaustively but miss the chance to apply it not because you don’t know it but because you don’t feel confident enough to access your own understanding.

That weekend specifically and my experience with that teacher made a real impact on my understanding of what kind of learning is most effective. Immersion learning is way more effective than other kinds

One especially fruitful benefit of immersion learning comes about through tried and true practices such as repetition and memorization. They are superior practices yet underutilized, in my opinion. They are a fine way to learn new things and to make more accessible stuff that we know.

Immersion learning and freewriting

Freewriting is one of the finest and most accessible ways of immersion learning. It’s literally right there on the other end of the pen. It’s never far away from being a possibility for anyone who wants to do it. Whether you identify as a writer or a nonwriter, freewriting can bring you into the state of flow for an extended duration. It’s a direct thumb in the face of writer’s block as well as all the other typical troubles faced by writers.

How to make freewriting more effective based on what we understand about immersion learning

Immersion forces you to be more resourceful

When you freewrite, you’re being put on the spot. You have a choice: either come up with something to say or else continue writing in such a way that it doesn’t add up to anything. It’s more enjoyable to write constructively. Freewriting lights a fire beneath you to get you cooking. Whether your juices are already flowing when you begin freewriting, they will be once you head further into it. It happens by design.

Eventually you come to find it enjoyable

That makes it sound like some sort of teasing torture. And who is to say that at times it doesn’t feel just like that? Being constantly on the verge of falling off completely into wordless oblivion while at the same time being force-marched through the trackless wilds, freewriting immerses you in your own depths. You will without intending it encounter specific ideas and sides of yourself that may not have surfaced any other way. What begins as merely a blurry idea can suddenly burst into high detail, high resolution, sending you in a flurry of momentum. And only moments before, without any notion as to what would happen.

The landscape stabilizes

During longer writing marathons something really fascinating happens that people who don’t try the technique never get to experience. It is such a complete immersion into the imaginative landscape, a consistency and a stability emerges where the attention span if no longer sporadic with the usual gaps and interruptions of normal waking life. The dust of normal boring life clears. The effect is far more like a dream in the sense that the writer has the sensation of crossing over into the other world, not by this world becoming blurry, but by virtue of the richness of the ideas that are understood to be all around.

Immersion retreats are all about arriving

For me immersion is really central to what a “retreat” wants to be. Not only a departure from the familiar, but an arrival into the precise destination you deeply seek.

The writing retreats I conduct are about being able to show up and be truly yourself in an enlivening group of other people. Not about having a bunch of activities to fill the space. Not about having just an instructional workshop with some free time. But a deep dive into the interface between work and play.

This kind of retreat is designed to be something that can work for a variety of temperaments, not just one kind of person. Because having a diverse mix is a big part of what makes an immersion retreat rich and interesting.

The sweet spot of total flexibility and total productivity

An immersion style freewrite offers flexibility in a way that a brief session cannot afford to.

If you are only writing for a few minutes and you need to get the report done, you don’t really have the option of being completely openended. If you are writing for a long time (hours) without stopping, even if you still have urgency about finishing that report, you also have the option of following the flow somewhere else.

If you compare freewriting with the normal stop-and-go style of writing, you quickly see how much time the average writer wastes in half spaces, sitting and apparently thinking. Though, in my own experience, much of this thinking time is either me distracting myself or just spacing out.

Ah, spacing out. As much as I would like to speak in defense of it, I can’t. The ideal as far as I can see is for a writer to be totally productive for a span of time and then to take a good solid break. The work should be bliss and the break should offer respite from the bliss.

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