If Immersion Works So Well, Then Why Can People Live In a Country For Double-Digit Years And Never Learn The Language?

The other day, a young man named Ilhan sent me this email:

Hi Khatz!

I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and I love it! I try to follow your method as much as possible, but I am not 100% immersed in Spanish (yeah, I am learning Spanish instead of Japanese) as I am kind of undisciplined. But your method is still helping me a lot!

I was wondering about what you think about a phenomenon I “discovered” lately. Here in Germany, there are a whole bunch of American people I know who speak German very little or with an extremly heavy accent. Alright, maybe the problem is that there are a lot of folks in Germany trying to learn English, so they try to practice their English on them. But another example, yesterday night I saw a Turkish TV show (yeah, I am Turkish but live in Germany) with a woman from Sweden, who had married a Turk and now stayed in Turkey. Even though she was in Turkey for a few years or so (I think) she spoke Turkish with an obviously foreign touch (accent and word order). There are not so many people learning Swedish in Turkey to excuse that!

So I was wondering, what do you think about that? What’s the reason that there are people being 100% immersed in a language, and still not attaining that “native fluency” in that language (maybe never in their lives)?

Thanks for your answer!

Here’s my Khatzumoto attempt at an answer. It’s really an extension of ideas previously covered here by me, and here by AntiMoon, and summarized in the words of Kató Lomb as recorded in her Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.

The fact that a linguistic microclimate is more important than a linguistic macroclimate is proven by many of our older émigré compatriots. No matter where they live, they can’t acquire the foreign language properly even after 10–15 years’ residence, simply because they have built a Hungarian wall around themselves and their children, bridge partners, or even business partners. [Emphasis added]

A large part of the answer may simply be, well, is, the fact that many people who seem “100% immersed” aren’t really immersed. Period. They illustrate the simple truth that just because you’re near the water, that doesn’t mean you’re taking a bath — one must actually enter the tub. You will find that these people continue to mostly/only read books, watch movies, work with and talk to people in their primary/native language. There are many Western men married to Japanese women, with Japanese-speaking Eurasian children, who know no Japanese beyond the basics. Many first-generation Chinese immigrants in the US may have lived there for decades, yet can barely speak English. There are Western men who have lived in Korea and Arabia for 10+ years who can neither speak nor read these phonetic scripts. What happened to the kanji excuse? They have all physically walled themselves in.

But their wall is also psychological. You see, it turns out that pride is another factor. Many adults feel silly making the sounds of the new language. And they are so invested in their current identity, that they will cling to their current intonation — whether or not it be appropriate to their new language — as a way of “feeling themselves”. They are afraid of making the sounds of the new language and being made fun of. Ironically, their strong foreign accents are the silliest-sounding thing of all — as you’ve no doubt experienced, someone who at least tries to sound Turkish when speaking Turkish, or French when speaking French, or Japanese when speaking Japanese, is much more pleasant to the ear.

I am kind of undisciplined.

Discipline really isn’t the issue per se. Not in the way we usually think of it: “making ourselves do boring, painful, mind-numbing crap we don’t really want to do in the hope of some future reward”. This process shouldn’t need discipline. Or, more accurately, it is impossible to use so-called “discipline” and “willpower” on a project of this length. Discipline is too scarce a resource for anyone to attempt to use it over any significant period of time. Any project that requires sustained self-directed effort for more than several hours or days is not one where you want can use self-coercion.

Instead, you want to combine fun (attraction) with inertia. In your case, it might go something like (1) Find fun stuff to do in Spanish. (2) Remove Turkish/German from your life to create inertia. This is analogous to removing all unhealthy food from your home, then replacing it with food that is both tasty and healthy. The result is that you will eat this healthy food (1) just because it’s there, and continue to eat it because (2) it tastes good. “Food” must fulfill the conditions of abundance, variety, desirability, and availability, if it is to be eaten. If you are to “eat” Spanish (i.e. healthy food), you need to have lots of Spanish that’s so tasty you eat it merely for the pleasure of eating it, not because it’s Spanish and often not even out of hunger.

By the way, I personally subscribe to the idea of discipline as “remembering what you want”. This is a totally different animal from all these masochistic attempts at inflicting suffering upon oneself. This re-definition of discipline essentially carries us in the direction of remaining in touch with the joy and curiosity that led us to fall in love with a language in the first place.

So don’t try to use traditional discipline. As long as you are a normal, healthy living organism with a drive for self-preservation, any attempt to hurt yourself will inevitably fall flat. Don’t suppress “human nature”, use it. I happen to love sitting around watching movies and reading comics, so I simply transfer these activities into other languages, and what were once bad habits suddenly become highly educational activities worthy of remuneration, praise and websites.

While hiding in the linguistic microclimate of the native language will not help, any attempt to force oneself out of it is destined to meet with violent resistance and ultimately failure (indeed, the only way force will work is if it’s initiated and maintained externally, and that gets you into all kinds of issues of [child] abuse and human rights and ethnic cleansing and all that good stuff). If in doubt, observe real toddlers — there is no shame, no doubt and no boredom, only adventure. Fill that bathtub with toys, jump in, and before you know it, you won’t even want to get out.

Skin going all wrinkly and junk…

There is a natural tendency to view this in-the-bathroom-but-barely-even-getting-wet phenomenon as something negative, as yet another example of how you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I don’t buy that at all, and I hate how we’re always just trying to find excuses to euthanize old dogs. While we’re at it, why don’t we just go Logan’s Run and murder everyone when they turn 30, since they’re never going to amount to anything anyhow? If the dog’s not learning, it’s not the dog’s fault — it’s the trainer’s fault! I take a different view altogether. That foreigners can go years in a country virtually unscathed by the local language, is, I think, an example of the triumph of the human will 🙂 . It shows just how powerful our ability to shape our personal environment — our microclimate — is; it shows how we can resist seemingly overwhelming counteractive forces; it is a feat that should perhaps even be celebrated…OK, maybe not that far.

Anyway, for us who actually want to learn a certain language, all we have to do is run this process in reverse. Stop resisting the target language, and become more receptive to it. Receive it. Accept it. Become it. If a Japanese person can create a Little Japan in Kansas (as some of my friends from Japan have), then…an American person can do the same. It’s that simple.

I leave you with this quote, apparently from some guy called Paulo Coelho:

We wouldn’t worry nearly as much about what others thought of us if we recognize how seldom they do.

Thanks for reading. I am sure there’s much more to add on this issue — if  you have any insights, please feel free to share.

  30 comments for “If Immersion Works So Well, Then Why Can People Live In a Country For Double-Digit Years And Never Learn The Language?

  1. Jen
    June 6, 2009 at 00:47

    Definitely agree on the wall thing.
    Sometimes, even though I’m living in Japan, I find I can go a whole day without actually listening/speaking/reading/hearing any Japanese. It’s completely possible to live in a foreign country and not expose yourself to the language in any meaningful way.

    I also think that it helps to make notes (i.e. using an SRS), to remind yourself of the correct way. If I come across a new word and don’t enter the sentence that it’s in into my SRS and practise it a few times, if it’s a word which uses a particular verb or a particular particle or whatever, you can bet that the next time I’ll say it I won’t use it correctly, and native speakers won’t necessarily correct you.
    Have you ever tried to correct someone’s English when they’re in the middle of a conversation, and you can understand what they’re saying, but their grammar isn’t quite right? If you do it in the wrong way, the conversation completely dies, so lots of people just avoid correcting it altogether.

    Also, some people just probably don’t care as long as they can communicate. Sometimes I’m quite happy with my Japanese how it is, and sometimes I get really frustrated that I don’t sound like a native speaker yet and then work harder at it. If you’ve already accepted your ability how it is, there’s little incentive to work on it and improve.

    The accent thing, I think part of it might be embarrassment. One of my flatmates at university was Swedish, and spoke English just like a native speaker, apart from her accent. When she first came to England, she couldn’t do a British accent, so she went with her natural accent. After a while in England, she developed a British accent, but was too embarrassed to actually use it in front of her friends, because she thought that they would laugh at her (which we did a bit, but only out of shock that it was so good!)

    It is so easy when you’re in a foreign country just to go.. well, i’m here, i’m surrounded by it all of the time, when I go home I’ll just let myself do stuff in English for a while to relax… it all goes downhill from there!

  2. Ed
    June 6, 2009 at 01:49

    I don’t have any insight about the issue, but i have something to add. Paulo Coelho is a shitty brazilian writer (by the way, i’m brazilian so i’m not being racist), very famous but terrible. The guy is a douche, he is not the best example for the issue, altough the quote feels right in the context. I just needed to share this …

  3. June 6, 2009 at 02:59

    Hi Khatz!
    Thanks for your answer. Again, another eye opener!

    Regards,
    Ilhan

    PS: Next time you really can call me Ilhan 😉

  4. david
    June 6, 2009 at 05:51

    I like the food comparison. 🙂

  5. June 6, 2009 at 06:07

    I got a similar comment a couple of weeks ago when I wrote a post about exposure.

    A reader wrote, “Exposure is not enough for adults. If it were, then all the guys I know who have been living here in Japan 15 years, married to Japanese, with kids who barely speak English, interacting on a daily basis with inlaws and staff members — they would be fluent. They’re not.”

    I responded that, of course, simply exposing yourself is not enough. You need to pay attention. It needs to be conscious exposure. You can’t just plop down in front of the TV and put on some foreign language material and wander off into fantasy land thinking in English and expect to magically be able to speak your target language after a month.

  6. Jack
    June 6, 2009 at 07:08

    The high school from my childhood hometown has a “sister” Japanese high school. Students from our sister school come to my hometown, but students from our school do not go to theirs (not sure why that is). For one month, twenty students from Japan will live with an American family with a child their age. It is pretty much impossible for them to learn nothing, because they must spend their whole time (for a month) doing things Americans do and spending time with Americans. That is true immersion. I think many foreigners do not live with families from that country. Even if you live in a foreign country and want to live with a family of native speakers, I am not sure how you would go about doing that.

    You cannot be disciplined all the time. If you can do your “active study” for two hours a day, I think you are doing good. You have to try and make what you must do into something that’s fun to do. For example, in the Khatzu method, you begin your “active study” with Heisig. That might not be that fun, but you must try to make it as fun as possible so you will be able to stick with it. I think it is kind of fun: To make up silly stories about how a series of strokes means something, to read stories other people have written regarding the same topic, and even review can be fun because of the funny stories. The Heisig stories are always funny because they often must connect three or four very unrelated things.

    I have trouble finding fun stuff in Japanese because I cannot understand anything. I understand about 1 out of 100 sentences. I can enjoy watching anime a little without the subtitle. I enjoy listening to music a little too. What I want to do, which I enjoy in English, is read comic books and play videogames. However, you need to be able to read for that, and I am illiterate. I tried looking up words, but I quickly found it to be no fun at all.

  7. Jonathan
    June 6, 2009 at 09:35

    I have a similar story to Jack’s, although with the opposite result.

    When I was in high school, our Spanish class had a group of Mexican students come to stay with our families for a week. Two girls were specifically assigned to stay at our house because their English was very poor, and my Spanish ability was near the top of my class (though still not very good by real-world standards).

    What ended up happening was that they spent most of their time with their friends at the group activities their teachers had planned (all of which was conducted in Spanish), and speaking Spanish with each other in the spare bedroom they were staying in, and speaking Spanish at the dinner table, and watching Telemundo, and surfing Spanish-language websites, and listening to Spanish-language music, and so on. When they went out shopping, they brought a friend who spoke English and had her translate. So almost nothing they did during that week was in English, and most of it wasn’t even culturally American. And so, of course, they returned home with no discernible improvement in English proficiency to show for the experience.

    Now, I know that a week is a pretty short time in the overall language-acquisition timescale, but even a week of All English All The Time would probably have done them some good. Or even Some English Some Of The Time. What they did was very close to No English, Ever, Period. And if I take Khatz and several others at their word (having never been an immigrant myself), this is exactly what a lot of expats do to themselves, with the unintended result that the earnest adult language learner is discouraged because, at first blush, it makes it look like immersion doesn’t work and/or adults can’t learn.

  8. Shea
    June 6, 2009 at 09:39

    I’m in a similar situation. I’ve lived in Japan for 10 months so far and knew next to NO Japanese coming here (yeah, dumb I know) but I’ve gained SO MUCH knowledge in just that 10 months. I recognize over 2,000 kanji and can write them. I can understand a lot of Japanese conversations, etc. However, my speaking is diddly. I feel like I don’t do enough even though I’m learning completely on my own. My Japanese girlfriend is pretty good at English but wants, and has the desire such as I, to be fluent. So what am I to do? We both correct each other because we want to be good. I suggested that we have days where we only speak English (for her) and days we only speak Japanese (for me) but our contrasting levels make this difficult now.

    I have to work in an English environment, but I try as much as possible to stay in Japanese outside of it. It’s a tough road, but I keep in mind I’ll be there eventually 😀

  9. June 6, 2009 at 11:57

    “We wouldn’t worry nearly as much about what others thought of us if we recognize how seldom they do.”

    Gotta. love that quote.

    Another question, though (I just came up with this): total immersion, right. But… this blog is in English. Does this mean that if one wants to learn Japanese, he should stop reading this blog as well?

    Otherwise, if you keep it like: “Well, maybe just this blog” you begin thinking “Maybe this one too” and “One more exception” and you wound up reading all English stuff.

    Or is this not so?

  10. Jen
    June 6, 2009 at 13:35

    Shea – I have the same problem with my boyfriend – he wants to improve his English and I want to improve my Japanese. Obviously relationship things make stuff more difficult, but I think for every day conversation etc it works best if you choose a language and stick to it. I know it’s hard being the weaker speaker (My Japanese is actually better than my boy’s English, but I could see how frustrating it was for him), but you just need to keep on going and not give up.

    In our case, I had several other Japanese friends who I could speak to, and he was in the UK to study and improve his English, and we both knew that when he got back to Japan he wouldn’t have many people to practise with or much time to put into it, so I ended up speaking in English 90% of the time to him. We argued and had serious discussions in Japanese though. I think an important rule to follow is that when you’re talking about anything serious, you should do it in whatever way is going to be the most easily understood, whether that’s English, Japanese or both. Otherwise you’re just going to end up getting really frustrated.

    Don’t give up though!

  11. June 6, 2009 at 13:35

    Hey, thank you SO MUCH for “Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.”
    Seriously, this is so far such an interesting read! I’m really liking it..

  12. Shea
    June 6, 2009 at 20:49

    Thanks Jen 🙂

    Yeah, I’d say her English is Upper-Intermediate or so, so we can have good discussions in English…that’s our primary language to use. But for me to speak Japanese with her it’d be like a mother teaching her toddler to speak at this point…and to spend a day like that WOULD frustrate us I think. But you’re right I’m not gonna give up hehe.

    She’s impressed that I’ve learned so much within 10 months of study. I’m all self-taught and do about 2-3 hours a day of study. She mainly helps me with minor grammatical errors and pronunciation flubs but it’s fun anyway 🙂

    My goal is to be able to be around our friends or her parents and be able to communicate with them. So far we haven’t met due to the language barrier as her parents know no English.

    What really doesn’t help is we are both hooked on a few English speaking TV shows…so we spend hours in that haha. But when we aren’t around I’m still trying the Japanese immersion.

    I’m happy with where I’m at I think…sometimes when I feel down about it I see my progress thus far and it motivates me. Thanks for your advice 😀

  13. Nukemarine
    June 7, 2009 at 03:56

    On the opposite note: if any of the above “requirements” happen to be in your life, and you’re decent at the foreign language, then that “requirement” must have been the reason you’re good at the foreign language.

    Case in point: I’m speaking to the Japanese soldiers on base, and when I mention I lived in Japan for 2 years (if you called station on a ship that sometimes docks in Japan as living in Japan) and my (current) wife is Japanese (though we talk pretty much in English). Well, of course that’s why I speak Japanese. Those 1 to 2 hours a day of study for 18 months and thousands of hours listening to Japanese had nothing to do with it. Kind of gets down right insulting at times, though it’s unintentional on their part.

    What really bad about it is they’re reinforcing the wrong idea when it comes to getting better at English. Come on guys, you say you study English everyday yet you sit in Japanese only groups at the dining hall and club? Park yourself in front of the TV at least (ok, maybe not when Fox News is playing).

  14. captal
    June 7, 2009 at 12:11

    Nukemarine- my friend (Australian) is a Japanese teacher and has been teaching Japanese for 30 years. Whenever he goes to Japan, one of the first things people say is “is your wife Japanese” or even “your wife must be Japanese, your Japanese is so good.” He HATES when people say that. Why must he have a Japanese wife to be good at Japanese? It wasn’t the hard work he put in when he was younger and the 30+ years he’s been speaking it, perhaps, that made him good? And his wife isn’t Japanese, she’s Australian and doesn’t speak a lick of Japanese.

    You don’t just magically get good at Japanese by living in Japan or having a Japanese wife. A guy in my company has been here over 10 years, married to a Japanese woman with two Japanese kids and he only speaks a little Japanese. He said his 9 year-old daughter can understand him completely when he speaks to her in English, but can’t speak back to him. That would make me cry, not being able to communicate with my kids.

    The reason immersion doesn’t work for adults is simple- we can choose not to speak in the target language- it is easy for us to default to English. As Khatz has said- kids aren’t better than adults at language learning. It’s true, but they have no other option but to learn their native language if they want to communicate. If we have that attitude, we can achieve much, much better results.

  15. kanjis rock
    June 7, 2009 at 14:18

    Thanks for pointing out the name of Lomb Kato, interpreter and translator in 17 languages. As a Hungarian, I was familiar with her name, but it’s motivating to see how her method rhymes with the ideas put forward here, e.g. “She attributed her success to massive amounts of comprehensible input, mostly through recreational reading.” (from Wikipedia) I found her book you referenced also quite interesting and motivating for my study of Japanese.

  16. June 8, 2009 at 09:52

    Hit the nail on the head with this one, keep it up! 🙂

  17. just1world
    June 9, 2009 at 01:52

    Thanks for the Kato Lomb book~
    A great read and highly inspirational.

  18. Daniel
    June 9, 2009 at 09:57

    Captal, I really sympathize with your friend, that type of thing makes my blood boil! I get it all the time. Especially from my students, but from my foreign comrades as well: “I’ve been studying English for like 8 bajillion years, but you’ve been in Japan just 2 years and comparatively you’re way better than I am. What the hell? Oh, wait, you have a Japanese girlfriend, that’s why…” When I hear anything like this is I want to immediately vomit in anger. Yes, angry vomit, I don’t know how better to deal with this unique emotion.

    It’s even worse that people say it in this revelatory manner: “OH…that’s why.” And they don’t even bother to think about it. Yes, my girlfriend emits magical Japanese Language Osmosis beams. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s that I put in on average 6 – 8 hours a day of conscious dedicated effort, study, and immersion, with a 10 hour a day job teaching English, while you complain that you’re too busy to do English even 10 minutes a week outside of class. Let’s see, my average month: 168+ hours of Japanese practice. Your average month: 4.66- hours of English practice. This is no mystery goddamnit, it’s simple math! I just practice 40 times harder than you do. I do what you do in a year in a week and a half. It’s a conscious choice on both our parts. (I remember doing this in class with whiny students one day but it had no effect…)

    Not having your hard work acknowledged is a crappy feeling, but at least you have your pride and your own personal satisfaction. But having your achievements being dedicated to someone COMPLETELY UNRELATED is just maddening. Yeah, we speak Japanese together, but I speak Japanese with a lot of people.

    I’d rather someone just spit in my face and kick me in the balls than “blame” my language ability on my girlfriend.

  19. Jonathan
    June 9, 2009 at 10:14

    What the Bob Ross is a QRG?!

    *Googles it*

    Oh. Cool.

  20. Richard V
    June 9, 2009 at 17:58

    I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly sexually aroused by the prospects of a QRG. I mean, big black box at the top of the page… wow. Wow.

  21. BM
    June 9, 2009 at 19:22

    I’ve always felt embaressed to be in a foreign country and not speak the language. So much so, that when I was in Japan for the last two weeks, I would speak near-inaudibly whenever I spoke to my girlfriend in English outside of private spaces.

    Or in other words, why aren’t you embaressed, person-who-has-lived-in-country-for-x-years?

  22. HiddenSincerity
    June 9, 2009 at 21:29

    I love this article. It makes me die a little inside when people tell me that you have to go to the country to get fluent.

    I recently met two Korean guys living in my home city, through a Japanese friend. One had been here for a year two years ago studying English and was back for more study, the other (his cuz) had studied for 3 months in another capital city before looking for a job where I am. When I first met them, their English was ok, but not great, more or less what you’d expect from anyone stuck in a language school.

    ANYWAY, they told me that I was the first Australian they had met in a social setting. The FIRST person. THE FIRST freakin’ Australian. Not for lack of wanting, but they said between classes full of Indian and Chinese people who also spoke ok-ish classroom English and homework, they had very little time to meet Australian and wouldn’t really have the foggiest idea where to find anyone if they did. Well, I could have cried.

    Now, in our spare time we hang out and I’ve got them on to this method. Not only has their English improved through the roof in only four weeks, but so has their happiness. But talk about classes missing the forest for the trees, what the hell is the point in teaching them English if they never have time to actually use it?

    @ Daniel and others;
    I kinda have the opposite problem. When Japanese people find out I’ve got no Japanese girlfriend/wife and have only been there a month total in my life they kinda go “Huh…so, why are you good?” You should have seen this guy’s face when I told him it was because I was in love with Yu Aoi and Shina Ringo.

  23. Stan
    June 22, 2009 at 09:36

    Dear khatz,

    I actually think all your points on, how to learn a language is right, since you tried it yourself and proved it.This is way of understanding and being able to talk in a language without problems, really does work how you say it, BUT, this article might have gotten to positive in that perspective:

    Beeing able to talk in a language fluently and having an accent are two different things.
    An example for myself.
    Im Dänish and have grown up in denmark with Dänish and German, since some in my family were germans, i went to german school too, though they also spoke dänish as well there.
    So I grew up speaking german and dänish equally good, there is no difference, and later ofcause i learned english.
    (and now learning japanese)
    So i’d my language learning skills are decent, i know i can learn any language i want to, but, without an accent?No,Simply because i’ve got an dänish accent in german and a german accent in dänish.In both countries they ask me where i come from.If i start to speak the one language more than the other, it’s lessens, but never completely.My point is, i can never speak several languages perfectly at the same time, i can’t even hear my accent myself, only natives can.

    Telling me i have to dive deeper into the language or “let” go, won’t explain it.
    I cannot dive deeper into any of these languages, they are my natives, my core, i’ve been a seller, talking all day long with people, i talk often.

    It’s not that im bad at languages, im speaking three and learning a fourth.Actually i dont know one person who talks to languages without accents, and i’ve been to a german college where everyone speaked german and dänish fluently.But the accent, this damn accent, either they spoke german without an accent but dänish with one or the other way around.I’ve grown up in a place, where everyone knew 2-4 languages and yet they were only fluent in one at a time.Ofcause their native, but i havent got a native, mine a equal, therefore i have a (weak) accent in both.
    You may be able to speak japanese and english, so that any native speaker (only hearing your voice) would be 100% that you are native as well.

    But i have yet to confrim something like this, the reason of this accent problem i think, is this:

    The last part of learning a language, is to perfect it’s Melodi, doing that to a extend is possible, but fully?Have you ever noticed that even within a language and dialect, everybody have their distinct way of speaking, their melodi. Close friends, often get the same “melodi”, way to speak.I think this is tied to their native language, and is extreemly hard to fully lose.You may lose it, but can you re-aquire it in an instant?Which true fluency is all about.I dont really think that a person can have more than one true melodi.You may lose your old, but have two at the same time?I doubt it.

    I think that this is so, because i know none that speak more than one language without some kind of accent and because i speak no language without a slight accent.

  24. June 30, 2009 at 09:36

    Yes, I love the part about being near the water. I stayed for a year with some guys who came to England about 40 years before and they would still ask me to interpret the news.

  25. Gary
    July 5, 2009 at 03:06

    Stan,

    “i’ve got an dänish accent in german and a german accent in dänish.In both countries they ask me where i come from.”

    “Close friends, often get the same “melodi”, way to speak.I think this is tied to their native language, and is extreemly hard to fully lose.”

    Don’t you think that may have something to do with the way you were exposed to these languages as a child?

    “Im Dänish and have grown up in denmark with Dänish and German, since some in my family were germans, i went to german school too, though they also spoke dänish as well there.”

    In my experience, picking up on the melody of a language is one of the first parts of learning a language. You apparently had an uncommon experience in your formative years, and now speak Danish and German with hints of each other, but this does not point out some sort of inability of the human mind to master more than one language at a time, nor even of your own mind. Your brain has already mastered these languages, in the way that you’ve learned them, and now you’re kinda like a British expat in the US who hasn’t shaken her accent despite hanging out with a lot of Americans. It can be done, and done well, but maybe you haven’t really “needed to” yet. Don’t sell yourself short.

  26. Leonardo Boiko
    March 25, 2010 at 02:58

    I just wanted to add that there are MANY foreigners who do actually acquire the language of the country very quickly and without any conscious effort. I personally know several Brazilians who learned Japanese involuntarily in a year or two, after moving there (ok, not counting kanji…)

    Just because some foreigners shut themselves in, doesn’t mean all of them do.

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