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Immerse Yourself Without Traveling: Join a Cultural Organization in Your City Posted by on Dec 16, 2013 in Archived Posts

One of the problems with learning a language is that it is often a solitary endeavor. Unless you’re sitting in a classroom with other students or you move to a foreign country and immerse yourself in the language, you’re usually left to your own devices. And this is why it can take years before we notice any improvements in our language skills.

Traditional methods of language learning are useful but can often be limiting. What if there was a way to immerse yourself in the language without having to move to a foreign country? What if there were others just like you who are trying to learn a language but would rather not do it in a classroom setting? What if there were native speakers living in your city with whom you could hone your language skills on a regular basis? Just think of how quickly you would improve!

The good news is that there are educational and cultural organizations that make this a reality. If you live in or near a major city in the United States, you can join one of these organizations. There are a couple things to keep in mind, however. First, the majority of these organizations specialize in languages that are widely spoken so if you’re trying to learn a language or dialect that is not very popular, you might have difficulty finding an organization that caters to your language. Second, these organizations require a membership but are usually very affordable or have several pricing options to choose from based on your level of involvement.

How can you locate these organizations?

I will use myself as an example. I moved to the Portland, Oregon area around ten years ago and wanted to find a way to use my French without having to take a class at the local university. Since I didn’t know anyone in the area who spoke French, I simply used Google and entered “French organizations in Portland, OR.” To my delight, at the top of the list was an organization called the Alliance Française de Portland (Portland French Alliance). I visited their website to learn more and signed up for a one-year membership that same day. Finding an organization in your city is as simple as doing an online search. In fact, I just entered the same term for German, Italian and Chinese and, sure enough, Portland has similar organizations dedicated to those languages. Most major cities should have similar offerings.

What do these organizations offer?

The great thing about these organizations is that they are dedicated to preserving a particular culture or language, but they do it in an informal setting. You aren’t required to pass an exam and you don’t even need to speak the language in order to join. You just sign up for a membership and you’re ready to go. The purpose is simply to get together with like-minded people who share an affinity for a specific culture or language.

Again, I will take the Alliance Française as an example. The focus is on anything and everything French. The organization offers French conversation groups, French film viewings, a variety of French activities for children, French cultural events of all sorts, and language classes for students of all levels taught by native French speakers. Classes last several weeks and are informal and fun. If you want to earn a language degree, then by all means, enroll in your local university. But learning a language as part of an organization can be a lot more enjoyable and less stressful.

Organizations such as these are a great way to spend family time and to get your children started in learning a foreign language. Again, it’s about becoming part of a small community, practicing your language skills and immersing yourself in the culture without having to leave the country.

What should you expect when you join an organization?

If you’re worried that everyone will be fluent in the language and that you’ll feel left out, you can rest easy. These organizations are not reserved for native speakers only, but for anyone who has an interest in the language and culture. Some people are fluent, of course, but most are not and everyone is accepting of one another and of their level of proficiency.

You might be a little apprehensive at first, but I guarantee that your skills will improve by leaps and bounds as you begin using your skills in different situations. Start out by attending a conversation group and just sit back and listen. Next time say a few words and, before you know it, you’ll find yourself holding a conversation with just about anyone.

So why not take the first step and try to locate an organization in your area? You might be surprised at how many people are interested in learning the same language in a relaxed, informal atmosphere. Your skills will improve, you’ll meet new people, make some new friends and wonder why you’ve been spending all those years buried in your books when you could have been having fun learning a new language!

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  1. Anna:

    Well said! It’s why we opened the Russian Cultural Center in Memphis, TN. People ask us all the time, “Why Memphis? Why Russia?” Because there are precious few ways to interact with Russian culture here in our city, and we want to overcome the stereotypes between us. Now, we are adding French and Spanish language to our schedule. Thank you for writing this!

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