Main Site Blog Help

Creating your own immersion environment


I was one of those people that balked at the idea of language immersion. I figured, with all the learning resources and graded content online, I could absorb as much Chinese as someone living in China.

But after a recent trip to Japan, I’ve started to rethink this viewpoint. After only a day or two of navigating though Tokyo, I realized just how inundated you are with foreign language. I mean, I live in a Chinese community within the US where I see a lot of Chinese business signs and menus. But in Japan, EVERYTHING is in Japanese–the business signs, the road signs, the appliances, the books, the movies, the advertisements, the product labels, the instruction manuals, the PA systems, and of course, the conversations. All of these things are constantly pinging your hippocampus and reinforcing what you’ve learned in your studies.

I subsequently realized that I simply don’t use my Chinese enough to make it stick. I study 2-3 hours a day, but I don’t use the language in my day-to-day life, and I think this is why I consistently forget lower frequency words and characters and why I’m struggling to push past the lower intermediate level.

I can’t move to Taipei or Shanghai, but I was wondering if I could be doing more to create an immersion environment at home. Does anyone have any suggestions? The first thing that comes to mind is switching out my operating systems. I spend a lot of time on my phone and computer, so it probably wouldn’t take me that long to get comfortable using them in Chinese.

Otherwise, I’m trying to figure out all the things I do in English and see if I could instead do them in Chinese. I read a lot of English blogs and news sites, but I doubt I’d be able to understand their equivalents in Chinese. Ditto for TV and movies. Is it worth throwing myself into the deep end of the pool at this low level, even if I could only understand half of what’s being said?

I’d love to hear other people’s suggestions for immersion and how you use Chinese in your daily lives.


Hey @psamet, this is a great question and one that I have been thinking about myself and trying to implement for the past year or two.

I will first say that I’m typing this on my phone so I apologize in advance for any typos.

I can’t say that I have found a solution to your question but I can explain what I have done personally to try and create a more immersive environment for myself.

When I first started learning Chinese I went around my house and labelled everything with post-it notes that had the word for that item in Chinese.

As my Mandarin improved I tried to speak to my Chinese friends or colleagues in Mandarin only. This can be daunting at first but it’s good practice. I started off by just booking 15 min coffee sessions with people where we would only speak Chinese, I was worried that people wouldn’t be interested or willing but was surprised to find out that most were excited to hear I was learning their language and more than willing to spare a few minutes every week to chat with me. I kept doing this until it got to the point where I pretty much only speak to some friends in mandarin, even if I have to struggle through, it’s good to put yourself in the situation where you are forced to not use your first language, even if you can’t say what you want properly just trying to figure it out in your head is great practice.

Another thing I did was change the language for some of my PC games to mandarin. This may not be possible for all games but I play a lot of stsrcraft 2 and had a Taiwanese friend of mine help me install the mandarin language pack. It helps give me a bit more immersion with a game that enjoy.

I also started listening to a lot of mandarin music and TV shows after getting some recommendations from friends.

I installed wechat and weird on my phone and added friends and people from shows I like or Chinese popular culture. This gives me a social media experience similar to what I would have in china.I don’t always use these but it’s nice to have them there to check once a day or so.

My work environment is English only so there isn’t any exposure there. I try to fit as much other immersion as I can during the day, even something like pasive listening by putting on a CPod lesson or some mandarin music. I found a great mobile app called TuneIn Radio that let’s me listen to radio stations from around the world. I use this to listen to some Chinese radio stations. It’s good because their pronunciation is always great since they are part of chinese media.

I would love to live in china and am hoping to be able to next year but until then this is what I have been doing to have a more immersive learning experience, I hope you find some of my tips helpful.



I would say watch soap operas on Language is fitting for low intermediate. Also, just watch in the background for practice rather than a study resource. You will slowly start to notice a lot of the words you learn on the side a lot more. Also, if you can’t speak, write. This is good for producing the more difficult words you would normally find difficult for getting out in a conversation, a diary for instance. But really, you need a speaking buddy, that is priority number one I think.

About changing your phone and pc into Chinese. I tried that, but when you get important messages it can be a bit of a problem. You don’t know what you are agreeing to sometimes.


I should really implement your Mandarin-only sessions. I’ve thought about it many times before. I just worry that my constantly pleas for them to repeat things and the painfully slow amount of time it takes me to pull words out of my head will end up driving them away :wink:

What TV shows and movies do you recommend? I’ve had a difficult time finding the later. Most of the Mandopop I’ve come across are syrupy ballads, not my cup of 茶.


Do you recommend any particular soaps? I’ve visited the youku site once or twice before and found the home page a tad intimidating (though that was before I discovered the Chrome Zhongwen plugin.)


@psamet [quote=“psamet, post:4, topic:478”]
I’ve thought about it many times before. I just worry that my constantly pleas for them to repeat things and the painfully slow amount of time it takes me to pull words out of my head will end up driving them away

I can understand your worry and hesitation, I feel the same way when first speaking with and asking someone to chat with me. If possible, try to find multiple people you can chat with, this way you can speak to multiple people and don’t have to always bother the same person to chat with you if they are quite busy.

One thing I would suggest is to have a discussion topic prepared and agreed on with the person you will be speaking with before you actually meeting to have the coffee. This gives you time to thinking about what you want to say/discuss as well as looking up any new vocabulary words that you feel would be useful in the conversation. You don’t have to stick to this conversation topic for the entire chat, but it’s nice to be prepared and have a topic to fall back on if you run out of this to talk about or there are awkward pauses. Also, just explain to the person you are speaking with that you are still learning and you may require some time to think about the most appropriate response.

Since I am looking to improve my mandarin, I have also asked my speaking partners to correct any pronunciation or grammar mistakes I might make, I usually bring my phone with Pleco on it to easily look up new words I may learn and a small notebook so I can write down their comments and remember their suggestions.

As for shows, I first started off watching “Growing Up with Chinese”

as well as “Happy Chinese”

These are usually pretty simple dialogue and they can speak slower to help you learn easier.

I later moved onto watch 非常勿扰 every weekend on youtube as it is both interesting and addictive to watch. There are new episodes released every weekend. When watching this show you can usually turn on the “translated close captioning” and set it to english or another language you are comfortable with.


Thanks for the recommendations! I think Happy Chinese is right around the level I am looking for. The 大山 travel show looks interesting too. I had no idea these existed.


Interesting thread. Btw, it’s 非诚勿扰 not "非常“ 。。。but don’t worry, I once heard another learner refer to it as 非常无聊 by mistake, which despite being a true howler also sums up my feelings about the show. (No offence). As to whipping out the Pleco, I’ve done that for years too, but recently am trying to rely on making mental notes and doing the lookups immediately afterward. I find fishing a cell phone out of my pocket sort of kills the flow of the conversation. Of course it it’s a key point then Pleco is a lifesaver, but it’s also good to practice asking people to help you understand what they mean or just saying that you didn’t get their meaning and seeing if they can rephrase it. Sadly I still fall back on the habit of “nod and smile” when I am quite lost sometimes. Still, I think we must not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Often it may be better to go with the flow in both reading and conversing, as the meaning of a given word may become clear later in the course of the encounter, so its best not to get hung up on a single word.


The CCTV-produced “Communicate In Chinese” series which is hosted by 大山 is also excellent.


Thanks for the correction. I always select the wrong “chang”. Some people can find the show boring, i find it fun easy entertainment that also helps with my listening.

Pleco is definitely the most helpful tool I utilize when speaking Mandarin with others, I could imagine having to use a physical paper dictionary like learners had to before this app came out. I agree that looking up items on the phone is not always appropriate when speaking to someone.

If im speaking during one of my mandarin only coffee meetings then i always have it open and available to make efficient use of time but when casually speaking with others I try to make mental note to look it up later as its not always polite to be looking up things on your phone when speaking to someone.


You are welcome. The way I remember it is the “cheng” meaning “sincere” is the same as in the word for “honest”, 诚实。 Putting the negating prefix 非 in front makes it “not sincere” so the whole phrase is “not sincere: don’t bother me” which figuratively translates as “serious inquiries only.” The underlying cultural assumption is that dating is supposed to be to find a marriage partner, not just “hooking up” briefly. But the television show became popular by pushing the envelope and relying on provoking the audience. It seemed to have degenerated into something more like one of those talent shows where would-be stars aspiring for more media exposure got a free ride. As long as they followed the script, of course. Sorry, I don’t mean to be “hating on” the show. Anything that inspires you to listen to more Mandarin is golden. Its also a fun show to watch with other people and discuss each other’s perceptions about what’s going on.