The language learning community has always been a huge proponent of the idea of immersion. In its most extreme form, this means relocating to The Netherlands (à la Benny of Fluent in 3 Months), but for most students, it involves using Facebook in French, listening to Spanish music or podcasts, or watching Inspector Rex without the subtitles.
There’s no reason, though, that you can’t incorporate this premise into other subjects or areas of expertise. Here are a few suggestions of ways to enrich your experience and understanding of the material you are covering in school or university.
Consume relevant content.
The first step is to expose yourself to material related to your subject more regularly. You can do this in a passive way with not much effort by incorporating your topic into your feed reader or listening to the radio.
- Find and follow revelant blogs and podcasts. New material will be delivered straight to your feed reader or iTunes. This is an easy and non-intrusive way to begin filtering the subject matter into your life. (Aspiring maths students, for example, might enjoy Vi Hart’s blog, The Math Dude, or Tim Harford’s podcast More or Less.)
- Keep up to date. It’s easy to set up a Google Alert to keep on top of recent developments. Tracking tags on popular blogging and bookmarking sites like WordPress or Delicious can also lead to some interesting discoveries. (Try tracking geology or programming, for example.)
- Find and use small pockets of time. The ten minutes before class or the bus ride to work may as well be useful: keep your iPod or Kindle stocked up with podcasts, e-books, and articles to read during your free moments. You could also try borrowing books or magazines from friends, teachers, or your library.
Repurpose “time-wasting” sites and make them work for you.
As students, we are constantly trying to spend less time on Facebook, Twitter, forums, and blogs. Tools like LeechBlock and Chrome Nanny help us curb those habits, but what if we could use them to our advantage?
- Create a Tumblr blog centred around a subject. Keep your eyes peeled for new and interesting content—you never know what you might find! A project like this allows you to view the subject through other people’s eyes—and no post is too silly! (This is particularly good for music students. Searching for content for my own flute-related Tumblr, F Yeah, Flute! has inspired me to practice and introduced me to heaps of new and amazing pieces.)
- Use Twitter creatively. Of course, you can follow professionals and leaders in your field, and interact with classmates, but what about practicing your conversational foreign language skills in small, manageable chunks (the Esperanto community is especially friendly); or tweeting from the persona of a character (like Hamlet) or historical figure (like Edgar Allan Poe)?
- Participate in relevant forums. Two of the most effective ways to learn are by teaching somebody else or by participating in a discussion. Australian students completing their HSC or VCE can use the Bored of Studies forums to help other students with their questions and solidify their understanding of a topic, and students in other areas may be able to find similar online mediums.
Find ways to confront yourself with material.
The more often you see that formula, the more likely you are to remember it! Plaster your life with constant reminders, facts, and figures.
- Put up posters in the places you frequent or see often. The poster on the toilet wall is a tried-and-tested approach—and the entire household can learn together! Other places you could consider include your bedroom wall (or even roof), the front of your planner, or the fridge door.
- Use Popling on your computer. The difficult-to-ignore flashcard program offer an alternative for students who lack the ability to log off their computer and use the old-fashioned kind. The software can be installed either as a browser add-on or a desktop application. Beware, though: multitasking comes at a cost.
Exposing yourself to a wider range of material has the potential to deepen your appreciation, passion, and understanding of and for your subject—and is an easy, quick and unobtrusive way of utilising the tools you already use. I hope it helps you look at your studies in a new and unique way!
Photo credit: ‘Dive’ by Felipe Skroski