Immersion: Cultural, Language, and Virtual

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Immersion is a word in English that basically means being submerged under water. But in our modern world, the idea of how human beings immerse themselves while on dry land has three different meanings. There is cultural immersion, which describes a qualitative way in which a researcher, student or other traveler visits a foreign country; there is language immersion, which is a learning method for students who wish to pick up a second (or third or fourth) language; and there is video game immersion, which is when a player experiences a virtual reality world designed by the manufacturer. 

Cultural Immersion 

Cultural immersion means having students or other participants travel to a foreign country and, rather than stay in enclaves that have access to their own language and culture, immerse themselves in the new culture, living with host families, shopping and eating in cafes, riding mass transit: in effect, living an everyday life in another country. 

Cultural immersion is a two-way street: you are informally teaching about your culture as you are learning about theirs. Cultural immersion means experiencing food, festivals, clothing, holidays, but more importantly the people who can teach you about their customs. For several years, San Diego State University has successfully conducted "cultural plunges" as part of their teacher training courses, which are concentrated one-hour exposures to persons or groups markedly different in culture from their own. 

Professional Cultural Immersion

The professional type of cultural immersion, used by anthropologists and sociologists, is called "participant observation. " In these types of studies, the researcher doesn't simply sit by and take notes while another culture performs their daily duties, s/he lives with, shares meals with, cooks for, and otherwise participates in life.

Cultural immersion often takes months to years to carry out. In particular, outside professional researchers cannot typically immerse themselves in a setting and gather all of the information they need or desire in a short amount of time. Because this research method is so time-consuming and takes a great deal of dedication (and often finances), it is done less often than other methods. The payoff of immersion can be immense as the researcher gains more information about a subject or culture than through any other method. However, the drawback is the time and dedication that is required.

Language Immersion 

Language immersion, in general, means that a classroom full of students spends the period of that class only speaking the new language. It is a technique used in classrooms for decades, in order to make students bilingual in their language abilities. Most of these are one-way, that is, designed to give native speakers of one language experience in a second language. Most of these programs are in language classes in middle and high schools, or as English as a Second Language (ESL) courses taught to newcomers to the United States or another country. 

The second form of language immersion in the classroom is called dual immersion. The teacher provides an environment in which both native speakers of the dominant language and non-native speakers attend and learn one another's language. The purpose of this is to make all the students bilingual. In a typical, system-wide study, all two-way programs begin with kindergarten, with a high-partner language balance: for example, 90 percent instruction in the partner language and 10 percent in the dominant language. The balance gradually shifts over time, so that by the fourth and fifth grades, the partner and dominant languages are each spoken and written 50 percent of the time. Later grades and courses may then be taught in a variety of languages. 

Dual immersion studies have been conducted in Canada for over thirty years and a recent study of these (Cummins 1998) found consistently successful results, with students gaining fluency and literacy in French without apparent cost to their English, and vice versa. 

Virtual Reality Immersion 

The final type of immersion is common in computer games, and it is definitely the most difficult to define. All computer games, beginning with Pong and Space Invaders of the 1970s, have been designed to 'draw the player in,' to provide an appealing distraction from everyday concerns to lose themselves in another world. That "losing oneself" is called being "in the game," and the ability for a certain game to draw in the player is considered an expected outcome of a good computer game, to players and reviewers alike. 

Researchers have found three levels of video game immersions: engagement, engrossment, and total immersion. Engagement is that stage in which the player is willing to invest time, effort and attention to how to learn to play the game and become comfortable with the controls. Engrossment is when the player may become involved in the game, being emotionally affected by the game and having the controls become "invisible." The third level, total immersion, is when the gamer experiences a sense of presence so that he or she is cut off from reality to the extent that only the game matters: when you stop thinking about playing the game.