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I know from hearsay and can sympathize from my own experience that many people experience depression overseas when learning a language fully immersed. I can imagine that this leads to low-confidence and self-doubt which could lead to how decisions are made and the world perceived. Yet, on the other hand, many bloggers and language learners praise full immersion as the best way to go without really mentioning the potential psychological toll it takes to be an adult and not be able to, say, politely excuse oneself for the washroom.

Is there any research about the negative psychological effects of immersion to learn languages?

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    Interesting..never heard of any negative effects of immersion before. Seems like an interesting question! – fi12 May 8 '16 at 0:25
  • I think this is much of an exaggeration. First in most situations you can still communicate with all those people with full capacity in a familiar language, say English, when really necessary, as English is used all around the world. Second, you always keep contact with your old friends. Third, even though it might be a bit hard to express your intentions, you can always find a way even using body language. And after once you'll know how to say it in the target language. Finally, after such an experience you emerge much, much calmer and stronger, unlikely to be fazed by any circumstances. – xji May 13 '16 at 6:23
  • The above points are from my experience of learning Spanish with full immersion in Chile. Of course I suppose when you try to start the full immersion you don't go in with absolutely zero knowledge... Which would presumably make it much more convoluted. Some basics will largely help. – xji May 13 '16 at 6:24
  • I believe there is some research that shows this, but I don't have access to my resources at this moment. The depression comes about because no matter how much a beginner and even an intermediate student makes in a true immersion experience (such as living where the target language is the only language), it becomes clear to them out in the real world that what they've learned is just the tip of the iceberg. Compare this to a language class in one's own country, where progress cannot so easily be measured by comparison to the target language outside the classroom. – Alan Carmack May 16 '16 at 15:54
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    Fantastic question. I'd imagine there is, or should be, such research. "Not speaking the language" is a lesson -- perhaps great for the soul, but horrible for the psyche -- in being by far the stupidest person in the room, the least cool, and the most socially inept, all day, every day. To do it for prolonged periods without anyone else in your camp has to be isolating and humiliating and, I would imagine, damaging. – SAH Nov 1 '16 at 20:14
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Full language immersion can lead to stress that contributes to culture shock. The inability to communicate combined with the frustration of adapting to a new context is highly challenging for many people.

However, full immersion can happen in one's own country as well. For example, the Philippines has several thousand languages within their own country. As such, a native can experience full immersion while being in a familiar culture. In this sort of situation full immersion can contribute to mental fatigue and not necessarily to culture shock.

Here's a link on full immersion and culture shock

  • Thanks for your input. I'm not really looking for the effects of culture shock, but the isolated effects of not being able to communicate as an adult, or any age for that matter. As an aside, it could be said that many of the adverse effects of culture shock are due to the inability to communicate. A situation may simply be uncomfortable or strange (culture shock) because one can't ask others or understand what's going on. Cultural misunderstandings can be perpetuated simply because either party can't explain sufficiently to diffuse it or language nuances are misinterpreted as offence etc. – Ben Cann May 8 '16 at 22:55
  • The focus of my answer was not on culture shock but how language immersion stresses people out which can cause culture shock. The Philippines example was to show how culture shock does not always happen because of language immersion stress – user326 May 11 '16 at 6:19

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