5 Ways of Passive English Immersion

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Passive English Immersion

Recently I wrote an article about 4 Ways of Active English Immersion which included thinking, counting and also speaking with yourself in English – mad stuff altogether! But in order to achieve complete English fluency you should be prepared to resort to unconventional methods, and I really suggest you put my advice to good use if you want to see your spoken English come along.

Let’s face the truth, however – you can’t possibly speak English ALL THE TIME. There will be times when you just lie down on a couch to relax after a hard day’s work when all you want to do is enjoy a movie or your favorite TV show, or have a read…

As you might have already guessed, today’s blog post is about passive English immersion. It’s when you don’t get actively involved in the process through speaking but you soak up the information by listening, watching and reading.

Before we look at the ways you can achieve passive English immersion, here’s another nugget of information for you.

It’s been widely claimed that the first stage of any language acquisition is mostly listening and only then comes the speaking phase. Parallels are drawn between studying English and how small children learn their first language. Apparently the child doesn’t know how to speak and he only listens to adults and then starts to replicate sounds, words, and sentences.

The proponents of this theory conclude that adult language learners should replicate this language acquisition model because it’s obviously the most natural one, isn’t it?

This notion has become so common that many English teachers will even tell you to focus predominantly on listening and reading in order to prepare yourself for the next stage which is speaking…

My dear foreign English speakers! It’s the biggest load of crap you’ll ever come across when it comes to learning and improving the English language!

The simple truth is – and you can read my life story here – that you just won’t become a fluent English speaker no matter how much time you spend on reading and listening. Passive English immersion is great combined with active immersion and the priority ALWAYS goes to the latter one ❗

It’s your MOUTH that you speak with, not your eyes or your ears, and I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to get it? If you spend most of your time listening and reading, you’ll develop huge passive vocabulary (words you RECOGNIZE but struggle using in real life conversations). If you spend most of your time speaking, on the other hand, you’ll develop your ability to speak, and it should be the top priority to any foreign English speaker.

So – use the following passive English immersion methods in between your active immersion activities, and you will see your English improve in no time!

1. Watching English TV programs and movies

Personally I don’t have much time left after coming home from work, going for a 5 K run or a gym session, doing some writing or video editing for my English Harmony project, checking my kids’ homework and also doing some chores (which are all, by the way, perfect occasions for speaking English with myself!)

Therefore the more I enjoy watching a good movie on a Saturday night or an interesting TV program on one of the Discovery channels when I have some time left in the evening! Yes, watching TV is a great way of creating an English immersion environment!

There are many ways of getting my national channels here in Ireland – I even know a website were I can watch them all for a very cheap yearly fee – but we’ve been watching Sky channels in English for years. My wife, for instance, has improved her English understanding big time largely thanks to watching soaps and TV series in English, my kids would normally watch Disney channel, Nickelodeon or some reality TV show, on Saturday nights The X Factor is on… There are really no limits these days to what you can watch on TV!

My favorite TV program hands down is Mythbusters, and I also enjoy watching other science related programs. As I said previously – I enjoy good movies as well, so can you imagine how well it all works towards creating an English immersion environment?

If I went for the easy options – watching Latvian or Russian TV channels and watching the latest movies in Russian – would I have developed my English listening and understanding skills to the current levels? Probably yes – after all, I don’t watch TV that much and I also live in an English speaking country and I get to hear English spoken at work around me all day long.

Still, over the years I’ve learnt a good few English phrases from TV and here’s the thing – even if you’re not aware of what exactly you learn from it, the English language still seeps into you; so you’re much better off watching TV in English anyway!

2. Reading English fiction, newspapers and magazines

I read English fiction at work during my launch breaks and before bed – I’d choose a book over a sleeping pill any day!

I also regularly grab one of the daily tabloids on the way to work and read the most interesting articles during the tea-break.

Does it constitute a massive amount of reading? It doesn’t sound like it does, but over the years I’ve managed to read through dozens upon dozens of English fictions books and I think it’s not to be sniffed at!

While reading alone won’t make you into a fluent English speaker, it’s a great way of growing your passive vocabulary, and you also learn to understand meaning of a sentence or a paragraph without understanding every single word they contain. It’s a very important skill for any foreign English speaker – inferring meaning of new words from context, and if you want to find out more about it – please read this blog post I wrote a while back.

Also, reading is the first step towards developing a habit of thinking in English because when you read, your inner voice switches off your native language.

Sure, many foreign English speakers still have massive fluency issues despite being fluent English readers. What you can read and understand doesn’t necessarily translate into your ability to produce the same content using your vocal cords and mouth. As I’ve stressed countless times on my blog – it’s all about ACTIVE vocabulary vs PASSIVE vocabulary!

Anyway, the ability to fully enjoy written English texts in form of a book, newspaper, and your hobby related magazine or website will definitely give you an edge when living in an English speaking environment – or even in your home country.

I remember being on holidays in my home country and reading one of the Viking trilogy books on a bus while driving down to the city centre. I’ve never been too much of a braggart when it comes to exhibiting my English skills (especially due to my spoken English issues I experienced over the years), but you know – it gives you some sort of a satisfaction when you think if people around you can figure out that you’re not actually a native English speaker reading a book in English!

3. Keeping a diary in English

Another great way of passively immersing yourself into the English language is keeping a diary. Many will disagree with me saying it’s active immersion because writing in English is seemingly a process where one gets actively involved. After all, you’re the one creating all the content going into the diary, isn’t that right?

Well, partially you’re right.

When you create entries in your diary, it’s a bit like as if you were speaking to somebody – you’re putting your thoughts into words, putting them down on paper, and creating a coherent piece of writing. But unfortunately that’s where the similarities end.

Everything that’s got to do with being ACTIVELY involved is spontaneous by nature. When you speak with your friends or yourself, or just think in English, your brain learns to produce automatic, instant string of words and word groups whereas when writing, you have enough time to think over the same sentence many times and plan for the proper arrangement of words in it.

I believe it’s this technical side of the writing process that places it into the passive English immersion category. Anyway – if you put your thoughts down on paper in English when you feel melancholy or there’s a lot on your mind, it will only contribute to your overall English improvement and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s active or passive immersion!

You don’t necessarily have to keep diary on a daily basis – you can create entries only twice or once a week to write down the most important stuff that’s been going on in your life.

Here are a few important things to bear in mind when keeping a diary:

  • When verbalizing your thoughts, try to use English phrases and expressions you’ve read somewhere or heard being used by other English speakers. It’s important you learn to use the same means of expression native English speakers use and writing is a great way of wiring them into your brain.
  • Whenever you can’t think of a proper English term, use other words instead to explain the same thing of feeling. Don’t forget, however, to make a sidenote and look up the relevant term so that you constantly keep learning new English words.
  • When writing, try to speak with yourself as you create sentences in you diary. You’ll find it much easier to write that way and you’ll also facilitate your spoken English improvement.
  • Don’t write very personal stuff in your diary – there’s always a chance someone might find it and read it! 😉

4. Switching to making all notes in a planner in English

This is one of those little things that make a big difference in the end. If you stop using your native language when planning your daily tasks and making notes to remind yourself of things to do, you’ll be another step closer to thinking in English and achieving complete English fluency in long term.

There’s quite a lot going on in every person’s life and we all make some sort of notes. Post-it notes on the edge of a PC monitor at work; notes on the fridge at home to remind your wife to pick up kids from school because you’ll be running late, notes in your daily planner when looking for a new home or making a Christmas gift list…

You see – if you do it all in English, eventually you’ll be forced to find any relevant term and expression that you might not know yet and it’s going to make you into a really effective English user down the line.

I remember finding the previous guy’s notes when I started in my current job three years ago. Just like me, he was a foreign English speaker. Unlike me, he’d made all his notes in his native language and it made very little sense to me – quite literally (because I don’t speak Polish!) and also the very fact that somebody who’s working with English speaking people would still stick to their language when making work related notes.

Probably it is the conventional wisdom to use your native language as medium through which you learn and improve English.

It’s a hundred times more efficient and natural, however, to switch to English completely and do away with using your mother’s tongue to facilitate a complete English immersion and much faster improvement in terms of English fluency!

5. Enjoying your hobbies through the English language

We all have some sort of a hobby – be it playing poker, fitness, model ship building or some obscure hobby niche I can’t even think of!

Regardless of your specific area of interests, in this day and age you simply have no excuses not to use English websites, blogs or magazines to enjoy your hobby!

Doing WHAT YOU LIKE through English is probably the best way to immerse yourself into the English language because you’ll develop a strong emotional link between your activities and relevant English terms, expressions and phrases.

If you’re big into the fitness and nutrition field, for instance, stop looking up relevant information in your native language online. Start using English websites or buy specialty literature and you’ll develop great relevant English vocabulary in a couple months, no joking!

I was big into wellbeing and meditation a while ago – and I bought a good few books about meditation, yoga, Pilates and such. Initially I had to learn dozens of new words and expressions and it was a little bit difficult to enjoy reading it because there was so much to learn. In a few weeks, however, I had developed a fairly good understanding of terms such as ‘manifestation’, ‘affirmations’, ‘adopt a posture’ and similar so I could fully enjoy my hobby using the English language.

You also have to look beyond your immediate life routine and see the benefit of becoming comfortable using English in a specific area of life as a potential career opportunity in the future.

What if your today’s hobby becomes your future job? What if your highly developed specialty English vocabulary comes in handy when going for a job interview that lands you a position you’ve always dreamt of?


P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • Hi Shruti,

    The MOST effective way of NOT forgetting those words is to jot them down and then do some spoken practice whereby you actually USE those words in a live speech!

    That’s pretty much the only way you can guarantee your active vocabulary grows, and you may want to read this article in relation to that: http://englishharmony.com/active-english-immersion/



  • shruti7

    hello Robby,
    ur blog is really helping millions .i am one of them.i do listen to english tv serials ,songs but i forget those words then and there

  • Thanks for your question, and here’s a definite answer: NO!!!nnYou can’t improve and build your spoken English skills by listening, and here’s why:nn* proponents of the listening immersion believe adults learn languages the same way as children which is a flawed theory – children only listen first because they CAN’T PHYSICALLY SPEAK;nn* they also believe listening builds your vocabulary in your mind and then, after a while, you’ll start speaking by using what you’ve soaked in. This is wrong too because there’s a huge difference between your passive and active vocabularies. You might recognize tens thousands of English words but use only a tiny fraction of them in daily conversations because you wouldn’t have learnt the rest of them by speaking! To put it simply – if you want to be able to use something as part of speech, you have to repeat it many times as part of a live speech to add it onto your active vocabulary. Listening alone only helps recognition, not NECESSARILY ability to use the particular word or phrase!nnHope this clarifies my point,nnRegards,nnRobby

  • Anonymous

    Is it possible to improve spoken English by listening? I am a beginner in spoken English and i am totally confused whether i listen first or speak first ? there are many websites on internet which focus too much on listening and you told that listening is not important for speaking? please reply in detail…..

  • Hi Ahmed,nnActually watching TV is all about listening and you can only add listening radio to the list. I don’t think you should resort to listening to special English learning CDs etc – instead just go to YouTube, for example, and watch videos in English about any topic you might be interested in.nnYou can, for example, listen to English news in quite simple English on this channelu00a0http://www.youtube.com/user/VOALearningEnglishu00a0- they cater specifically for the foreign English speakers audience and it’s a great way of building your vocabulary and understanding skills.nnRegards,nnRobby

  • Ha,ha, that’s very clever !

  • Ahmed Said

    Robby, will you do a post about English listening immersion? Thanks.

  • Thanks Francisco!nnI’ll confess – I’m actually not bothered to proofread my articles… I let you do the work and I can rest assured knowing that you won’t miss a single mistake! ;-))

  • Great article, Robby. I also enjoy good movies and documentaries (Planet Earth, Life, etc.)nnPS: It’s “vocal cords” not “vocal chords”.