Mass Immersion Approach
Customization and Adaptation
MIA is an approach because it is designed to be customizable to meet the specific needs and goals of a wide range of language learners. Although it might sound silly, using iPhone models as a metaphor provides a simple yet effective paradigm for thinking about MIA customization and adaptation.
Since the iPhone 6, with the exception of the iPhone X, each new main iteration to the iPhone line has come in two different versions: “Standard” and “Plus” (“Max” in the case of the iPhone XS). The two are largely the same, except for the “Plus” being significantly larger, having a better battery, and costing $100 more. In addition to the broad distinction of “Standard” or “Plus,” there are also a few smaller decisions you can make when purchasing an iPhone, such as storage capacity, color, network provider, and case. As a customizable approach, MIA is also initially divided into two main models: the “Balanced Approach” and the “Perfectionist Approach,” and, similar to the iPhone, both of these overarching models present further opportunities for various smaller adjustments and modifications.
Balanced vs. Perfectionism
The “Standard” iPhone and iPhone “Plus” both have their own pros and cons. I think most people would agree that a larger screen would provide an enhanced gaming/ video-watching experience, and a better battery is highly desirable. But at the same time, the expanded size of the “Plus” might render it too large to comfortably use with one hand or easily slip in and out of your front pocket, and for many, an extra $100 isn’t cheap.
When choosing a language learning approach as an adult, we run into a similar conflict of interest: to the extent that one replicates the L1 acquisition process, they will have L1-like results. To the extent that one takes advantage of their fully developed intellect, they will have expedited results. I will write about this at length in later articles, but for now, here is a brief summary:
For a variety of reasons, as an adult language learner, developing reading comprehension is significantly easier than developing listening comprehension. Further, learning to hear what you can already read is significantly easier than developing listening comprehension through listening alone. Thus, if one’s goal is to gain proficiency in both listening and reading as quickly as possible, having text (reading ability) guide the forefront of learning is the best strategy to take. This is why a majority of language classes are primarily taught via text, with audio taking a back seat.
The problem is that reading before developing listening abilities in a language has the potential to damage pronunciation in the long term. There are two main reasons for this. First, if you haven’t developed listening abilities in a language, then you quite literally don’t know how the language actually sounds. This means that every time you read the language, you will inevitably create and reinforce bad pronunciation habits inside of your head. Not only will these habits be hard to reverse, but they will also bias the way you hear the language, making it harder to train your ears to hear the language in the same way that natives do. Second, if you gain a large amount of collocation knowledge through reading before your listening abilities are developed, your mind will later use that knowledge to make inferences and artificially fill in gaps in raw listening ability, forming another barrier to training your ears to hear the language in the same way that natives do. If you don’t hear the language in the same way that natives do, you will be in the same position as a blind man painting a self-portrait when attempting to pronounce the language.
In the iPhone metaphor, the “Standard” model equates to the “Balanced Approach.” As the name suggests, the Balanced Approach seeks to strike a balance between “expedited” and “L1-like” results. Reading ability is developed from the start in order to accelerate total progress, while the adverse effects of premature reading are minimized by listening to the language at least as much as one reads. Although having a larger screen is nice, most people aren’t going to find it worth the extra money and pocket-related inconvenience. Of course, we would all prefer to sound like a native-speaker in our target language, but we also have to be realistic when thinking about how much time and effort we are really willing to dedicate to the pursuit. It’s undeniable that premature reading reduces the likelihood that one will go on to achieve a fully native-like accent, but for a large majority of people, the reduced stress and accelerated progress that comes from learning through reading will be well worth the trade.
The “Perfectionist Approach” is for the small minority of people who, for whatever reason, are determined to do everything in their power to achieve the most native-like accent possible, even if that means delaying results and pushing through continually diminishing returns. This is where the iPhone metaphor begins to break down, as although a significant portion of iPhone users are happy with the “Plus,” the Perfectionist Approach is only suitable for a tiny fraction of language learners. The Perfectionist Approach is language learning on hard mode; you are doing much more work for marginally better results. Reading is completely avoided for the first one to two years in order to allow listening abilities to fully blossom of their own accord. As developing listening abilities in a vacuum is a gradual process, when compared to the Balanced Approach, reaching the higher levels of comprehensive language ability is estimated to take anywhere from one to two years longer, and to be a much bumpier ride. However, in return, those who push through with the Perfectionist Approach will have outstanding listening abilities, and the greatest likelihood of achieving a fully native-sounding accent.
Further Customization and Adaptation
Both the Balanced Approach and the Perfectionist Approach are designed to be easily adaptable to any target language. That said, certain languages present unique challenges that require specialized solutions, and due to my specific background, at the present moment I am only able to provide language-specific instruction for Japanese and Chinese. In the future, I hope to work with accomplished learners of other languages to incorporate more language-specific instruction into MIA, but until then, learners of languages other than Japanese or Chinese may have to take aspects of adaptation into their own hands in order to tackle any language-specific challenges that arise. This said, even in its current form, applying MIA to any mainstream language should be mostly straightforward and intuitive.
Realistically, the aspect of MIA most likely to cause language-specific difficulties is resources. MIA hinges on consuming media in the target language, so a scarcity of media access constitutes a detrimental problem. I would wager that YouTube and a single online dictionary alone are enough to successfully learn any language that is even remotely major, but ready access to quality movies, shows, and books in the target language will make the journey considerably smoother. Tools such as pop-up dictionaries, simultaneous multi-dictionary lookup and pre-made Anki decks are nice, but ultimately don’t have a large influence on the bigger picture. That said, for the Perfectionist Approach in particular, access to subtitle files and accompanying video files does provide a significant advantage, as in conjunction with tools such as Subs2SRS, they can significantly reduce the difficulty of creating audio-based SRS cards. Managing without subtitles is definitely possible, but will require considerably more patience and effort.
In addition to being adaptable to different languages, the Balanced Approach was also designed to be easily adaptable to a range of different final goals. As I explained in the previous post, MIA is aimed at people seeking to become at least functional in their target language; those who are only looking to dabble or reach a survival level are likely to be better off looking elsewhere for language learning advice. In the Balanced Approach, people seeking to become functional are advised to skip certain practices which are only relevant to those seeking higher levels, and people aiming for fluency or higher are advised to delay certain practices in order to spend an increased amount of time solidifying fundamentals.
Because the entire premise of the Perfectionist Approach is that it is for the small minority of people that are aiming to achieve the best possible results regardless of the cost, it has been designed with the assumption that anyone using it is planning to eventually approach a native level of proficiency.
Both the Balanced Approach and the Perfectionist Approach also present many opportunities for tweaking details, such as the time allocation or the order of certain practices, to match individual interests and priorities. Advice with regards to time management and adapting MIA to a busy schedule will be provided as well.
Evolution is the Norm
This isn’t directly related to customization, but it fits in nicely with the iPhone metaphor, so I figured I would throw it in.
The original iPhone was extremely innovative for its time. It might have been bulky, laggy and limited in features, but it worked, and did its job better than any other device that existed at the time. As technology improves, new and improved iPhones are released each year. When a new iPhone is released, generally, people don’t begin to view the previous model as a “failure” or “mistake” because it wasn’t as good as the new model.
We can think of the AJATT 1.0 as the original iPhone: it works, perhaps better than anything else that existed at the time of its inception, but it still has quite a bit of room for improvement. In a way, MIA is AJATT 2.0. Following the iPhone metaphor, although MIA is arguably already a significant step up from AJATT 1.0, it is still far from perfect, and will continue to evolve as more research is conducted, individual experience is collected, and discoveries are made. All things improve with time. This is something positive which should be welcomed; criticizing the approach for undergoing change is synonymous with voting for stagnation.
On a similar note, most iPhone users are eager to update to the new model; they don’t become attached to their current phone on the basis that its nostalgic, familiar, or “the original.” That said, some users will stick with the previous model on the basis that, although something better may exist, their current model is still working perfectly fine, and so updating wouldn’t be worth the cost. This is perfectly reasonable. Similarly, ceasing to keep up with MIA updates once one feels that their current method is bringing the desired results is completely understandable.
(One area where we could say the metaphor breaks down is in the treatment of users who continue to use previous models: Apple has been accused of planned obsolescence and criticized for dropping support for older products, whereas I hope to be able to continue to provide guidance to those using previous versions of MIA.)