I have just joined the network of Be-Rise, an interdisciplinary association for research and care for bilingual children, as an honorary member. I am featuring my interview with Franck Scola, Chairman of the Scientific Committee, on the differences between an immersion language course and a real language bath “bain linguistique”.

Born in Angoulême, France, Hélène Phelipon is the founder of Live French and a field expert in sociolinguistics. She holds a Master’s degree in linguistics, culture, and training engineering. She has been a trainer and coach of French as a foreign language (FLE), English and professional French in Paris for almost 20 years for international companies, engineering schools and American university programmes.

She began her career as a French teacher and educational coordinator at the University of Illinois in the United States and attaches particular importance to culture and intercultural subtleties in teaching a foreign language. She has been a freelancer for 11 years and has created her own language programmes, Live French.

She agreed to answer Be-Rise’s questions about her approach to language teaching, and more specifically about her project through Live French.


Be-Rise: ‘Bathing’ and immersion are two situations of exposure to the target language, what distinguishes them?

Hélène Phelipon: Immersion courses carried out in the country where the target language is spoken are to be distinguished from the real language bath. In the first case, immersion is artificial: a recognisable framework, start and end times, instructors on mission to teach the language in educational sequences. The language bath, on the other hand, is a more spontaneous situation of exposure to the target language, requiring verbal solicitations in an authentic situation in that same language, which is then experienced as natural.


Could you explain your approach to language teaching?

For many learners, starting or returning to learning a language is never really associated with being fun. However, it is precisely on this last word that it is important to focus and where the language bath will make all the difference and make language learners communicate more effectively.

Blockages or lack of motivation in learning a language are very often linked to a bad memory or even a learning failure that occurred beforehand when we were students in a traditional educational situation, in a closed setting and a restricted environment: the classroom. The emotional aspect with the teacher at the time is also an element to be taken into consideration.

In the case of major blockages, the first step is most often psychological; the first role of the trainer/coach is then to de-dramatise and “break” this traditional and hierarchical approach of the teacher/student and to establish a climate of trust between equals. It is also the role of the coach to enhance the potential of one’s learners by identifying their profile. The second step is to transform learning into pleasure for better results and this is where the language bath when learning a language is essential.

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So what is the difference in the outcome in terms of language skills acquisition?

In immersion courses, the language and its functioning are studied. Language is an object of knowledge. This can ideally be done in one of the countries in which the target language is spoken; we get the learners to communicate with each other or with us, but the learning context itself is relatively fixed. The teaching activity remains framed. We work more on our linguistic skills and we remain more or less in our comfort zone without any real feeling of achieving our objectives because we cannot evaluate ourselves in a real situation.

However, if the knowledge is not activated and put into practice in authentic situations; in other words, if the skills acquired – what I know – are not transformed into performance – what I can do in a real situation with what I know, and the concrete result that follows (a winning business negotiation, a completed project, a successful collaboration, etc.); the learning process will remain passive and there is little chance that without training in this transition or transfer of these skills to real situations, the learner will quickly become more effective.

The language bath will therefore place more emphasis on action and performance – what companies are looking for today to benefit their business; and the only way to improve performance quickly is to practice and activate all this knowledge actively and in real life, i.e. to transpose it into authentic situations through fun activities, which give rise to both the notion of pleasure and a satisfying challenge because they focus on the success of the result (cooking lessons – I succeeded in making my dish; wine tasting workshop – I now know how to recognise a Bordeaux from a Burgundy etc.). It is therefore important to learn in a relaxed atmosphere through social activities; this necessarily leads to faster but also more solid results. Moreover, as things are learned in context, the memorization process is much better.

The mechanics and abstract nature of a new language is often difficult because we “think” too much and don’t “feel” things enough. While mechanics are important for the basics, it is good to detach from them and make the language LIVE through another channel – a channel that involves bathing in the culture, in a very social and interactive way. This is undoubtedly the most effective way to learn a language. It helps you to “open up” your potential through experience and even your heart rather than through mechanical/abstract and repetitiveness. The channel of emotion, of pleasure, will therefore make all the difference in the language bath.


How to get the most out of the language bath in language learning?

The cultural project in language learning in the context of a language bath is a very effective and relatively easy strategy to put in place. To be carried out with the help of local professionals, for example, it involves investigating a cultural subject of one’s choice and going to conduct interviews on the chosen theme. The culture becomes the support and the vector of the language work. Once the interviews with experts have been completed to gather the required information, and documentary research has been carried out if necessary, the aim is to make a final PowerPoint presentation to a small audience. This type of project is a challenge that forces them to leave their comfort zone throughout the process; they have to adapt to different types of linguistic situations (formal, informal, professional, etc.) with the corresponding language register and to present themselves like an actor in front of an audience. Stressful? Yes, a little. But very beneficial for the future – always in a pleasant and positive atmosphere to activate their potential, their desire and motivate them to the maximum. Once the presentation is over, the language learner has a great sense of accomplishment thanks to the progress they have made only after a few days. The notion of a rewarding result directly linked to the notion of pleasure is essential for serene and lasting learning.

The language bath thus transforms the language (object of knowledge) into a real mean/medium for communicating and socialising in a much more natural and spontaneous way; but also for acquiring even more knowledge. The whole environment, whether social, cultural or linguistic, becomes a source of learning and arouses curiosity. A beneficial vicious circle! The learner is much more involved in his or her learning; he or she becomes the master and the main actor of the whole process. The bath transforms learning into a linguistic, cultural, social and human experience.

Moreover, what could be more beneficial than a bath to transmit cultural codes at the same time as the language? It is an opportunity to decode the implicit aspects of the codes in a real context and to shed light on its understanding and the acquisition of these new codes. Here we touch on the field of sociolinguistics, which is always closely linked to the issue of language teaching.


In conclusion, the objective of the language bath is significantly more beneficial to the acquisition of a language than the immersion course because it works more on performance and experience in a real context and consequently on self-confidence for the future. It should be noted that it is possible to carry out a training programme combining immersion courses and language bath in order to combine competence and performance.

Experiencing the culture in real-life situations in language training courses considerably increases your learning capacity and your performance! It is no longer just a matter of learning a language or speaking it, but of LIVING it. Hence the name of my organisation Live French or “Vivre le français” !

Live well, Live French!