On a hot day, it is not enough to dab our big toe in the cool, clear water. We have to jump in to enjoy the full experience.

I have found the same to be true when learning a language. I had the opportunity to attend a language school for two months before departing to Argentina for a church mission.

After only three days at the language school, we were instructed to communicate only in Spanish. This was a challenge! Our Spanish/English dictionaries were constantly in use. We improved our non-verbal communication skills. It was painful in many ways, but we learned.

In my group, we had an individual from El Paso that had taken nine years of Spanish in high school. Another individual had taken four years of Spanish in high school and two years of Spanish in college. After three weeks in the language school, both individuals felt that we had surpassed the education that they had previously received. Such is the power of language immersion.

After two months in the language school, I felt ready for the journey to Argentina. Surprise! In “real life” they speak a lot faster than in the school, the accent is a little different and sometimes slang is used. For the first few days, the wonderful people of Argentina could understand me better than I could understand them. However, with all of the exposure I was experiencing, progress came quickly. Soon I could understand and communicate the basics, and my vocabulary was being enhanced day by day.

As an English-speaker learning Spanish, it is not effective to think in English and translate from and to Spanish. One must think in Spanish in order to communicate effectively in Spanish. With immersion, the thinking in Spanish came relatively quickly. It was a glorious arrival, of sorts, to wake up and remember dreaming in Spanish. It was a strange sensation, but a strong indication of progress in the language.

I was strongly motivated to speak Spanish well, because I wanted to be able to communicate effectively with the people of Argentina. While there, I did not see signs or literature in English. We made lots of mistakes and survived some embarrassing moments. We did not speak English in public. We had been taught that if people heard us speaking in English, they may assume that we were saying not-so-nice things about them. We spoke some English in private, but in general, it was easier to speak Spanish.

In this country, we should be concerned about helping our recent immigrants to become fully functional citizens as soon as possible. We need to provide opportunities for immersion into the English language. Bi-lingual signs and literature are a short-term fix that thwarts immersion and prolongs the learning process. We should gently encourage the speaking of English in public by all. We should encourage families to speak English at home as much as possible. Immersion in English will be a challenge, but the learning will be remarkably rapid.

We are proud of our daughter-in-law from South Korea, who has immersed herself in English upon entering the country, and now speaks excellent English. We occasionally confuse her with slang or old sayings, but once we explain, she quickly understands. She speaks Korean a small fraction of the time with her family and friends, but is otherwise immersed in English. She has been employed as an accountant and is clearly in the mainstream of this country. We value her Korean heritage (and especially her cooking). We expect our granddaughter to be taught both English and Korean in the home.

If we work together to help learners of English to immerse themselves in the language, we can help them communicate effectively with us and develop the brotherhood that we as citizens of the United States need to share. Come on in, the English is fine.

Brad Ross is an engineer who lives in Los Olivos. Please write to princentliv@gmail.com to share principles that affect your life, or to provide feedback.