Beyond Immersion: Rethinking Language Learning Strategies

efficiency immersion optimal input pleasure reading second language acquisition story-listening toeic
  • Study challenges the common belief in language immersion as the superior method for language acquisition.
  • It presents the cases of Kenta and Sawako, Japanese learners whose language skills improved more significantly through reading and story-listening than through immersion.

"The Immersion Assumption" presents a study contrasting language immersion with pleasure reading. 

The commonly held belief among the public and language professionals is that immersion, such as living in a country where a second language is spoken, is the most effective way to learn that language. This perspective emphasizes the value of interacting with native speakers as a key element in the effectiveness of immersion for language acquisition.

The Immersion Assumption study presents the cases of Kenta and Sawako, Japanese learners whose language skills improved more significantly through reading and story-listening than through immersion.

Sawako, a Japanese native speaker, spent over a year in Canada for language immersion. Despite engaging in daily English conversations, attending an ESL class, and working in an English-speaking environment, her TOEIC score only improved marginally. Later, back in Japan, she attended a Story-Listening class and engaged in extensive pleasure reading in English. This approach led to a significant improvement in her TOEIC score.

Kenta, a university student in Japan, experienced different outcomes in language learning across five periods. He initially saw minor improvement in his TOEIC score from traditional English classes. Significant progress occurred when he engaged in Story-Listening and Guided Self-Selected Reading, but his scores stagnated during periods focused on conversational practice and language immersion abroad. A return to extensive reading in his final year led to a substantial increase in his TOEIC score.




TOEIC Score Before

TOEIC Score After

Score Change


Immersion in Canada

2/2001 to 6/2002





Story Listening/Reading

2017-2018 (1 semester)





EFL Classes

April 2011 - Summer 2011





Story Listening and Reading

Summer 2011 - Oct 2012





Interaction with Native Speakers

Oct 2012 - Jan 2013





Language Immersion Abroad

Jan 2013 - Jan 2014





Self-Selected Reading

Jan 2014 - Nov 2014




The evidence strongly suggests that pleasure reading is a more effective approach to learning a new language than immersion.

The findings align with numerous studies indicating that self-selected reading is more effective for language learning than traditional methods. While immersion provides comprehensible input through interaction with native speakers, this study highlights that such input is not always the most optimal for language acquisition. Both Sawako and Kenta's experiences demonstrate that engaging, comprehensible input from reading can lead to more substantial language gains than immersion alone.

Krashen and Mason (2020) propose that the most effective language learning input should be: 

  • Comprehensible
  • Highly interesting
  • Linguistically rich
  • Abundant

This optimal input helps learners acquire language more rapidly and efficiently, requiring multiple exposures to vocabulary and grammar in various contexts.


  • The results consistently show that pleasure reading, a form of optimal input, is more effective for second language acquisition than immersion.
  • This finding calls for a reevaluation of current language learning strategies and highlights the potential of reading in language education.

Read the study here:

The Immersion Assumption

Beniko Mason 
Shitennoji University Junior College 

Stephen Krashen 
University of Southern California

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