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The Power of Immersion: How Mandarin Retreat Transformed Language Learning

Written by April Zhang on Wednesday, 02 August 2023. Posted in Student's Posts

The Power of Immersion: How Mandarin Retreat Transformed Language Learning

The following post is from Mischa, who has achieved remarkable success primarily through self-study. As a dedicated learner, he is always giving 100 percent of his effort. And he helps others wherever he can.

He writes about his learning experience in his blog and podcast I’m Learning Mandarin. He also co-founded Mandarin Retreat, an organisation that run immersive weekend trips and extended camps for Chinese language learners based in Europe. 

Below is what immersive learning is like to him.


The Power of Immersion: How Mandarin Retreat Transformed Language Learning

(By Mischa Wilmers) 


In the summer of 2022 I had a life-changing experience that solidified my belief in the power of immersion for language learning. After years of studying Chinese in the UK, I finally had the opportunity to immerse myself in a Mandarin-only environment for an entire weekend. 

The impact was profound, leading me to create Mandarin Retreat and share this transformative experience with other learners. In this article, I will share my personal journey and the reasons behind founding Mandarin Retreat, highlighting the incredible benefits of immersion in language learning.


Trip to Scarborough

It all began with a weekend trip to Scarborough on the North East coast of England. I gathered a group of English and Chinese friends, and we embarked on an adventure together. We stayed in one house, explored the seaside, cooked meals, indulged in Chinese cuisine and watched Chinese dramas together. We set one crucial rule: English was off-limits, except when absolutely necessary.

Initially, I felt nervous and apprehensive as we started the weekend. Despite my years of studying Chinese and engaging in conversations with native speakers, nothing compared to the complete immersion I experienced during those two days. However, as the weekend progressed, my nervousness disappeared, and my fluency in Chinese improved significantly. It was as if all my hard work had suddenly come to fruition. The only disappointment was that the experience couldn't last longer.

Over that weekend I absorbed more Chinese than I would typically learn in weeks of study. My brain switched into survival mode, recognising the necessity of understanding and expressing myself effectively. This environment allowed me to learn numerous practical vocabulary and phrases related to everyday life, which often elude language exchange partners or more focused study sessions.

It wasn't just me who benefited from this experience. The other learners who took part were at different levels of proficiency, from beginner to advanced. Even those at lower levels, like the blogger Lingo Geek, found the immersion immensely beneficial, as he described in this blog. The retreat fostered an inclusive and supportive environment where learners of all levels could thrive and grow.


The Power of Immersion

This experience cemented our belief in something many learners have experienced first hand. Practicing phrases and words you've learned or acquired passively is crucial for reinforcing your language skills and ensuring long-term active memory retention. Whether it's ordering food at a restaurant, asking for directions, or engaging in casual conversations with native speakers, we found that actively applying what we'd learned reinforced the neural connections in our brain and solidified our language proficiency.

This works in part because of a principle known as context-dependent memory. After speaking Mandarin in authentic settings during the retreat, our brain associated the language with specific environmental cues and experiences. This contextual information became intertwined with our linguistic memory, making it easier to recall words and phrases when we encountered similar situations again. Many sentences I learned to express during that weekend remain engrained in my memory more than a year later.


The Birth of Mandarin Retreat

The success of our Scarborough retreat inspired us to organise similar events regularly, opening the retreat experience up to learners around Europe. We wanted to enable all learners to experience the power of immersion without the need for buying a plane ticket to China. Since then, we’ve organised weekend retreats for dozens of learners who have joined us from many different countries. 

We’ve hired professional Mandarin tutors to put on cultural sessions, teaching learners all about mahjong, calligraphy and how to make dumplings. Each retreat is filled with fun activities and take place entirely in Mandarin Chinese.

Through our retreats, we’ve empowered dozens of learners of all levels to unlock their potential, develop fluency, and gain a deeper understanding of the Chinese language and culture. Beyond linguistic skills, our retreats provide participants with a network of support, lasting friendships, and opportunities for personal and professional growth.

The Mandarin Retreat journey began with a personal realisation of the transformative power of immersion in language learning. Today, we’re proud to offer language retreats that bring together Mandarin learners from across Europe, creating an environment where total immersion outside Chinese speaking countries is made possible. On August 28th we’ll be hosting out first ever five day summer camp for learners who are keen to immerse for longer periods. 


To learn more about the retreats check out and subscribe to their newsletter to be the first to find out when we announce future dates for weekend retreats and extended camps. 

About the Author

April Zhang

April Zhang

April Zhang is the founder of MSL Master and she enjoys teaching and interacting with students. She constantly explores new and interesting ways of teaching Chinese through creative and imaginative activities.

With her help, many students have achieved outstanding result, which has enriched their understanding about China and has significantly contributed to their work.