Immersion is a very good word, because it captures what it’s like learning a language and living abroad. When we first start learning, most people begin at the shallow end of the pool, not fully immersed, but keeping most of themselves over the surface. As we grow more and more confident, we leave the shallow end of the pool and head out into deeper waters. When we feel ready, we might even leave the surface and immerse completely, leaving just a thin thread still connecting us to the familiar world above the surface.
Learning to swim
Now, this metaphor is handy both for talking about language learning (the water is Chinese, the air is your native language) and culture (the water in Chinese culture, the air is your own culture). How much you want to immerse is mostly dependent on your own attitude and external factors. It’s possible to immerse anywhere in the world, but it’s of course easier to do so in a Chinese-speaking environment. I think most people agree that immersion is good, indeed necessary if we want to learn a language quickly and/or to an advanced level. How much we can immerse is also dependent on how much Chinese we can cope with. The more proficient we get, the easier it becomes.
Immersion is mostly about listening and reading. For listening, we should strive to fill our time with comprehensible input. Quality matters, but quantity still reigns supreme. For reading, we definitely need comprehensible input.
Immersion at home and abroad
Creating immersion at home is mostly about managing your time, finding audio and then committing to the task of immersing yourself. If you already live in a Chinese-speaking environment, you still need to integrate with that environment, find a life-style which immerses you in Chinese to a large a degree as possible, but still prevents you from drowning.
Here are of all articles on Hacking Chinese related to either immersion or integration (scroll down to see all of them in a text-only list):