Lillian Okoye | Essays From The Great Wall

How I Went From Zero To Fluent

There’s a best kept secret behind getting fluent in a foreign language. In fact, in my opinion, it’s the single most important thing you must do if you really want to get fluent in a foreign language.

It’s re-imagining yourself as a speaker of that language. You need to actually visualize yourself as a speaker of this new tongue.

With my experience of mentoring and teaching students for over a decade, I’ve realized that a lot of people actually never think about this simple technique and don’t realize just how important this is.

When I started learning Chinese back in 2005, I realized once I mentally re-imagined myself as a Chinese speaker, I was able to hear more, speak more, and even attract more Chinese language speakers into my life.

I would even dream in Chinese, and I sometimes still do. But this happens more when I’m in China or around the language a lot. It still happens though.

Take, for example, if I’m talking to someone in Chinese on the telephone at night and then I drop off to sleep. There’s a chance I might have a dream about that particular topic or person.

Or if my mind recalls a particular event that occurred when I was in China, maybe my mind will process is and think about it in Chinese.

Sometimes I’ll even think, analyze, and decision make in Chinese, too - especially when I’m thinking of terms, topics, or concepts that I first learned when I was physically in China.

I believe the core reason why, to this day, I still think in Chinese is because of the visualization techniques that I begin in 2005. It set up for a strong foundation for me while learning a foreign language.

These are the same exact visualization techniques I teach learners of foreign languages in my zero to fluent programs. Because I honestly believe that in order to go from zero to fluent in a language, it’s not just about the vocabulary and grammar.  

You need more to really go all the way. And that’s what I help my students do.

My intention was to speak Chinese just like a native Chinese speaker. I set out for that goal, and I teach others how to do that to so that they can get fluent as well. I visualized myself as a Chinese speaker. All else followed.

If you seriously want to attain high fluency in a foreign language, you need to re-imagine yourself as having attained that outcome. This alone will help you get fluent faster.

This is precisely how I was able to speak Chinese more fluently and effortlessly as a black woman.

Because although people from the outside looking in saw me as an outsider, my self-image was far, far different.

I was the “insider.”

I became a speaker of that tongue.

You see, I didn’t imagine myself as a ‘black woman’ per se when I was learning how to speak (even though everyone saw me as that).

I was color blind.

I re-imagined myself as a speaker of a new language, and I fully embraced it.

I visualized it, and I embodied it.

This article was originally featured in the Huffington Post