Updated: Oct 9
There is so much certifiably underserving and unsubstantiated claims that roam about prevalently unchallenged within the language industry, the language-based educational industrial complex, and the polyglot macro-community at large.
One of the most unsupported generalities that forefronts the pack of ill-founded assertions is that you HAVE to travel to be "natively fluent". Hopefully, that's not the case and here's why.
Challenging the grounds on which we stand
I read and learned somewhere that whatever insults your intelligence is a gift you are called upon to reject to stay affirmed by a truth that is bigger than the convenience of forced and rehearsed convention (going with the ruling norm, doing what you're told, not daring to shake up the paradigms, uncritically buying into mainstream thought culture, etc.).
Too often, however, we are born into thought systems that we've societally inherited that are enduring not owing to their certified intellectual merits, verified ideological profundity, or substantiated rationality, but owing to how uncritically entrenched they are in popular consciousness (ex. some languages are easier/harder to learn than others; children learn better than adults; you have to travel to be "natively fluent", etc.).
In other words, the grounds on which we stand remain unchallenged because we assume that the starting point of that thought system is neutral and vindicated by a proven self-supporting rationale (see examples above).
But nothing is ever so unidimensional as to be solely and unerringly categorically blanketedly neutral or neutralizing in essence. Our realities are far more complex than that level of uncritical oversimplified presumptive neutrality because we are beings born into spaces of conditioning, of educational biases, of strategic colonizing agendas (that run our sociospheres as industrial complexes), that are contextually compounded cross-fields (ex. think of all the institutional biases we are prodded to engage, dial in, and rehearse at work, at school, in family circles, etc.). Neutrality as is, remains foundationally at odds with our human.e condition.
Therefore, the capacity to be critical is one of the single greatest ways we remain purposively clear-eyed amidst underserving received ideas that are rehearsed and practiced like dogmas (ex. that language is easer; it is harder to learn languages as an adult; you have to travel to get "natively fluent").
When you challenge a proposed state of limitation imposed onto you as if it were a reality all of its own (ex. so-and-so language is harder/easier than ...), you learn to supersede the undue authority we are taught to treat limitation with. Meaning, when you no longer are placated by absolute binary statements that reek of presumptive and disputable limitation and biases like "XYZ language is very hard to learn" or "traveling abroad will really boost your language learning", you are free to do what you were educated to believe was inconceivable for somebody of your stature to do, defy, and countermand (ex. learning languages with "native fluency" without ever traveling). And in so doing, limitation becomes external to you rather than a reality you internalize. It becomes THE most debatable part of an external world that tries to corrupt and override your self-perception and you appreciate and receive it as such.
Critically dissect the anatomy of bias and hone your critical intelligence
From now on, every time you are told you can't do something, pause and skeletonize in your mind's eyes the anatomy of that thought. Ask yourself:
How can a soul who's incognizant of my truest capabilities so stringently pre-establish all of its own what is in my capacity to achieve, supersede, and manifest (language-wise)? If even I can't foretell the person I am poised and fated to become, how can they so readily and expeditiously be so presumptive in assuming that they can?
What narrative about themselves do their ego needs to spin with a vengeance and project onto my reality and my interaction with possibility to self-justify the limitations they've made more authoritative than their own agency regarding their own life (language-wise)?
The first question highlights how because they haven't challenged the grounds onto which they stand, they reinforce the norm by assuming that in its presumptive neutrality it speaks of ascertained reality and limiting possibility based off of conveniently unclarified evidence. The second question highlights how the readiness to presume you can't do it is a means to force their agenda of self-defeatism onto you and saddle you off with the onus of their limitation and scarcity-drivenness.
For each bias, there is a grounding systemic controversially vindicated and certified truth that you can draw from to challenge the grounds on which you stand. Check it out here:
unchallenged grounds: Children are better language learners than adults / controversially vindicated and certified truth: No. The expectations set for fluency in a child are un-par with the ones set for full-dress adult-level fluency. Children deal in oversimplified thought structure and corresponding conceptology whereas adults are pressed to manipulate higher-caliber concepts with advanced-level sophistication and refinement. Adults learn differently than children, same as children learn differently than adults. An adult can easily speak like a child, however, that would make societally for impoverished communicational levels behaviorally-, cognitively-, and intellectually-wise. Therefore, every time we artificially impress upon adults to learn like children (and upon children to learn like adults conversely), we are setting both of them up for failure as we infantilize adults and precociously requisition adulthood out of children who are developmentally disadvantaged and mischaracterized.
unchallenged grounds: XYZ language is easier/harder to learn that ABC language. / controversially vindicated and certified truth: False. Cultural and linguistic supremacy presumes that all cultural and linguistic orders can be hierarchized where specific languages-cultures are hyperbolically overstated and others over-racialized ones are forcefully depreciated, cast off, debased, and delegitimized. This is a colonial postulate that is foundationally flawed and inoperative. Each language-culture is equally sophisticated. Comparison is moot seeing as they are each articulated differently and can't thusly be critically appreciated using the standards of another language-culture. How can you compare for example Haitian Creole that is grammatically gender marker-free with German that runs with a 3-tier grammar-based gender system (feminine, masculine, neutral)? Oral languages with written ones? Colonial and decolonial ones? When you judge one language on the grounds of what it is structurally and purposively NOT called out to be organically and by design, you are comparing to assimilate, not to critically contrast and elevate the transracial and transcultural intelligence at play. When you do that, you protect cultural economies of supremacy rather than favor a system of equity where cultural and linguistic neutrality/relativism is how different languages are non-competitively contrasted.
In the same way, learn to question the presumption regarding how traveling is allegedly how "native fluency" is attained faster. Because the second you question these grounds, you are readying yourself to unpack a controversially vindicated and certified truth thanks to which you will intelligently disaffirm that presumption, assert your authority, manifest your intelligence through innovational disruption, and defy the unchallenged mainstream colonizing practice of institutional bias.
Use your transdisciplinary intelligence
Now, your mindset is elevated and you know that presumptions don't define nor defy you, YOU defy and define them, their authority, and the truth they systemically deny. Now that you know better, how do you DO better? The short answer? Get cre-a-ti-ve! And no, you don't need to be artistically inclined (that is NOT what creativity is - "check out my post called: The Truth Behind Creativity And Why Everyone Is Born With It"!), you simply have to operationalize a tailored strategy mix where your goal is backed by micro-focus and micro-actions. Here's how I did it:
Start with your community of one: No, you don't need a bunch of stuff or even people at that to speak from day one! Practice talking and thinking out loud on your own! Don't worry about accuracy, this is an exercise in fluency training! Fluency is how seamless the flow of your spontaneous speech is, unrehearsed and on-the-fly. Practice consistently, every (other) day. Start with small increments (5-15 min max). Jot down using mnemonic shorthand words you don't know (yet!) - but keep going, don't break your streak or arrest your flow! To challenge yourself to remain on-track and fluency-oriented in the here and now as you are riffing, describe the words you can't summon to mind yet (ex. you forget how to say "chair" in Haitian Creole, describe it, mobilize your vocabulary in a roundabout way to speak about it in a different way, whether in be in fashions that shorten or lengthen your speech). When your time is up, look your short list of uncovered vocabulary up using a bilingual AND a target language-only dictionary (top 10-20 min max). This way, you practice thinking on your feet, going with the flow, being resourceful, and learning not only the translation of the words you're learning but also how to use them holistically solely deploying your target language as context and structuring implement. Then commit to critically and creatively overuse them that whole week+ as a means to reinforce through strategically spaced repetition the foundational vocabulary you want to forge ahead with and make headway moving forward.
Get your one-stop grammar bible: For each language, have one holistic portable learner-friendly bite-size one-stop-shop reference tool grammar-wise. It will help you refine the grammar that buttresses your fluency and informs your accuracy. Accuracy unlike fluency (see above) is the critical analytical skills thanks to which you extrapolate systemic rules and patterns from the grammar deployed during speech and in written form. It is your capability to rationalize to yourself internally what the structures at play are, how to manipulate them, and reconstruct speech with increased refinement to speak your mind with surgical precision and detail-orientedness. I tend to stick to 1-2 max pocket-size comprehensive grammar overview one-stop-show materials that are example- and context-rich. I recommend buying the paperback version rather than electronics and go over it every week at first to have it sink it. My favorite for Italian is Italian Verbs & Essentials of Grammar; for Haitian Creole Petit Lexique du Créole Haïtien; for Spanish Essentiel De La Grammaire Espagnole, to name but a few great ones. I then pair this off with a handful (max 3) websites as adjunct complementary supporting materials that have a targeted focus on certain grammar-focused notions like idiomatic expressions, thesaurus/synonym dictionaries, etc - and that's it! You're all set up and ready to rock and roll big time!
Put yourself out there: Integrate living communities wherein there is a core interactional live component! This includes live meetups both online and in person. Change the media and manner of interaction: phone, videochat, live, event, workshops, etc. Play the gamut of the nuances each separate medium gives you (phone is remarkably challenging and involving because you can't rely on visuals to cue you into meaning where vocabulary or hearing is more arduously constructed and recognized). Go the peer-to-peer route; you build accountability, have living sounding boards to test out not accuracy but emotional and cultural response from uncritical speakers in real-time contexts. This is when and where you test-drive your solo practice and learning from step 1 and 2. Caveat: don't take in at face value everything "natives" and highly fluent folx tell you - remember, fluency is NOT accuracy, and folx are conditioned to be uncritically inured to their own norm and idiosyncrasies (however erroneous) and to reject that which does not serve their self-reflection, ego-drivenness, and fluency model. You are coaching yourself through the collective going for conversational ease, cultural awareness, human.e connection, and self-confidence-building through fluency training.
Get your accuracy right: Now is when you want to integrate targeted über specialized and individualized input from external language experts. Yet, always be mindful - coaches, profs, tutors make mistakes too and are biased as well, and depending on how self-aware, evolved, and self-critical their practice is, they may infer erroneousness in your speech solely because it is extraneous to their recognized norm. Pro tip then: Vary your language experts - rotate them and use the strengths of one to compensate and elevate the areas of development of the others. For instance, go for targeted 1:1 sessions, then separate group coaching events with another one, online free webinars with another, etc. Alternate between paid and free multi-level education. Hold yourself accountable by integrating the teachings automatically after and during each session BEFORE moving on to the next session, training, coach, prof, event, etc. Be self-critical; Debrief yourself after each session, have dedicated self-reflection time to assess and redress through strategic planning and micro-focused action and recalibration. Develop a bias for action over thought/analysis. For each session and self-study moments bring yourself to think and talk out loud as often as possible and riff with creative inhibition; As you talk and think out loud you're learning how to give a new spin to and dial in more focusedly old and new information, grammar points, concepts, idioms, content piece, and knowledge fragments. It reinforces it all and makes it move into the longer-term memory part of your cerebral cortex.
Go from small to bigger radical action challenges - weekly: Use external pressure as your superpower implement to jack up the ante and uplevel your game beyond your wildest imaginings. Schedule events wherein you will start off small then incrementally reach upwards in terms of how you show up as increasingly more daring, forward, action-driven, empoweringly inhibited, and actively engaged. For instance, I started off as doing the following: Merely attending free Italian meetups just observing and minimally interacting. Then I grew bolder with time asserting myself from meetup to meetup and I went from attendee to volunteer to coordinator to co-host and then main and solo-host of said meetup. It is from that point on that I went on to be the one-person welcome-aboard crew for the newbies, making the space safe-r and more inclusive.
Rinse and repeat: As you rotate the afore-mentioned (dynamic roster of complementary language experts, profs, coaches, tutors, etc.), all that is left for you to do is refine your approach after your weekly self-imposed and -monitored self-reflection sessions wherein you take and make time to assess so to better redress through targeted micro-action and strategic planning how you operationalize your solo-learning. What I personally do is that once I'm getting fluent in the grammar points my one-stop-shop bite-size learner-friendly grammar book/resource taught me, I simply hop off and get more dedicated towards my handful of complementary specialized online resources (ex. thesaurus/synonym dictionaries, idioms, etc.). I uplevel everything I've grown masterful at to prevent and countermand regression, complacency, and plateauing and remain steadily focused on an internal posturing and frame of mind and spirit geared for growth, not complacency.
Keep it fun and relevant!: As I read somewhere, if it is educational torture and big time snooze-ville-and-tumbleweed-city for you, you are doing something wrong. Good news is you can just as swiftly rectify. Personalize and adapt all strategies so that they organically tie in with your identity, life architecture, and learning style. For instance, I loooove talking so I talk and think out loud wherever I am (at times silently to myself in certain public spaces), I translate my English language newsletters out loud (or in my head) in Italian, Haitian Creole, and Spanish (mostly in Italian), meditate only in Italian, join events in all my target languages, etc. I also join as an active ally the 30DaySpeakingChallenge with Jonathan and start off now with coaching folx with their English and French before transitioning into German, Italian, and Spanish for my own practice and solo-learning gains. I have a composite repertoire of online-established one-click-away micro-tribes that I tap into (like the 30-day challenge mentioned above) to counterbalance my solo self-learning work and contrast that with real-time input from conversationally practiced humans as I insert myself into a for-connection community network. This part of the process keeps me accountable to a bigger reality than my own headspace, engaged in the challenge of the liveness of freewheeling spontaneity and un-scripted communications in my target languages, action-oriented in how I internalize and perform language, and forever willing to stand on my "tippy-toes" around luminaries, wave-makers, and giants whose intelligence, brilliance, and forwardness naturally coax out what's best and most empowering in me (shout out to Lisa Nichols about the thought on surrounding yourself with folx that get you "standing on your tippy-toes!")!
So you see, critically informed and consistently applied targeted micro-action is how you become "natively fluent". If you've noticed, I bunny air-quote "native" (check out my article called "What You Need To Know About Native Speakerism" for more on that!) because fluency is an acquirable skill; It is not biologizable or racially exclusive.
Fluency is NOT dependent by any stretch of the imagination on colonially corrupt(ed) and racially debasing concepts of biology where "nativity" and "native speakerism" presume that being born into a language-culture makes you linguistically and culturally more legitimate than those who are born outside of that space of supremacist legitimacy. "Natives" are uncritically conditioned to perform language at a restricted level of communicational fluency. "Nativity" doesn't translate into instant critically constructed linguistic and cultural authority, intelligence, expertise, accuracy, or fluency language-wise. Each whisper of an inference or postulate to the contrary is but another iteration of biological exclusion where cultural supremacy meets biological essentialism.
As per all critically informed high-level analytical skills, fluency and accuracy are NOT accidental - they are purposively hard-earned and deliberately honed. They are consciously acquired, refined, and internalized advanced-level critical skills that are extendable beyond the restrictively colonial reality set, carried, and impoverished by "nativity" and "native speakersim" as established corrupting colonial ideologies.
I am fluent in all my 5 languages (French, English, Haitian Creole, Italian, Spanish) and reconnecting with my 2 dormant ones (German and Modern Standard Arabic), by no twist of colonizing biological predeterminism or essentialism, but on the strength of applied self-critical awareness, the operationalization of my own tailored strategy mix, and the implementation of my strategic planning micro-action-wise.
The beauty of it all is that so can YOU love, now that you're empowered with how I learned 5+ languages without EVER traveling.
NEVER let it be said it can't be done because that is when their "wrong" becomes irreparably and self-defeatingly yours. Not because of how truthful or binding a reality it is, but because you will have succumbed to self-defeatism and made more authoritative externally projected limitations than your own recognized self-driven agency.
ALWAYS challenge the grounds on which you stand.
Inconvenience your own sense of complacency, ego-drivenness, uncritical conditioning, and ingrained institutional presumptions by defying emptying norms and generalities (like "children learn better than adults", "XYZ language is harder/easier than ABC language", etc.). Such empty-calorie norms are mass-produced to self-protect a state of limitation and scarcity-mindedness that promotes violent cultural and linguistic supremacies and genocides rather than cultural and linguistic inclusion, neutrality, and relativism.
Remember love, just because they haven't done it doesn't mean it can't be done. Be the change you want to see in the world. And in yours. ALWAYS.