Seeing the Future: Why You Should Practice Visualization

“You cannot advance if you cannot visualize the end from the start.”

Nabil N. Jamal

Reading time: 3 minutes

Our brains respond easily to pictures, images, movies, and things that excite them. 

Visual cues are powerful! Especially for maintaining motivation and achieving goals. 

In language learning, mental visualization is a tremendously helpful strategy to help you leverage the power of images on your performance. Visualization is key to the routine of many high-powered athletes and it is a strategy that Exercise Science research has found to be statistically very effective in improving performance. Check out this study from the 50s that shows the importance of visualizing our success and end goal when we’re developing a skill. The following story comes from this blog.

The power of visualization was studied in the early 1950s by Dr. Biasiotto from the University of Chicago. He took 90 college students with no previous basketball experience and divided them into three subgroups. Each group was told to shoot free-throws, and the results were recorded. 

For the next month, the first group shot free-throws every day. 

The second group was instructed only to visualize shooting free-throws each day but didn’t shoot a basketball. 

Lastly, the third group was asked to do nothing. They shot no free-throws.

A month passed, and they were tested again. 

Group 1: The first group averaged a 20% increase in their free-throw shooting percentage. 

Group 3: The third group, as predicted, was still terrible.

Group 2: The second group improved by 19% — without ever shooting a free-throw!


This study demonstrated that visualization was almost as effective as practicing. This is perhaps because the mind and the body respond to a mental picture just as they respond to a real picture. 

So how can you implement this technique in your language study? What can visualization help you to do in your language abilities? 

In short, you could spend some time each day, (just a minute or two) visualizing what you want to be able to do and accomplish with your language abilities.

It might be something along these lines:

  • What would it look like to ask a stranger about the subway and do it with flawless pronunciation?
  • At a downtown market, what would it feel like to be able to talk to shop owners so well that you could get them laughing and talking to you like a friend? How would it feel if the other customers were so impressed with your language that you could walk away with everyone talking about how well you speak? 
  • What would it look like to visit a park and introduce yourself so well to a person you met that they wondered whether or not you were a foreigner? 
  • What would it look like to tell a funny story or joke so well that you could have children erupt into peals of laughter?

Whatever and wherever it might be, taking time to imagine (visualize) what you want to do with your language abilities can have a powerful impact on your motivation and your performance, both in the long and the short-term. 

Now, I’ll say here: Just visualizing the future without taking some other steps can actually be harmful according to some research. It can lead a person to get stuck simply imagining a perfect future without carving their path to get there. It can slowly become a favorite avoidance behavior, a way to dodge the real work required to reach an ideal. 

So how do you put visualization to work? 

Try it out!

Time Required: 1-2 minutes

Spend a little bit of time every day thinking about what you hope for in your language abilities!

  1. Take enough time to really flesh out the details. 
    1. What does it look like? 
    2. What does it sound like? 
    3. What does it feel like?
    4. What good can you do with the skill you’ve developed?
    5. How will people’s lives change because of my skills?
  1. Write some of these things down!
  1. Then, right when you can feel the excitement start to build inside you, think about the course you need to chart to get there. What are the specific daily steps you need to reach your goal?
  1. With a vision, you can consistently focus on daily steps that are concrete, specific. As you do, there may soon come a day when you finish a conversation in another language and say to yourself, “Wow, that’s just how I always imagined it would be.”

STORY TIME: Anna Khmelenko’s story is the ultimate visualization story. Listen to what she did to visualize herself succeeding in highly specific skills and then how she put her vision into practice. The power of her mental vision and her consistent work led her to develop stunningly good pronunciation that takes natives by surprise and has landed her exciting professional opportunities in China!