Over recent months I have spent a lot of time honing my goal setting craft to boost my learning. This three part series will share my tips and tricks so you can do the same, while avoiding the pitfalls I found along the way.
First things first, I am a planner. There, I said it. They say the first step is to admit it to yourself, and I am a self-confessed planner. I like order, lists and knowing what I will be doing weeks/months ahead of time. Some of my favourite times are spent pouring over websites and travel guides to plan a holiday within an inch of it’s life. Luckily, I have found this particular quirk to be very helpful when learning a new language.
One of the biggest frustrations when starting on your journey to fluency is feeling like you are stuck or not making any progress. I know this sensation all too well after 5 years of language learning myself. Worry not dear reader, there is a solution and you won’t be surprised for me to tell you that the first step is planning. Lot’s of planning. The urge to just get stuck into all the apps, podcasts and course you can find is very difficult to resist but with a little forward planning you will see a huge benefit later on. We are all busy people so it is important to make sure you are using that precious commodity (time) in the most effective way.
Let’s get started…
Stage 1 – Choose a destination
Let’s think about language learning like going on an adventure. Before you can jump on that plane to an undiscovered land you need to decide where you want to go. For language learners there are many different routes to take. Do you want to reach conversational fluency? Watch your favourite TV show in the original language? Or read novels by your favourite author? Each of these goals requires a very different set of skills so you need to tailor your approach to the destination you choose.
A language is loosely broken down into four key areas; speaking, listening, writing and reading. Your first task is to identify which of these applies most to your chosen goal. I recently started studying Spanish and my goal was “to reach conversational fluency”. As my aim is to be able speak and listen to native speakers in conversation my focus needs to be in those areas. Although I could learn lots of the language by reading books, would that help me having a chat with my new Spanish friends? Unlikely.
If you struggle to decide what your goal is, try this little trick. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the country where they speak the language you want to learn. In this dream world you have learnt the language and can do anything you want. What do you choose? If you see yourself sitting in a French cafe drinking a coffee and reading a book then reading will most likely be your focus. If you are sitting in a German Gasthaus drinking beers and chatting to friends, then speaking is the most important. With all things in life, it is about balance. You will want to improve all four areas but it is really helpful in splitting your time if you know what your primary focus should be.
At this stage you are wanting to set your “end” goal. The place that you would be really happy with your level and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. This most likely won’t be the end of your learning but you now have a finish line in place to work towards.
Stage 2 – Plan the route
With your goal in place you need to figure out how to get there. Like any grand adventure you will have to stop off along the way to refuel or check your bearings. The key to this is breaking it down into bitesize chunks. Your end goal may be very ambitious, which is great as a target to aim for, but it can also become a little overwhelming. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was language fluency. Think of it like stepping stones along a river that you will use to make your way across and reach the other side.
When you are choosing your “stepping stone” goals it always helps to stick to the principles of SMART
Vagueness is always your enemy, be as specific as you can. For example “I want to have a 5 minute conversation talking about my hobbies” is better than “I want to have a chat”. The more detail you give yourself the more focused your learning will be, and the better results you will get.
How do you know you have completed the goal? You want to be 100% sure when you have achieved it so you can move on to the next step. If you want to learn vocabulary about food then choosing the number of words/phrases you want to learn is a good way of making it measurable.
The idea is to succeed so don’t make it too difficult for yourself. There are only 24 hours in the day and you need to allow some of that time to actually live… or what is the point of learning the language in the first place? So saying you want to have 12 hours of conversation each day if you work full time could be a little too ambitious. I always find starting small and building is a good way to feel like you are achieving something. If you start with 15 minutes of conversation a day and add 15 minutes each week, you will be speaking for an hour a day in less than a month… amazing how quickly it all adds up!
Think about your strengths and weaknesses. If you are an introvert (like me), setting a goal to do a speech in front of a thousand people in your new language may be too much to handle right away. A little pressure is good to encourage you to work hard, but too much can become a weight that stops you from moving forward. It is better to complete an easy task well than fail at a complicated one and give up.
Set yourself a deadline. This can be as short term or long term as you like. As long as you have a date when the goal must be achieved. I have found monthly goals work best for me. This allows me to update and adjust my goals regular so I continue in the right direction. As you learn more you will realise ways of improving your goals and making them work better for you. Just make sure you consider the complexity of the goal and your schedule to see how much time you realistically think you will need to complete it.
Stage 3 – Join a community
Lots of research has shown that joining a community of likeminded people will help you reach your goals quicker as you have support and feel accountable for them for your progress. The language learning community is massive and one of the friendliest I have ever been a part of so you will soon have lots of study buddies to help you on your journey. There are lots of options to choose from. Some places will have local meet ups but I always find the internet to be the easiest approach. Start a blog, join Instagram or find groups on Facebook and share your language goals and dreams with them. The list is endless! Try out a few different things and see what works for you.
No Negative self talk!
No one is perfect, myself included, and so we won’t always do everything right. Life sometimes gets in the way and that can’t be helped. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve your goal or feel frustrated at not having time to learn or practice as much as you would like. Use it as a learning experience. I read an amazing quote recently that I think is very appropriate here…
“A master has failed more times that the apprentice has even tried”
Failure is an important part of learning and so you need to embrace it and use it to help you push forward and improve.
Variety is the spice of life
If you’re anything like me you will get bored easily. That is why I always mix things up with how and what I am learning. Sitting reading books and taking notes can be useful but doing it everyday for a month will soon get monotonous. As soon as it becomes boring you will find excuses to avoid doing it which will mean you don’t make progress, or in the worst case… give up! We don’t want that. My advice is to change things up. Read a book, watch a film, have a chat, listen to the radio, do some mind maps and play a game in the language. As long as you are learning something new you are on the right track. You will soon find a set of activities that work really well for you and language learning will never be boring again!
You should now have all the tools you need to set effective language goals and plan your way to fluency. Next time I will explain how I use a language tracker to keep motivated and boost progress in any language. Stay tuned!
Have a question? Not a problem. Leave a comment or send me a message and I will be more than happy to help. We are all in this together after all!
Ciao for now!