You can find an example of my set goal here.
Goal setting is an incredibly important part of language learning, as well as many other areas of life. If done correctly, it will properly prepare you for what you are about to do and make it a LOT more achievable than just simply starting on a whim and then deciding a few days or weeks later to just quit.
I’m going to break down how to successfully set your goals so that you are more likely to succeed. I regularly do this with students and the difference between those with properly set goals and those who just want to become “fluent” is remarkable. So much so that the difference is normally as drastic as actually becoming “C2” level (mastery) and staying around A2 / B1 (basic communication).
The first step of this is something that I’m going to assume. If you are reading this then I imagine that your goal is going to be learning a language of some kind. Whether that be English, French or Chinese – so there is little need to go into this part of it. However, there is something known as SMART goal setting. In the words of Aristotle “Well begun, is half done” – but obviously not in English.
(MAKE SURE THAT YOU WRITE THIS ALL DOWN – When you are writing it down make sure that you use very “serious” language that commits you to your goal. “I would like to” is not good enough, it’s too “iffy-wiffy”, “I will” and “I must” is the tone that you are aiming for. Do not give yourself an escape and it will come naturally!
Keeping your writing positive also helps. “I will not X” is a lot less effective than “I will X”)
What, Why, Who, Where, and Which?
You need to be as specific as possible, being general in this section is a bad start. General answers to this would be things such as “I want to be fluent at X”. Ambiguous goals – ambiguous results.
What is your end point? If you don’t know where you want to end up then you will have no idea how to measure it. It also serves as good motivation and a constant reminder of progress. Which is one of the reasons that the A1-C2 system is so effective.
Once again you need to be as precise as possible here. Dates / times / degree of progress. If you simply say “I want to improve at X in the future” – if you improve by 1% in a year then you have still managed to achieve your goal.
The problem here is that people deliberately set themselves loose goals to give themselves a chance of never failing. However, if you set yourself a goal that you can actually fail at then you are more likely to see it through to the end.
Is what you want realistic? There are plenty of books that say that you can “learn French in 7 days”, but do you think that’s going to be realistic? Yes, speed learning is a thing, we will even use it on this site, but 7 days is a bit too extreme. You can start talking in a language that quickly, but to finishing learning it?
Make sure that you are actually going to be able to put in the work that is required to achieve the level that you want to. Learning a language in 3 months is achievable, but you need a minimum of 2 hours a day, and that’s if you know what you’re doing. So, if you work 9-5 and have a wife and kids, this probably isn’t going to work out for you, unless you do some time saving wizardry of course.
Does it mean something to you? Is there actually something that you want to be able to do in that language? Would it add something to your life? If you are learning to simply show off to friends then you will end up stopping once you get past the basic phrases, but won’t be able to hold much of a conversation. If, however, you want to move to the country or you love some parts of the culture, then you will be a lot more successful.
If you were to submit a business plan that said “and I want to achieve these results in the future” you can predict what the question would then be. It’s no different when it comes to setting your own goals. You need to state exactly when you want to achieve this by so that you have some degree of accountability.
After you have written this down on a piece of paper (preferably), make sure that you either sign it or put your name on the bottom. Treating it like a contract will make sure that you view it seriously.
The next step is to show it to someone else. A close friend who will keep asking you how your goal is going, or a partner, possibly a parent or guardian. Increasing your accountability will only help in making sure that stick to your goal.