How to Master Language Learning Goals
Glance over the following goals. Any of them sound familiar?
- I want to lose weight.
- I will exercise more.
- I want to save money.
- I am going to call my parents more often.
- I want to be fluent in English (or another language).
Think about it, have these goals ever NOT been on your New Year’s Resolution list? Every person who passes by likely has had one (if not all) of these goals.
Now, let’s take a look at reality. Do these sound accurate?
- Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, submissive to ice cream—we still got problems.
- There’s no time today to exercise.
- You have a subscription to Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Sling TV (did I miss any?).
- Phone shows two missed calls and ten unanswered texts from Mom
- Because you forgot your Duolingo login info, you have to make another account.
After considering the truths of the matter, it’s amazing we accomplish anything at all!
So why do some goals work out and others don’t? Are they even worth it or a waste of time? If you’re like me, sometimes when I hear that I need to be setting goals, I get a little disheartened and anxious because I think to myself, “I’m just not doing enough. I need to work harder.”
Now, this is probably true; most of the time, I need to be working harder. But this isn’t very motivating. When I think like this, goal-setting seems painful and intimidating.
Nonetheless, whether to your hooray or dismay, goals are good. Are they supposed to work? Duh! Go read any super smart, scientific article and you’ll find people swimming in a pool of success because they set goals (click here to see how Walt Disney, the Wright Brothers, and other famous figures overcame adversity and met their goals).
So then if goals aren’t the problem, what is?
First, it’s important to break down the meaning of “goal” to its very core. Understanding the purpose of a goal will help contribute to a more positive mindset.
Second, goals should be understood in all their varieties. Knowing what makes a good vs bad and strong vs weak goals can improve performance and perspective.
Finally, when you’re ready to jump into the excitement of goal-setting, remember that it does NOT have to be painful. YOU make the process fun and worthwhile, no matter how much time or effort is required.
Now, given that Hallo is all about English learning, this article focuses on just that. Think about how you can improve your English learning goals. Then, take this bucket of knowledge and apply it toward your other goals in life.
What is a “goal”?
This question may seem pointless, but the definition is simple. Merriam-Webster defines “goal” as “the end toward which effort is directed.”
It does not say “the end toward which you create a plan and take daily steps to accomplish something difficult.” Not that this is a bad definition—because in some cases it’s the truth.
But I’m grateful for the seven-word definition which helps me turn my goal into a vision. Everything I do now (my effort) points to something in the future. It could be tomorrow or ten years.
So, you have a goal to learn English by the end of the year. (This is just an example, and as you continue reading, you’ll realize this isn’t the best goal, but we’ll use it for simplicity).
The “end,” or your vision, is to learn English. Can you see it? Hear it? Feel it? Imagine yourself offering help to an English-speaking tourist or understanding all the lyrics of an Imagine Dragons song. Does this seem more real?
Your “effort” will help you meet that end, which is to learn English. This is where the application comes with all your plans, notes, and check-points (keep reading to find out more). For our example, your effort might consist now of practicing how to greet tourists. Or you might watch a music video for an Imagine Dragons song.
Just keep that simple definition in mind before getting down to the nitty-gritty components. Let it be a reminder that you have a vision, and you are following the path to see it in reality.
Why is setting language learning goals important?
Now that we know what a goal is, it’s essential to understand why we should set goals. If they weren’t important or weren’t proven to be of value, then why waste time putting in the effort?
Imagine yourself wanting to build a table. But we’re not talking a simple put-it-together-yourself table from IKEA—you want to build from tree trunk to tabletop! Where do you start? What tools do you need? What type of tree should the table be made of? And where are you going to find the trees?
Unless you’re Paul Bunyan or RC Willey, I bet you’re a little lost.
I could say the same thing about learning the language of Rotokas. Ever heard of it? Me neither, until I googled “bizarre languages.” Before doing some background reading, all I knew was that Rotokas is a language. That’s it. I didn’t know where it is spoken geographically, how long it’s been around, if it has usefulness, or how complex the grammar and accent can be.
However, it’s possible for you to build a table and for me to learn Rotokas. It all starts with goal-setting!
Take a gander at these five reasons to see why you should set goals for language learning.
1. Goals help you accomplish and experience more.
It’s obvious that goals require work, but work allows you to experience new things. If you set a goal to learn the basic vocabulary of American dining, then you have endless resources and methods to accomplish this goal.
For instance, you can compare menus between fast-food and fine-dining, or you can create flashcards with a food image on one side and its name on the other side.
But don’t stop there! If you have the opportunity, actually visit an English populated restaurant or a place like it. Don’t be discouraged if your fluency isn’t where you want it to be; just being in the environment is a step toward your goal.
And look at the unique experience you created! You can reward yourself with grub!
2. Goals are a useful tool for measuring progress.
Runners want to run faster, but this isn’t their goal. They set goals in steady increments by decreasing their time. Each “p.r.” (or personal record) indicates how much they have improved, and once they meet one goal, they are ready to set a higher one.
Quantitative goals are the easiest way to measure progress. Typically, trying to meet a quota allows you to assess. at any given time, how close you are.
If you want to speak 10 new sentences by the end of the week, then on Thursday, check how many sentences you have learned thus far. Then evaluate if you will reach your goal or what adjustments you need to make to meet it.
3. Goals allow you to take control of your situation.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a famous American philosopher of the nineteenth century, gave this wisdom:
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
Albert Einstein wasn’t a natural genius, just like Michael Jordan wasn’t born an all-star basketball player. The reason they eventually accomplished incredible things was because they took control of their lives.
They knew what they wanted to do and who they wanted to be. Most importantly, they set goals to make it happen.
If you feel like you have no control of your life, set a goal to change something. Don’t try to change everything all at once—that’s impossible, irritating, and exhausting. But if you really want to change—if you really want to learn a language—setting goals will allow you to be in charge.
4. Goals motivate you and help you stay focused.
If it’s true that goals are motivating, why do we never hear of New Year’s Resolutions that make it past January? Oftentimes, the reason is because the goals are not motivating enough. The person quickly loses desire and has no more ambition to work toward the goal.
Perhaps that lack of motivation stems from the over-ambitiousness or extreme unrealism of the goal. In this case, the person should reassess their vision and current circumstances.
However, when a person has powerful reasoning to set a goal and understands the vital outcomes, then he or she will be craving to see it accomplished.
Let’s say you have the opportunity to win a free trip anywhere in the world by the end of the month. But the catch—you must first learn the native language. Initially, the outcome sounds amazing, but is a free trip worth all the hours and work . . . and hours and work . . . necessary to learn the language?
Let’s change the reward to a week’s supply of free meals from your favorite ethnic restaurant! To win, you must 1) visit the restaurant and 2) only speak the respective language to the employees. Now, this seems more doable!
I don’t know about you, but I would be extremely motivated to learn a night’s worth of Italian just to feast on Olive Garden for a week.
Right goals = optimal motivation = guaranteed outcome.
5. Goals make the impossible seem possible
Final reason. Ever feel like you can never change? Like you want to be a different person or accomplish something big, but no matter how bad you want it, it just seems too impossible?
If you don’t feel this way, you’re probably lying to yourself because we have all felt this way.
You will be amazed by what you can accomplish just by setting progressive goals. Sure, you may never become Superman, because his powers do not make sense scientifically or cinematically, but use your imagination!
Can you become stronger? Yes. Faster? Sure. See-through walls? Maybe not, but you can save money for Lasik to improve your eyesight! Just start setting goals and trust yourself to become a new person.
Don’t forget, some goals may take years to accomplish, but that is okay! Because with every passing year, you are making progress.
Various Types of Goals
So we’ve established the meaning and the purpose. At this point, you can’t deny that setting goals will increase your capabilities of learning English more so than without them.
Here’s the next question: how do you create an effective goal? Because, honestly, some goals are as pointless as having no goal at all!
Let’s establish some useful techniques for setting goals and compare some good (and not-so-good) examples.
This is probably the biggest downfall of most humans, so don’t get discouraged (just feel dismayed for a moment so you’ll be motivated to improve).
Most goals are just an after-thought; they’re made on a whim. For example, here are some random goals that entered my mind within the last 24 hours. Glance over them and see what can be changed:
- Wake up earlier and go to bed earlier.
- Call my grandmother more often.
- Finish my web design project this week.
- Go running.
- Spend less time on social media.
- Pick up Spanish again.
- Stop eating so many peanut butter bars (this is by far the hardest).
Hopefully you noticed that these goals are hideous. They are more the by-products of wishful thinking rather than legitimate, empowering goals.
The overarching problem is that they’re not specific. Sure, they all pertain to unique categories of life, but the goal, “Spend less time on social media,” may mean something different to me than to you. Does “less time” mean fewer hours? fewer days? or both?
And not only are they unclear, but I will quickly lose motivation to “stop eating so many peanut butter bars” every time I walk past the pan. I need to be more specific for clarity and inclination.
When you set specific goals, make them unique. These are YOUR goals, not your brother’s or your girlfriend’s or your hamster’s goals. These goals should consider your needs, situations, and motives.
Often, the best way to make goals specific is to make them quantitative, as mentioned earlier. By including measurable numbers in your goals, you can track how close you are to achieving them throughout the process. And once you have met the goal, you can increase the numbers.
Here is my “wishful thinking” revamped to be more specific and quantitative:
- Wake up at 7:00 a.m. and go to bed at 11 p.m. for one month.
- Call my grandmother twice per month for six months.
- Work on my web design project for two hours every day and have it completed by Saturday.
- Go running every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for two months.
- Only check social media accounts once per day for five days.
- Master 20 Spanish phrases within two weeks.
- Only eat two peanut butter bars a day (until gone): one after lunch, one after dinner.
Unlike the original, poor goals, the latter goals are more realistic and achievable. I know exactly what is expected of me every day to eventually achieve each goal.
Short-term vs. Long-term goals
Along with the above goals being specific and quantitative, each has a certain time duration. Some goals are short-term (i.e. five days, two weeks, one month) and some are long-term (i.e. six months).
There is an important reason to set both short-term and long-term goals. Typically, short-term goals contribute and lead to long-term goals. You might consider short-term goals as checkpoints for yourself—opportunities to assess how well you’re progressing toward long-term goals.
For example, let’s say your goal is to read a famous English novel like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If you pick it up today with little English fluency, you’ll be lucky to understand anything more than the title page. The average American alone can barely understand the southern English slang presented in the novel.
However, it’s reasonable for your long-term goal to be able to read the novel. If you want to have the comprehension level to understand the story and pronounce the diction in two months, then you might set short-term goals of learning ten new English words every week relating to deep southern culture or history.
As you break up your long-term goals into shorter increments, you will increase your level of achievability. Like they say, it’s easier to swallow bits of the elephant instead of the whole animal.
Maybe you’ve heard of SMART goals? They’re pretty well-known, yet one or two acronyms seem to change from writer to writer. We won’t go into much detail because there are dozens of resources that breakdown the details of these goals.
Just as a reminder though, effective goals often model these characteristics:
A Simple Process for Setting Goals
Let’s take everything we’ve learned and put it into action. You’ve learned what a goal is, why setting goals is valuable, and how to distinguish between different types of goals.
Make sure you have some goals in mind as you walk through these steps. Find ways to make them better, and don’t wait to get started!
- Assess your reasons
- So if your goal is to learn English, what are you really trying to accomplish? What are your reasons for wanting to learn English? Maybe you’re preparing to take the TOEFL or IELTS exam. Or perhaps you’re just looking forward to visiting America and want to navigate your way around a city. Whatever your reasons, keep them at the forefront of your mind. At times when you may lack ambition or are feeling discouraged, these reasons can ignite your motivation again.
- Choose a time frame
- If you’re a beginner, then learning English will likely require more than six months, but that’s okay! Set short-term goals for every month. When do you want to be proficient with a certain vocabulary? intonation? phonics? Any goal you set should preferably have a deadline. This will naturally increase your drive to keep working toward your goal at a more rapid pace.
- Write it down
- This is more important than you realize. Though it may seem menial, it is a key step. Whenever you write something down, your brain takes a mental picture. Then in moments of relevancy, your mind is more likely to recall that image. I cannot emphasize this enough: write your goals down! But it gets even better—you can be creative! Write them on a whiteboard, a mirror, your fridge, your bedroom door, the ceiling—any place you look at regularly. Use sticky notes, markers, pictures—again, anything that makes the journey more creative and memorable. If you’re putting in the effort to accomplish something big, have some fun along the way.
- Just PRACTICE!
- Ultimately, it all comes down to this. If you don’t practice, then say goodbye to your goals. Practicing is vital to any concept of learning a new language. Start by developing a plan of what you will do each day to practice. What materials will you read? Which live streams will you join on the Hallo app? Do you have a list of vocabulary words to study and memorize? And the best advice for practicing . . . surround yourself with native speakers. Any opportunity you have to be in their presence or communicate with them, do it. Of course, this often comes with a sense of anxiety and nervousness, so start small. Join a hop-on on Hallo, then when you’re ready, start asking questions. Be in an environment where you can listen to natives casually talk, then try to join in a conversation. Don’t ever stop practicing. Any little thing you do will help in the long run. You’ll make progress even when you don’t think you are.
- Be accountable
- It’s important that you share your goals with one or two people you trust. Ask them to help you stay accountable by sending you reminders or by testing your knowledge randomly. Being accountable to someone increases your drive toward your goal. It never feels good telling someone you didn’t do what you said you would do, so take advantage of this opportunity to show someone you really can make progress.
- Of course, even when the stars align or the kids stay quiet, something is bound to go wrong. Some goals are really difficult to meet, especially those that require a lot of time and consistency. So don’t ever give up on yourself. Don’t accept defeat. Don’t forget everything you’ve done after making one slip-up. YOU ARE HUMAN. And humans are not perfect. Sometimes making progress is the best thing you can do even if you’re far from achieving your goal. Take pride in that and reward yourself. Find opportunities on your path to be excited and to see how far you’ve come.
Get Started on Your Goals
“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way” (Frank Smith).
When you choose to learn English, you’re on a path of endless opportunity. Setting goals will keep you moving forward instead of backward on that path. The mind is capable of doing remarkable things—it just needs a little push.
Be sure to share your goals on Hallo! We’d love to hear your ideas and stories, and we know they can help your fellow users.