So you want to learn a foreign language. Learning a new language is always a worthy use of your time and there are a lot of effective ways how to learn a language. Setting goals is an important first step in assuring that you’re using that time effectively.
Once you know your goals, it’s easier to create a plan of action, know what to focus on, and make those goals your reality.
But how do you set effective language learning goals? After all, not all goals are equally helpful. Setting effective language learning goals starts with evaluating what you already know and ends with reassessing and setting new goals.
Table of Contents
- How to set goals for language learning
- Tips for setting effective language goals
- Let’s get goal-setting
How to set goals for language learning
Consider this step-by-step process to set effective goals for learning your foreign language.
1. Start with what you already know
Most of the time, you’re not starting a language with absolutely no knowledge of it. What have you seen on signs? Maybe you’ve heard parts of it in a movie. Most languages have cognates, or words that are the same or similar between languages.
Start by making a list of the words you already know. It also doesn’t hurt to do some research on what your native language and target language have in common.
2. Think about how far you want to go
How good do you want to get at your target language? Are you looking to use it in your job? Are you going on vacation? Maybe you’re in “just for fun” territory right now.
What you focus on depends on the level you want to achieve. For example, if you’re learning French for a trip, you won’t need to spend a lot of time on writing.
3. Research your tools
What are you going to use to learn your new language? There are a wide variety of language learning websites, courses, tools, and apps. You can also take an in-person class or one-on-one tutoring. Supplemental tools like grammar books, YouTube channels, blogs about how to learn a language by yourself, and playlists can be helpful alongside the main source of your learning.
Similarly, think of people you can ask for help. Do you know any native speakers? Are there any local meetups you can join? How about social media groups? Languages are all about connection. Even if you’re self-studying with language learning apps, it’s not something to do alone.
4. Decide how you’ll measure your progress
Measuring your progress is an important way to keep yourself on track and also stay motivated. If you’re using an app or language learning course, that part is easy.
But there are other ways you can record and compare your skills over time. Recording a video of yourself speaking or writing a sentence that shows your skill level every day can be a great thing to look back at and see how far you’ve come. You can share these on social media or keep them private.
5. Stick to a schedule
If we only worked on something when we felt like it, it would never get done. However, that doesn’t mean learning a language has to be a chore that you fit the rest of your life around. Instead, practice things like language flash cards when you are awake, alert, and productive. That way, your schedule will be easier and more enjoyable to stick to.
If you want to become conversational in a year, educators recommend studying seven hours per week. You don’t necessarily have to do an hour a day as long as it’s maintainable for you. Study at times when you’re alert and productive and spend more time on the areas you need more work on. Don’t forget to spend time reviewing what you’ve already learned along with learning new material. The spaced repetition method is a great way to do that.
6. Reassess and set new goals
When it comes to foreign languages, there is always more to learn and more to maintain. As long as you want to keep doing it, you’re never really done. That means when you meet one round of goals, it’s time to think about what you want to do next.
Alternatively, you may fall short of your goals or circumstances in your life may change. In both of those cases, you may need to re-evaluate if the goals you set are realistic. It’s all okay though. Falling short doesn’t mean you’ve failed and mistakes are an important part of learning.
Tips for setting effective language goals
These tips will help you make the goals you set as effective as they can be.
The more specific your goals are, the easier it is to hold yourself to them. If your goals are nebulous like “I want to be fluent someday”, there isn’t really a way to hold yourself to it or measure how close you are to getting there. It doesn’t help that fluency is a nebulous concept without objective indicators that you’ve reached it.
Instead, frame your goals around specific skills you want to achieve, how you want to use those skills
Remember that it takes time
If you could learn a language perfectly in a month, we’d all be polyglots. When you set out to learn a language, it’s important to be realistic about how long it will take. Though you may learn enough to have basic conversations in a month or two, reaching an advanced level takes years.
There are a lot of factors that go into how long it takes to learn a foreign language, including
- Similarity between your target language and native language
- Your memorization skills
- Your self-motivation
- Which tools and strategies you use
- When you consider yourself “done”
It doesn’t mean that you’re doing a bad job if meeting your goals takes longer for you than it does for someone you know. Learn at a pace that’s manageable for you. SImilarly, keep in mind that no one expects you to be perfect. Just as immigrants who have lived in the US for decades typically still have an accent, don’t put pressure on yourself to be indistinguishable from a native speaker.
Set receptive language goals and expressive language goals
There are two kinds of language skills: receptive and expressive. Receptive language includes:
- Reading comprehension
- Listening comprehension
- Following directions
- Understanding gestures
Expressive language includes:
- Asking questions
Basically, receptive language is the input and expressive language is the output. It’s important to pay attention to both sides of language learning and put more time into the aspects you have a harder time with. You wouldn’t want to neglect speaking because you’re spending too much time on reading.
Set long-term and short-term goals
Having a big long-term goal is great! But it’s also important to have short-term goals along the way, not only to keep you on the right track, but to celebrate your smaller victories. Your long term goal can be lofty. Short-term goals should be more specific and achievable. Short term goals that are directly related to your long-term goals are the best way to stay on track over time.
Know your motivation
Never lose sight of why you got interested in your target language in the first place. A strong “why” is a powerful motivator for any venture. Learning languages is no exception. Some examples of motivations for learning a new language include:
- Connecting with a culture
- Career advancement
- Adding depth to travel experience
- Watching movies without subtitles
- Reading books in their original language
- Curiosity and the desire to learn
Whatever your “why” is, you’ll need a strong one to keep you working day after day to build your skills. Setting goals based on that motivation also gives you more specific, achievable goals than focusing on a proficiency level alone.
Don’t get stuck in excuses
Procrastination, distraction, and finding excuses not to do the work are part of being human. But if you want to get anything done, you’re going to have to work on them. Foreign language learners are often held back by “not having the right learning environment.” Good news! You can learn a language effectively anywhere! You don’t need to go abroad to incorporate it into your life.
If you notice that something is holding you back from working on your language, you might need to change something about your approach to make it easier for you. For example, if you decided you’d study before you go to work but you’re having trouble waking up early enough, don’t force it. Find another time of day.
Let’s get goal-setting
If you’re ready to hit the ground running, setting effective goals will set you up for language learning success. Start by thinking about what you already know and how good you want to get. Then decide which tools you’ll use and how you’ll measure your progress. Then you’re ready to set and stick to a schedule and re-asses when you need to. Follow our tips and you’ll be celebrating your achievements in no time.
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