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Language Learning with SMART Goals

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Language learning with SMART goals enhances the student’s success rate. Millions of people around the world, young and old, start a new language learning experience every year. Setting SMART Goals will help these language learners become truly effective.

They start their new language course filled with motivation and expectation, but many of them abandon the journey a few months later. 

In my 30 years of experience in language teaching, I have seen this happening repeatedly. I decided to help these students because I could see the frustration of not reaching their language learning goals and the feeling of giving up on themselves.

I realized that one of the main reasons that these students would not learn any new language was because of the lack of SMART goals.

Explaining the meaning of SMART Goals for language learners

Yes, they had goals when they signed up for their language classes, but they were vague and extremely generic. Many would just say; “I want to improve my English”. When you don’t specify what “improving your English” truly means, it’s impossible to realize if you’ve reached your goals and it’s very easy for that little voice in your head to convince you that “this language course is not working for you”.

So, whether you’re learning a new language for travel, work, or personal enrichment, setting SMART goals will significantly enhance your language learning experience and will help you reach your goals without giving up. SMART goals provide a structured and effective framework to guide your efforts, keeping you motivated and on track.

Understanding SMART Goals for language learners:

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. These five criteria help you create clear and realistic goals.

Let’s break down each element and explore how they can be applied to language learning.

1. Specific

When setting language learning goals, being specific is crucial. Instead of a vague goal like «I want to be fluent in Spanish,» make your goal specific by defining what fluency means to you.

For example, «I want to hold a 10-minute conversation with a native Spanish speaker on everyday topics.» The student needs to be able to see or know when he or she has reached their goal.

Therefore, to help my students set a specific goal, I always ask; “how will you know you have reached your goal?”

«The more specific you are about your language learning goals, the more likely you are to achieve them.» – Language Learning Expert

2. Measurable

Measuring progress is essential for staying motivated. Create milestones and checkpoints to track your language learning journey. For instance, «I will learn 50 new Spanish vocabulary words each week and track my progress using a language learning app.»

Language teacher and students talking between classes

As a language teacher, you can help your student in this process and the time to sit back and observe how much your student has learned so far. Working with many dyslexic students, I find this a very powerful tool. It works very well to enhance their, usually very damaged, self-esteem. 

«Measurable goals provide a sense of accomplishment, helping you see the tangible results of your efforts.» – Polyglot Speaker

3. Achievable

Set goals that are challenging yet realistic. Avoid overwhelming yourself with unrealistic expectations. For example, instead of aiming to learn an entire language in a month, set achievable goals like «I will complete one unit of my language course every two weeks.»

The student must decide if a certain goal is achievable. I personally find many students asking me for my opinion, up which my answer usually is; “it’s your life, it’s your time, it’s your goal, it’s your responsibility. If you really think you can do it, I believe in you”.

Nevertheless, if I have certain doubts about the achievability of a certain goal, I might question the student about it. Just as an exercise of reflection. The final decision is always theirs.   

Apart from “Achievable”, I also like to use the “A” in SMART for “Adjustable”. It’s important to understand that, although you plan very well, things do happen.

Something might come up in the process that disrupts your plans. In that case, you need to know that you can adjust your plans, either being that your actual goal or the time in which you will reach it. 

«Achievable goals build confidence, making language learning a positive and enjoyable experience.» – Language Educator

4. Relevant

Ensure that your language learning goals align with your overall objectives. Consider why you want to learn the language and tailor your goals accordingly. For instance, if your goal is career-oriented, focus on language skills relevant to your profession.

The goals must be motivating the language student to invest their time in learning the language. This is a very important step in the SMART goal-setting process.

Sometimes, the student and I realize that, maybe, a certain goal is not that relevant, and thus motivating, at all. That means we have to go back to step one, and define a new goal or re-define the current one. Although this might seem a waste of time, in the end it will prove to be a very wise investment.

SMART Language Learning goals enhance the student's performance and motivation

«Relevant goals keep you engaged and connected to the purpose of your language learning journey.» – Language Learning Advocate

5. Time-bound

Establish a timeline for achieving your language learning goals. Having a deadline creates a sense of urgency and helps you stay committed. For example, «I will be able to write a short essay in French within three months.»

Without a deadline, it is all too easy to procrastinate. It’s that little voice in our heads again, that tells us that we don’t need to do it now. “Why not start after summer and go to the beach today”. A strict deadline helps us shut down that voice. We need long term deadlines, but also short, weekly, ones. This will keep us focused on the process and will ensure final success.

Although I mentioned before that goals should also be adjustable, it doesn’t mean that we should take the timeline lightly. We should, though, be aware that, under certain circumstances, it might be necessary to adjust the timeline.

We have to focus on the end result and understand that language learning with SMART goals is much more effective.

«Setting a timeframe adds a sense of structure to your language learning plan, turning dreams into achievable milestones.» – Language Enthusiast

Examples of SMART Language Learning Goals:

1. Specific SMART Language Learning Goal:

   – Vague Goal: «I want to improve my English.»

   – SMART Goal: «I will enhance my English speaking skills by participating in a conversation club and presenting a five-minute speech on a chosen topic by the end of the month.»

2. Measurable SMART Language Learning Goal:

   – Vague Goal: «I want to learn Chinese characters.»

   – SMART Goal: «I will learn 20 new Chinese characters each week and be able to write a short paragraph using them within two months.»

3. Achievable SMART Language Learning Goal:

   – Unrealistic Goal: «I want to become fluent in Japanese in three weeks.»

   – SMART Goal: «I will complete one chapter of my Japanese textbook each week and aim to hold a basic conversation with a native speaker within three months.»

4. Relevant SMART Language Learning Goal:

   – Unrelated Goal: «I want to learn Russian for no specific reason.»

   – SMART Goal: «I will acquire basic Russian language skills to communicate effectively with my Russian-speaking colleagues at work within four months.»

5. Time-bound SMART Language Learning Goal:

   – Open-ended Goal: «I want to learn German someday.»

   – SMART Goal: «I will complete a beginner’s German language course within three months, dedicating 30 minutes to language practice every day.»

Final thoughts

A row of language students working in silence

Incorporating SMART goals into the language learning journey can make the process more organized, enjoyable, and ultimately successful.

By setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals, you create a roadmap that guides you towards fluency.

Setting SMART learning goals is important for all students, but especially for those with different learning backgrounds, like students with dyslexia. In my Dyslexia Awareness Training for language teachers you will learn to recognize which of your students might have dyslexia and/or ADHD and how to help them in their language learning with SMART Goals.

Remember, as you embark on this exciting adventure, «Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.»Tony Robbins.

So, set SMART goals and watch your language skills flourish!

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