Learning English is like going a road trip (a long trip somewhere in a car). You don’t get in your car, start driving and hope that you will eventually arrive somewhere! You need a destination and a plan on how to get there. You’ll get there faster if you know where you are going and how to get there.
You need a goal.
A goal is something that you are trying to do or something that you want to achieve.
“I want to learn English” is a great dream, but it’s like saying “I want to go to the United States.” Where specifically do you want to go? How are you going to get there? What do you want to do when you get there?
If you want to achieve something, you will achieve it faster when you define what you want to do and then create a plan to help you do it. You will also stay motivated because you know where you are going.
You will achieve your goals faster if your goals are S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-related.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how you can create S.M.A.R.T. goals to help you improve your English faster.
“I want to speak English like a native speaker” is a big goal. Where do you start? There is so much to learn!
What do you really need English for? What do you want to do?
Imagine this: You wake up tomorrow morning and you are fluent in English. You can speak English like a native speaker. What do you do? What are you going to use English for? What do you talk about?
That’s your goal. That’s your destination. That’s the outcome or result that you want.
(It’s OK if you can’t answer this question. It’s OK if you need to think about it for a while.)
Here are some suggestions:
I want to learn English because I want to …
- live and work in an English-speaking country
- visit an English-speaking city for work or for fun
- watch English movies or TV shows
- read a book or a magazine
- understand your coworkers on the phone
- get a better job at an international company
- pass a test
- give a speech or presentation
How will you get there? You need a plan.
Focus on Outcomes
Let’s say that you want to learn English because you want to visit New York City. Make a list of things you need to know in English to enjoy your trip to New York City. What are you going to do in NYC?
- check into a hotel
- take a taxi or public transportation from the airport to your hotel
- order a meal in a restaurant
- try on clothes in a store
- buy souvenirs
You will learn English faster if you focus on outcomes, or results, and learn sentences that you can use in these specific situations. Learning how to use the future continuous tense or relative clauses will not help you order a meal in a restaurant. You learn how to order a meal in a restaurant by learning sentences you can use to order a meal in a restaurant.
Learning sentences you can use in specific conversations is more effective than learning grammar rules.
“I want to order a meal in a restaurant” is a specific goal. It’s an outcome.
How can you learn how to order a meal in a restaurant? Break down your goal into smaller mini-goals that you can focus on one at a time.
What English do you need to know to order a meal in a restaurant? You need to know how to read a menu in English. How can you learn to read a menu? Start with food that you know. What kind of food do you like to eat? What are the English words for the things you like to eat? Are these foods common in an English-speaking country? What kind of food is common in the US? You probably already know chicken, beef, and pasta, but do you know what a Greek salad is? Hawaiian pizza? Spaghetti? Nachos? Start learning more about food in New York City.
Measurable is the adjective form of the verb measure and it means something that you can measure. When you measure something, you find the size or quantity of it. How do you measure your progress in a language?
What does “learn English” mean to you? What does “improve” mean to you? How will you know when you have succeeded?
You need a way of seeing your improvement.
Write Down Your Goals
Make a list of the English goals you want to achieve this year. Put your list in a place where you can see it and check it regularly.
A list of specific goals will help you stay motivated, because you can see your progress. You can put a check mark next to each goal as you achieve it.
Focus on the outcome, not the process
Many English learners try to measure their progress by the number of words they have learned or by the number of grammar rules they have learned.
A common goal that English learners set is something like, “I’m going to learn 5 new words every day.” It’s easy to measure, but it’s a terrible goal. Learning 5 individual words each day will not help you speak English. One word can have many different meanings, and you need to know how to use those words properly in a sentence.
Another easy goal to measure is, “I will study English for one hour every day.” At the end of the year you will have studied for 365 hours. And? What are you going to study? What outcome will you have achieved by the end of the year? That’s great if you can study for one hour every day, but what you study is more important than how long you study.
Here is a better goal:
“I want to speak English fluently so I can talk to my English-speaking coworkers about things other than work. I need to work on my pronunciation and my listening skills. I will start by learning all the sounds of the English language. I will learn the sounds by studying the IPA. I will test myself by writing words in the IPA and then check my words in an online dictionary.”
Learn more: An Introduction to the IPA
Achievable is the adjective form of the verb achieve. Achieve means reach your target or goal, or succeed in doing what you planned to do, especially after working hard for a long time.
You need to set goals that are achievable, something that you can actually do.
There is an expression in English that is appropriate: baby steps. Baby steps are a series of small things you can to do reach your goal. You don’t have to learn everything at the same time. Do one small thing, then another small thing, then another small thing.
Baby steps are achievable! If your goal feels overwhelming, break it down into baby steps that you can achieve.
You feel better when you succeed at something. You feel motivated to keep going and succeed at another thing. When you make progress, you become more confident. This is why baby steps are so important!
Your comfort zone is the place where you feel confident and comfortable. It’s not a physical place. It’s a feeling. It could be a situation, it could be a level of English. It’s where you feel relaxed and safe.
When you leave your comfort zone and try something new, you feel nervous and scared.
You need to challenge yourself to do something just outside of your comfort zone, but not something too far outside of your comfort zone! You need to challenge yourself with a goal that you can achieve, but not something that is too difficult!
If your goal is too difficult, you will feel frustrated and discouraged and give up. You will feel happy and confident when you achieve a smaller goal just outside of your comfort zone.
Something that is realistic is possible to achieve based on reality, your true and real situation.
Are you really going to study English every day for a year? No, you’re not. Be honest. What happens if one day you can’t study for 1 hour? Do you get discouraged? Give up?
It’s great if you have a specific time when you study English every day, and it’s great if you can spend 30 minutes or 1 hour learning English every day. If you miss a day, that’s OK, because your goal is not to study every day. Your goal is an outcome or a result, like ordering from a menu or talking about your favorite TV show.
Set goals that you can actually do.
There are no right or wrong goals. There are only realistic goals that you can push yourself to achieve, and goals that are unrealistic and you will probably never achieve.
Your goals may change throughout the year, and that’s OK! Once you have finished a goal, set a new goal for yourself.
A deadline is a specific date or time when something must be finished. Deadlines are not a bad thing! Deadlines help you finish your work.
Give your goal a deadline. Here is an example of specific goal with a deadline:
“By the end of this week, I will know the English words for the foods that I like to eat and the foods that I want to try in New York City. By the end of next week, I will know the difference between appetizers, entrees, and dessert. By the end of this month I will be able to read a menu in English.”
Without a deadline, you will just keep saying, “I’ll do it later.” You will work harder if you give yourself a deadline.
Be S.M.A.R.T. in 2017!
Having a goal will help you improve your English faster. You might have one big goal, or you might have many small goals. Break your goal into smaller and smaller goals. You can measure your progress by completing one small goal at a time. Challenge yourself by doing something that is a little difficult for you, but make sure that your goal is something that you can realistically achieve. Your goals may change throughout the year, but keep working towards something.