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.
Oscar Corcho says
Thanks Melanie for your new lesson. SMART GOALS
I have the purpose, in 2017, to take a course on inclusive leadership, in edX. In this course I will be able to practice English frequently.
This goal will be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and temporary.
Wonderful, Oscar! I wish you all the best with the edX course!
Thanks English teacher for your English lessons .
Happy new year Melanie!
Thanks for your hard work, and keep doing like that! It’wonderful!
Gina Joseph B.
Thank you so much, Gina! I am happy that you enjoyed this lesson!
(Just a quick tip: you can memorize the collocation “hard work” when work is a noun!)
Melanie, you are teaching in this occasion something very useful. This lesson is applicable not only to learn English, but to any project of life.
Thank you very much.
That is so true, Gabriel! I have been thinking about S.M.A.R.T. goals in other areas of my life, too!
Happy new year Melanie! My goal is want to improve my English grammar and pronunciation. I like your S.M.A.R.T. goals idea. Many thanks and looking forward to your next lesson.
Good luck to you, Sulien! Let me know if I can help you with your goals!
Thank you for everything that you mentioned to help us in order to improve our english language .
It’s my pleasure, Hagazi! Happy New Year!
i found it great ! thank you melannie to be a part of your student’s team .
Thank you for being my student, Salwa, and for all your lovely comments! Have a great 2017!
Happy New Year Melanie, thank you so much for this lesson. It is useful. I make some goals for this year and I hope achieve it.
Wonderful, Noura! I wish you all the best in the new year!
Zhao Xiaoli says
Thank you Melanie! How a smart goal for our English learner! I’m very grateful I can read your letter for simple and easy to understand. The S.M.A.R.T tips is useful for my life and study!
I am so pleased that this lesson is useful to you, Zhao Xiaoli, not just for English but also for your life! Happy New Year!
Thanks for the great tip. I already knew this abbreviation (S.M.A.R.T.) and I told my students about it, but I didn’t use it to achieve my own goals. The biggest challenge for me in studying English at this moment is the understanding of native (American) speakers (namely: native speakers from North Carolina). When I discovered this problem, I first used the website Voice of America (Special English Level One): the speakers on this site speak about one-third slower than normal speech. But one day my son (who speaks English well) heard this and was laughing. He said: “They speak as they are in Buckingham Palace, so these lessons don’t help you”. About a month ago one of my friends recommended me your website and now I am listening to your podcasts in the section Listening. I like your approach, because 1) the podcasts are short enough (so I can concentrate my attention for this time period); 2) the content is interesting for me; 3) the explanations about pronunciation are marvelous (I always wondered what happens with abstract signs when people begin to use them with their real speech organs). Now my progress is very little. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I am 51 and my brain is not as flexible, to create quickly new structures for the understanding of the other language. But I don’t leave hope, and I plan to expand my listening experience. I already have a S, A and R. Maybe if I add M and T, I will get a result (and I will be SMART).
Thank you, my teacher. This is an useful lesson for everyone who want to learn english, and show clearly the goal if they should keep studying english.
Now i am studying english by baby steps method with many simple sentences.It is very easy and help me speak english faster.
I look forward to receiving your new lesson .
Have a nice weekend and happy new year.
Your way of telling how to learn English is encouraging me.Throughout my life I want to learn my native language and English language.But in 2017, my short goal is to learn English language.I am happy to be a student for you.
Happy New Year, thank you so much for this lesson. It is useful.
I am happy to be a student for you.
Have a nice weekend.
Thank you very much for these tips. Its keep us straight ahead in success to learn English.
Om Prakash Ojha says
Hi Melanie, Wish you a very happy new year too. Thank you once again for such a marvelous lesson. You know every pulse and nerve of your students. I have been trying to learn English for more than 24 years. Sometimes I get comments from the listeners that my English is very good. However, I truly like to confess that there are times when I get stuck because I don’t know how to say a thing. But when I study enough on the subject I start feeling confident because now I know how to describe what I want to speak. You really mean a lot to me. I wish I had met you 24 years ago I need not have to struggle so much now; I would have achieved greater heights in my life. Could you suggest me a book of yours that you recommend for an average to advanced English learner, that you think is a thorough study material? I would love to buy one. Regards Om
Many thanks Indeed Melanie, this is very brilliant lesson.
Gulzar Ahmed says
My Dear Teacher Melanie,
Happy new Year ,
hope you will fine with your family,
I want to inform to you that my responsibilities are to organize workshop and perform duty as Secretary, when i talk in-front hundred people in English that time i feel my self very confuse. and 2nd thing I want to continue my higher study therefore i want to improve English and want to become fluent speaker in to English.
Thanks for your support to learn English
Once again I thank you.
This is really good; I also recommend my students to set specific (SMART) goals. It works in all things, not just English. “I want to lose weight” is too vague, “I want to lose 5 pounds by the end of February” is way more specific. Goals that are achievable and realistic also tend to keep you motivated. I also think building tiny habits can help you make progress and gain momentum.
ali asadi says
hi melani thanks for this new lesson you gave me today . i have a question … if my goal is big but achieveable … breaking my goal into smaller goals is possible but i may end up with twenty little goals . and heres the point im going to make… if I start from the first one and I practice them to the end when I am achieving the last little goal I may forget some porints or some grammers of the first little goal… now im just giving an example but how it is possible to achieve all of our little goals without forgeting what we have learnt???
ali asadi says
and some thing else ..if you can help me with breaking my goal into little ones please…I want to work in an international company .. not very soon but im planning on this … and I dont know how to start achieving it I read your wonderful article but I still dont know how to split my goal to little ones .. If its possible or you give me an example about this thank you for your time and help
Thanks! Melanie. My long-term goal is to work along with English-speaking foreigners chiefly Americans. I’m happy to be part of your students.I look forward to another lesson.
Azza Monier says
Thanks Melanie for the useful lesson. I will use it to achieve mij goals. I want to learn English to read a book and magazine.
To watch movies and shows on TV.
I’m a writer and I would like to translate mij stories to English.
I would like to check into a hotel
take a taxi or public transportation from the airport to your hotel
order a meal in a restaurant.
Thank you for your time and help.
Thanks Melanie for your time and useful lesson. I will start to set my goal now. I want to learn to speak English language as American English speakers.
Thank you for your lesson. I have two big plans for this year. First one, I need the IELTS certificate in order to apply for scholarship to study abroad. Secondly, I want to become an English teacher.
Those are fantastic goals, Vuthy! All the best to you this year!
Thank you for teaching me.
I want to learn English. My dream is to speak fluently English very well.
So i want you teach me well.
Thanks for your hard teaching me.
Hello mam , my aim is to speak english fluently. I want to learn english because i want to talk to peoples in english. I love to speak english . It makes me happy when i talk to someone in english. Thanks for your lessons.
Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom!
I hope I can learn how to make correct sentences and talk with English speakers this year.
Have a great week!
Your like a motivation speaker,when I read your article I have a lot of energy to have and catch my goal and break it down to baby step .
I want to be an international English teacher .
Thank you again
before i have read this smart lesson, I were as someone lost himself at the desert,
your words Your words were like a bonfire that made me guided to the intended goal.
I want to improve my English for many reasons . 1) i want to be able to speak clearly when i speak with someone . I when to improve my vocabulary because sometime i have lack of understanding . I would like to improve it also because i love this language very much . I think when you achieved have to manage to talk well many languages you have more opportunity to find a good job .
Those are excellent goals, but I encourage you to be even more specific with your goals:
1. What does “speak clearly to someone” mean to you? How will you know when you achieve that?
2. What kind of vocabulary do you want to improve? What do you sometimes not understand? Do you have a lack of understanding of words, or of sounds? For example, do you have more trouble reading something or listening to someone?
Goals are easier to achieve when you can be as specific as possible.
You can do it!
I have been looking all your topics, and I have some questions but I can’t coment anything in those topics, just here.
Hmm, that’s strange, Gonzalo! What lessons did you want to ask questions about? I’m not sure why you can’t comment on them.
Thanks, Melanie. Now, when I think about the goals with S.M.A.R.T. It’s difficult to put into words your goals, but I try. Thank you, for describing S.M.A.R.T. principles.
Sajeewani Rathnayake says
You are a great teacher. I’m proud to be a one of student under your teaching. Have a best wishes continue your great work.
Thank you very much for this lesson.
I never think this before.
I will use your SMART method from today and never stop.