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Five simple steps for super-cool learning goals!

I am a big fan of goal setting. I set goals for my work, my exercise routine and language learning. Goals are important because they give us a focus. Without goals, humans have a tendency to drift through life going nowhere in particular. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, if we have ambitions that we want to realise, having a clear goal will make it much easier. Much language learning seems to ignore the importance of goal-setting, however. Within most language schools, the ‘goals’ are mostly set by the school or teacher and often goals such as finish the course book in three months or increase the students’ level to B2 in three months. Learners are not supported in setting their own goals or having agency over their language learning. Outside of language schools, the closest most learners come to with setting goals is when they decide to take an exam. When people decide to take exams they have a clear set of objectives that are given to them by the examining body – criteria that they must fulfil before the exam if they wish to pass it. However, I believe that a bit of goal-setting is valuable for all language learners. Even if you don’t want to take an exam and are learning English for the pleasure and interest it gives you, having a sense of direction will still be beneficial. Here, then, is my simple 5-step process for setting simple, achievable goals for your language learning:

1. Do a language audit

Where is your language level right now? What are your strengths and weaknesses at the moment? It can be difficult to be objective about this and most learners instinctively focus on their weaknesses but it’s important to find good things too. By clarifying where you are now, you can be clearer about where you need to go next! If you struggle here, you could ask a friend, colleague or teacher. You could also take one of the online tests such as this one from Oxford.

2. Choose your priorities

If you’re like most of the language learners I work with, you have limited time available for your learning. Although this can be frustrating, it’s important to work within the limitations that you have and not to allow them to upset you. Prioritising, therefore, is an important skill to develop. You may want to improve everything all at the same time, but usually it helps to choose one or two things to develop at any one time. For example, let’s imagine that you’ve ascertained that one of your weaknesses is listening but you’re pretty good at grammar and your vocabulary is okay for your level. It should be obvious that you need to develop that listening skill first before trying to do something new. You might like to choose between two and four areas to work on every three months.

3. Where do you want to be in……

three months? Fast forward three months. What do you hope to have achieved by then? What will this feel like? a year? Fast forward to December. What do you hope to have achieved by then? Where do you want your English to be in a year? What will it feel like when you have achieved this?

Really get clear about this! See if you can imagine how you will feel when you have achieved what you want and make this feeling as strong and powerful as you can. Use your imagination to see / hear / feel yourself achieving your learning goals. You can check in with this every time you sit down to study. Note that it’s important to be realistic about how much you can achieve in these timeframes, especially if you have limited time available to learn.

4. Make an action plan

Now that you have an idea of where you want to be in three months' and one year's time, you can map out some steps. It’s up to you how much detail you include here. Personally, I like to have an action step for each week of my plan but it’s up to you. Having small, achievable steps helps you to keep your focus and maintain your motivation. So with our earlier example of listening, this person might choose what they are going to listen to for a month or map out specific steps for improving their listening such as understanding features of pronunciation or a particular English accent.

5. Put the plan somewhere visible

This one is really important! When I’ve been in goal-setting groups, the people who have made the most progress are always those who have their goals somewhere they can see them. Without this reminder, it’s too easy to forget about the goal and just continue as usual. So stick your goals to your wall, or on your computer desktop to act as a constant reminder of where you want to go. There are many ways to set goals, the ideas above are just to get you started!

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