We’ve all been there–working through our Duolingo trees or course books and dreaming about the big goal of FLUENCY off in the distance. But what is fluency? Fluency for you might be knowing all the words (spoiler alert: you won’t ever know all the words), or speaking comfortably without hesitation or errors (another spoiler alert: even natives make mistakes. It’s just part of speaking a language). If your main goal is fluency–a huge goal that isn’t easy to measure–let’s look at how (and why) we can (and should) set smaller goals in language learning.
1. You can measure your progress and see improvement.
Smaller goals are specific. If you set a thirty day goal to have a fifteen minute conversation with a native speaker, you can anticipate that situation and prepare for it. If you’ve never spoken to this person before, what will you talk about? With a smaller, easy to prepare for goal, you would probably review words and phrases like introductions, your job, your hobbies, your daily life, and what you like to do in your spare time. At the end of thirty days, you have that fifteen minute conversation with your language exchange partner. You KNOW that you met your goal! It doesn’t matter if your conversation was full of ums and errs. You had a fifteen minute conversation with a native speaker. (Now keep doing it, and increase your goal a little bit each time!)
Let’s look at a different situation. Say you’ve set a goal to learn five new words every day. This might seem like a tiny goal, but at the end of thirty days, you will have added 150 new words to your vocabulary! That’s huge, and easily measurable. It’s an instant motivation boost.
2. You are more focused and less likely to get distracted.
When you have a smaller goal that you can see yourself achieving in the near future, you’re less likely to get distracted or focus on topics that aren’t beneficial to you right now. Have you ever found yourself on YouTube during your study time, but before you know it, you’ve been sucked into the algorithm and watched a half an hour of videos that were really interesting but not…very…relevant to what you were studying? (*hand up* – I’m guilty) With a small goal like “learn five words every day in July” or “write a paragraph about my day every evening this week” you are focused on the task at hand. You know what to do. It takes the guessing and the hesitation out of what to do when you sit down to study.
3. You are motivated because your goal feels closer.
Language learning is a lot of work. If you have big, distant goals, it can be difficult to stay motivated. Smaller goals that you can achieve regularly are a huge confidence boost. You’re really doing this! You’re getting better in smaller ways every single day. Each goal builds on the last, and you’re getting better (slowly but surely) at your target language every single day! The most important part of language learning is showing up regularly. You’re more likely to show up if you feel motivated to do the work because your goal is close enough to achieve.
4. You are regularly “checking in” with yourself.
Smaller goals force you to check in with yourself more often. Are the goals that you’ve set relevant to your life? Have you set a big goal like “learn English phrasal verbs” when a goal like “must-know phrasal verbs for business” or “top ten phrasal verbs for university students” makes your topic smaller and more specific? Smaller goals that you meet often force you to make new goals frequently. You are constantly improving because you’re setting new goals that are relevant to your life that build on goals that you’ve previously met.
5. You can adjust and reevaluate if what you’re doing isn’t working.
If meeting your goals is difficult, you will lose motivation quickly. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s time to reevaluate the goals that you’ve been setting for yourself. If your goal was too big last time (say, 20 words per day and you quickly became frustrated or didn’t meet it) you know that it’s time to reevaluate. Next time, set a goal that you know you can easily achieve. Once you succeed, you can make your next goal more difficult if it was too easy. It’s better to gradually build on your goals than to burn yourself out right from the start. Think of language learning as a marathon. If you aren’t a runner, would you sign up for a half-marathon next month? No way! You don’t start out running 21.1 km (13.1 miles). You set smaller goals and work yourself up to the bigger goal of running the half-marathon. You run a half-marathon before you run a marathon (42.2 km or 26.2 miles). Language learning is the same!
Are you ready to set some writing goals in your language learning? Check out my five reasons why you should stop avoiding your writing practice for some inspiration. Need help setting clear, measurable goals? I’d be happy to chat! Find me on Instagram @fluentthewriteway or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to talk with you about your language goals or share my tips for building (and maintaining) regular learning habits in your daily life.
- Spoiler alert: a warning that an important detail is about to be revealed.
- Language Exchange Partner: Someone who is learning a language that you can practice speaking with (usually their native language is the language you are learning and they are learning your native language).
- Sucked into: To cause someone to become more and more involved in something (usually unintentionally).
- Task at hand: A task that you are working on right now.
- Slowly but surely: Achieving the desired results gradually and reliably.
- Showing up: Arrive for something (in this case, studying when you planned to).
- Check in: To ask yourself what you need to do right now.
- Build on: To do something in addition to what you have already done or achieved.
- Meeting your goals / meet it: To achieve a goal that you have set for yourself.
- Burn out: To become tired and uninterested in something that you previously enjoyed.
- Work up: To develop something.