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Setting a goal

To learn a language, you should first set yourself a goal or set of goals. Spend some time properly considering what motivates you to learn your language. The foundations of a goal should already be there. If you’re not sure what goal you should have, first think of the situations you want to use the language in. Your goals should be about your ability in these situations.

The best goals are SMART goals. That is, they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Specific — Goals need to be something you can hold yourself accountable to. Don’t make your goal too vague (e.g. “fluency”).

Measurable — Language progress can be hard to measure, but there should be some degree of visible progress towards your goal.

Achievable – Don’t aim too high. You can’t be fluent in a year without working at it like a full-time job.

Relevant — Make your goal depend on what you want out of your language.

Time-bound — Picking a point in time discourages you from slacking off and letting progress lapse. You might like to start off by thinking about a length of time you want to dedicate and then selecting a goal based on that time limit.

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Further advice:

  • You can have multiple goals.
  • You can also have smaller, short-term goals to help you measure progress.
  • You can use constituent goals that you think are necessary to achieve your main goal (e.g. “know 2,000 words”). Don’t make such specific goals your primary goals, as they can distract you from focusing on what you truly want.
  • It will help you to write down your goals somewhere.
  • Don’t be afraid to revise any of your goals. If you’re going at it for the first time, it can be hard to know how long it will take or if the goal you choose is really what will motivate you in the future.
  • You might be tempted not to worry about choosing a goal since you already know you want to speak the language and get better at it with no end in mind. Trust me—goals will help you get there faster.

Here are some example goals:

  • Converse with my friend for 5 minutes without losing track of what she’s talking about. Timeframe: 8 months.
  • Read and understand Tolstoy without a dictionary. Timeframe: 5 years.
  • Know enough basic words and grammar to feel comfortable communicating when I’m on holiday. Timeframe: 2 months.

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