Setting English learning goals the SMART way

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Many English language learners sign up for classes to improve their English language skills. Some learners find much success and are able to improve their English which leads to a better paying job or better grades in school. Some however, struggle with improving their English and go from one class to another thinking a change of teachers or class might be the key to success.

Learning English is like learning any other skill – you have to actively work on it and put in the time and effort before you finally see the results. Attending classes is a step in the right direction. However, it is very important to start by setting out clear goals first. This is often the difference between success and failure when learning a language.

Watch the video below by To Fluency on the Power of setting goals for your English learning journey.

Setting goals the SMART way

SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time- based. They describe the characteristics of the goals you are planning to set. You can use it for any goal – whether it is for losing weight, completing a college program or learning to drive a car. The SMART criteria requires you to sit down and think carefully, so set aside some quiet time to figure out your language learning goals. You can see examples from Rliberni’s blog and from Oxford Online English. You can download a goal setting plan here. Place your plan in a visible area so that you are constantly reminded of your goals.

  1. Make it Specific

    Maybe you like to learn how to pronounce certain words. Or perhaps you would like to write better emails at work because you don’t wish to be misunderstood by your employer or co-workers. It is important to figure out what specific skills you want to improve on before you start with your goal setting plan. Select 1 or 2 skills you would like to work on. Start small and once you’ve found success, move on to another language skill you would like to improve on.

  2. How are you going to Measure your goals?

    How are you going to know when you’ve accomplished your goal? Using the example of writing good emails at work, would you feel that you’ve accomplished that goal when you feel comfortable writing emails without the use of a dictionary? Or when your co-workers no longer ask you questions about an email you sent? You need to find a way to know when you’ve found success with a certain goal.

  3. Make it Attainable

    Think about what you can realistically do within a set period of time. Goals that are too challenging could lead to more frustration and disappointment. In the case of writing emails at work, you could simply focus on being able to write a short, error-free paragraph for now. When this goal has been accomplished, you can concentrate on writing longer emails.

  4. Is it Relevant?

    Decide how you are going to achieve that goal. Choose methods or activities that are relevant to your language learning goal. Joining a class could be helpful. Select your classes carefully so that it is aligned with your goals and language level. In the case of writing good emails, you will probably need to sign up for a writing-based English class. You do not want to waste your time in a speaking-based class or one that focuses on academic writing. Ask the coordinator questions about the skills they plan to teach for that program. Will it be useful for your specific language goal(s)?

    If you are unable to attend classes, consider signing up for online classes. You can read more about the benefits of online classes here: 5 reasons why you should try online learning.You could also look for resources on the internet or at the library and practice on your own.

  5. Set a Time frame for accomplishing a goal.

    With everything else going on in life, setting aside time for language learning can be challenging. It is important to commit a certain amount of time every week to work on your language goal. Decide what works best for you. Some people like working on a goal for 20 minutes every day while others would like to dedicate a solid two hours on a weekend. Think about how much time you can devote to accomplish that goal while juggling work and family commitments. Set a date and get to work!

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Community Resources

Curriculum Wadhwani explains how to set SMART goals in general.

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