Setting Your Course

“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.”

Paolo Coelho

Reading time: 3 Minutes

Does hearing the word “goal” outside of a soccer game make you start to sweat? You’re not alone. 

Goals can be scary when they’re hanging over your head, and they can sometimes feel discouragingly far away, but they’re essential for language learning. We’ll show you how to make them work for you, not against you.

Using goals in your study

One study abroad student commented:

“I find that if I set small goals each week I forget them, but if I set a goal each day, I am more likely to remember them and actually accomplish them. This is especially important I think for when plans fall through — which happens frequently — and I can still find something else to help me accomplish my goal.”

Like this student suggested, it’s a good idea to have a clear target that you are trying to hit each time you study the language. This goal should be specific and attainable within the time frame of your study session, whether that’s 3, 10, or 60 minutes. Ideally, it should support at least one of your other broader dreams as a language learner. 

But how do you know if you’ve created an effective plan for yourself?

Here’s a test you can use:

If you have clearly and effectively defined a goal for your study session, you will be able to reach the end of your allotted time and confidently answer the question: Did I complete what I set out to do?

For example, here are some examples of BAD and BETTER language study goals.

Learn new vocabularyFind and memorize six verbs that will help you tell a story that is important to you.
Read a news articlePractice reading the first three paragraphs of a front-page news article aloud until you can do it without hesitation
Learn more about cultureAsk a friend what their favorite dish is, how it’s cooked, and for what occasions it’s usually made 
Watch a movie in the languageWatch five minutes of your favorite scene on slow speed, using subtitles, until you can understand every word 
Talk with native speakersStart a conversation with three people and ask them about their family

As you go through the process of setting and evaluating your goals, sometimes you will find that the answer is “NO, I didn’t meet my goal.” You might realize that you need another day or study session to hit your target. That’s okay! 

Even if the answer is NO, a crystal clear goal helps you know exactly what needs to be done in order to be able to say YES at the end of your next study session.

Here’s an example of a simple, measurable goal that two study abroad students set to have more extended conversations with native speakers:

“To get us started, Zoe and I thought it would be a good idea to simply introduce ourselves to some of our neighbors and try to get to know them. On Monday or Tuesday we baked some brownies from a mix we found at the grocery store and picked a random apartment on a random floor of our building. I was a little nervous because I wasn’t sure how the inhabitants of the chosen apartment would react, but the nerves went away almost immediately when a very sweet lady answered the door and invited us in without hesitation. We met two of her daughters who happened to be fairly close to our age, 18 and 22, and we spent at least an hour just sitting and talking to them, which felt like quite an achievement.

The next day eager to give away some more brownies and get to know some more neighbors, so we went over to the apartment across the hall from ours. Another incredibly nice family lives there, and we again spent at least an hour with them just trying to talk to them and getting to know them and explain what we’re doing here. They have 4 daughters, the oldest 15, and a little boy of 5 who was really a character.”

These language learners found that setting and carrying out small, achievable goals can get you farther than you imagined! Sometimes all it takes is one step in the right direction.

Try it out!

Time required: 1-2 minutes. 

Be very honest with yourself for 15 seconds, and consider the following questions:

  1. What is something that you struggle to talk about in your target language but would like to master?
  2. What is one thing that you wish came more easily to you in the language?

Set a specific goal for your next study session that will help you take one step closer to these hopes you have for your language ability.