6 Tips to Set Realistic Goals for Language Learning Success

Why is it important to set goals when learning languages?

One of the first things people ask me when they start to learn Spanish, is “How long will it take me to learn Spanish?” The problem with this question is that it is not clear what they are actually asking or what their expectations are. What do you actually need to learn the language for and what level of fluency do you need? Do you need to order a mean and drinks? Do you need to call a colleague, attend a business meeting? Are you planning to move to Spain? If you have a more definite idea of what you want to achieve and in what timescale this can help avoid disappointment when you feel you aren’t achieving what you hoped to and it can also help you plan your learning to suit your goals.

This blog post gives a few tips of how to set realistic but achievable goals so you get the most out of your language studies:

1. Be realistic about what fluency means

To be fluent in a language can take years, especially if you are learning as an older person. It is more difficult to achieve a native-like accent. However don’t worry so much about this because people expect you to have a foreign accent and as long as you say the right words, they still understand you perfectly even if you make a few little mistakes like adjective endings not matching the noun and so on. It is only natural to have a foreign accent as you have spoken your native language since a child it is difficult to sound like a native speaker unless perhaps you have lived in the country where it is spoken for several years.

2. How far do you plan to go?

When you first start learning a language you should think about and make a list of why you are learning the language and what sorts of things you want to be able to say or situations you want to be able to cope with.
For example, if you want to learn to get by with practicalities on holidays you would need to focus on learning how to take a taxi, deal with hotels, eating out and understanding directions. However, if you need to visit your company’s office in Madrid you would need to learn more formal and business language.

3. Think about what you already know

Often people return to learning Spanish after a break from learning or they learnt some Spanish in school and still remember a few things although they may be vague. In this case, don’t waste precious learning time re-learning what you already know. You may need just a quick refresh on certain things to bring them back to mind which won’t take long. Then focus on learning new vocabulary.
Even if you are totally new to the language and are learning it from scratch, you may have learnt another similar language in which case there will probably be a lot of similarities between the two languages. This can help you learn more quickly. For example, French, Spanish and Italian have similar aspects and I am also told that Spanish has links with Hungarian and Arabic.

4. Set specific and realistic goals

To make your learning successful it is a good idea to set specific goals that you can measure to track your progress. The more concrete the goal, the easier it will be to check that you have achieved it. Try to link goals to actual situations rather than vague topics. For instance, one goal may be “to learn 50 clothes, colours and style words” so that you can cope with going clothes shopping rather than a more wide-ranging goal such as “to learn the future tense”.
Make sure your goals fit with your study plan and that they are not over-ambitious so that you will definitely be able to achieve them. It is much better to make manageable goals and achieve them, rather than set targets that are too high and then feel disappointed if you cannot meet them.

5. Set a schedule and stick to it

Take into account the time you have available each day for learning a language. Obviously you have a job, a family, a social life which you also have to fit in. If you schedule your language learning into your life as with the other things you are more likely to stick to it. So make sure you set aside a certain time in the morning or in the evening to spend on language learning and stick to this every day. Don’t set yourself too much time and then find you aren’t able to stick to this. Remember with learning languages even 30 minutes a day can help you progress.

6. Long-term and short-term goals

When planning your language study make sure you set goals to achieve within 6 months or a year as well as weekly goals. By achieving the short term goals you will feel much more confident and motivated to meet your longer term goals.

The tips here will help you to stay motivated when learning a language, however, remember that doing anything worthwhile is hard and takes time. Sometimes you will feel like you are progressing and other times you will feel like you aren’t. The key with languages is to stick at it and focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot. Sometimes you need to go back to the beginning and revisit the basics and revise what you have learnt before to keep it fresh in your mind.

My online course “Learn Spanish Successfully Solo” (soon to be launched) will cover setting realistic and successful language learning goals in more detail.