SMART Goal Setting For Language Learning

No path through the forest

No path through the forest

Goal setting – this is where it all begins.

Whatever stage you’re at in learning a language, without clearly defined goals you’re denying yourself clarity in the road ahead.

In this post I’m going to talk about how to define your language goals using the SMART criteria.

Edit: A few years on from writing this post, I’ve changed my approach. I now focus on one thing in my language learning, and get better results. Read about it here


As with everything else in life, a good plan is the foundation for language learning.

By defining your aims clearly at the start you can develop a plan to suit and avoid wasting time on things that won’t bring you closer to your goal.

At some point you will have experienced the feeling of really wanting to learn a language, maybe even made a start, but ended up feeling lost – overwhelmed by the task and not knowing how what steps to take.

Like being lost in a very large forest with no clear path ahead.

Imagine this: You’re planning a long trip to South America next year and you’d love nothing more than to be able to share a cold beer on the beach with some locals and chat with them in their language.

You’ve got 6 months to get it together.

If you take the route that most people take and buy a couple of books, maybe an audio series, there are two major problems.

  1. You are learning things that someone else has decided you need. Think about it –  how have they chosen the vocabulary you’re about to spend months learning? Are you really going to use all those grammar rules to describe the sunrise?
  2. You probably won’t have actually spoken with anyone by the time you get to South America.  

Basically, there’s no road map.

You haven’t defined where you want to go, so how are you going to get there? If I were to show you a book, audio CD or photocopied page of grammar exercises, you would have no way of telling me how it brings you closer to your goals.

What do you do?

Well, most people just go with whatever they get their hands on and hope for the best. Lost in the forest.

Now, let’s take a different approach. Let’s say you sit down and write the following:

I want to be able to approach people in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru in a friendly way, ask them some simple questions about themselves, their families and their lives and talk about and compliment the surroundings. I don’t need to show off, so having two or three ways to talk about each of these things is fine.

I’m not great at remembering things, but if I set aside enough time to practise I can do it. I’ll be talking to local people so I should learn words and phrases that are appropriate to that area. I’m travelling in the summer, so that gives me six months to get ready.  

A path through the forest

A path through the forest

OK, it might sound a bit contrived, but what do you notice?

It’s now manageable. There’s a path through the forest.

It’s:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Bound

(Can you match them up?)

The next stage is to break it down even further, but we’ll leave that for another day.

Whatever your language goals, and whether you’re a beginner or heading for fluency, you need to start right here.

So over to you! Set your goals in stone right now.

Now for some accountability! Leave a comment below and share your goals with me!

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