When we are starting to learn a new language we typically jump into the details of vocabulary, grammar, pronouns, and verbs… the list is extensive.
But what if I told you that there is a step – and a crucial one – that precedes language learning per se? And what if I told you that this step is so crucial that it can fast-track your language learning progress?
It’s all about setting your language learning goal.
Many times we want to learn a new language but we are not clear on what we want the language for. We tell ourselves that we need the language to work in a new country, or to communicate with locals, or even because it’s the “right thing to do” when we live abroad.
And all that is great. Nothing wrong with that. But it typically is not enough to keep us motivated throughout the learning curve. There will be moments when it’ll be hard and if our motivations are external, it’s almost certain we will procrastinate and not know how to deal with the frustration.
That’s why creating a language learning goal is so crucial – it’s the prize you will keep your eye on when things get tough. And it’s important that the proverbial prize be something that comes from within – ideally a feeling you’ll get when you accomplish the goal.
It can be hard to dig deep into our motivations on our own. Let’s face it – we might not even know what questions to ask ourselves to create this so-called language learning goal. If that’s you, you’re in luck because I’m going to share some important tips to help you create a language-learning goal that makes sense and feels motivating.
Know what you want the language for
When thinking about your goal, make it very specific and simple. Sometimes we say “I want to be fluent” without defining what fluency means to us. So, when starting out creating your language learning goal, think about where, with whom, and in what context you want to use the language.
Is it for work? Are you going to study? Are you going to use the language in daily conversations?
Visualize the situations where you will use this new language and write it down.
Make sure to consult reputable sources, such as embassies and official agencies, to stay up-to-date on the latest regulations. Beware of outdated information from unofficial sources, as rules can change frequently. Remember to use tools like Google Translate if needed to understand foreign websites and resources.
Another source of help can be a family member. Families typically rely on one person for this task, and it can be overwhelming. Make sure to delegate and distribute tasks so no one bites off more than they can chew.
One of the most common reasons that we don’t reach our language learning goals is that it seems too vague or too big. When you are specific, you make it less vague, but it might feel unattainable.
So start small. Make your goal tiny and build up as you go.
Sometimes when creating our language learning goal we feel goal FOMO – if we choose a small goal we’re missing out on bigger achievements. But here’s the thing – once you reach a goal, you can always create another one, a bit bigger. And little by little you get to your ultimate goal, keeping up your motivation and stamina.
A real-life example
Language learning is a huge part of adjusting to a new country, so it’s no surprise that my clients have this challenge. Let me tell you about Grace – we worked together when she was preparing for her move to Portugal from the US, and like most people, she wanted to learn Portuguese because it was “the right thing to do”. Very quickly she realized that pleasing other people – the locals – was not enough to make her book her classes and do the homework.
So she defined her goal – she wanted to have a 5-minute conversation, completely in Portuguese with an Uber driver. That would make her feel independent and functioning in her new country. That also seemed attainable enough.
She gave herself 2 months to achieve the goal and focused her studies on phrases and words she’d use in this type of situation.
When we met one month later, she celebrated the fact that she had been able to have a 5-minute conversation with an Uber driver without using English. And right after the celebration, she set herself a new goal: go to a yoga class in Portuguese and not ask for help in English.
Starting to learn a language can be daunting. But when we have the right structure to organize what we want, when we want it, and how we want it, the abstract becomes tangible.
Our desired outcome becomes ever more real so our language teachers can help us get there faster.
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