How to Set Successful Language Learning Goals (Even When Studying Alone)


Oh hey January, how’s it going?! Yeah…I know this year is going to be different. I’m going to do what I set out to do this year, January, just you watch me. Those New Years resolutions are happening.

4 days later…

Well, just one more chocolate. This Christmas food really needs eating.

Well, just five more minutes on Angry Birds. These pigs really need putting in their places.

Well, just one more year when I don’t complete my New Years resolutions. This year is off to a bad start.

If this sounds familiar, you need this blog post in your life. We’re talking goal setting. And not just the setting, but also the scoring – aka the doing. This year, your language learning goals won’t know what’s hit them. You ready? Of course you are.

Goal setting for language learning is so important if you want to reach fluency. Click through to read how to set successful language learning goals and get your free worksheet to do just that!

How to Set Realistic Yet Successful Language Learning Goals When Studying Alone

Your Free Worksheet

Because actions speak louder than words (primary school flashback, anyone?) I’ve made you a digital worksheet to fill in for your language goal as you read this post.

I recommend downloading it before reading any further by clicking the image below to get it straight in your inbox. Woop!

Be specific

The first thing we need to discuss is to stop setting bland, vague, or dream-like goals. Just stop.

There is a difference between a dream and a goal. Your dream may be to speak a language fluently, but your goal needs to be much more specific, targeted, and actionable.

If you say “I will learn Spanish”, well, that’s great ‘n’ all but where do you begin? What do you already know? How far do you plan to go? How will you measure your progress? What will you use to help you learn along the way? When will your learning fit into your life?

All of these questions are key to setting not just a wishy-washy half-hearted “meh” goal, but a successful and realistic “heck yeah” goal that you can learn from, be proud of, and use as a basis for other future goals.

Let’s talk a little about each question. For each of them, you don’t need a definite answer. Your responses may change throughout your studies, but to have something to work with at the beginning and to really think about your answers to these questions helps to give you more focus and direction.

In the workbook attached to this blog, you can answer these questions for yourself. It’s a digital workbook so you can enter your answers directly onto your computer and save it if you don’t have access to a printer. Yay! Click here to download it now and get started.

What do you already know?

Realising that you’re not starting from complete zero knowledge is an encouraging place to start when learning a new language.

Of course, there may come a time when you’re venturing into a language that you know absolutely nothing about.

In which case, I’d recommend spending a teeny bit of time on Wikipedia figuring out what possible links might exist with languages you do know something about.

For example, did you know that the word for ‘cinema’ is similar in Dutch and Indonesian?

Familiarity is remarkably powerful. There’ll always be something that you find familiar, even with the furthest languages from your own.

How far do you plan to go?

There’s a difference between learning a language for a weekend away and learning a language to live in another country. Although you may not know yet how far you want to take the language and to what level, it can be good to establish a rough idea as this will shape the direction you go with your language studies.

For example, do you need to bother learning how to write in a language if you’re just visiting for a week? Probably not.

However, this question isn’t worth fretting over if your current answer is “err…it’s just for fun.” I feel you. Most of the languages I’ve studied have been just for fun.

But when I know if I’m aiming for a basic grasp, conversational level, or pro status, it helps me to decide where to focus my attention and studies.

How will you measure your progress?

This is the biggest problem many language learners face. The first flush of a new language is fun and joyful and lovely.

But then things start to get harder, the ‘slope’ of achievement gets steeper, and complete lack of motivation seems to become our closest friend. Sucks!

Do you want to know one thing that really helps to stop this? Measuring your progress. Documenting your learning has a huge impact on motivation, improvements, and overall success.

The good news is that this can now be done in more ways then ever: YouTube, blogs, Periscope, a notebook, Snapchat, video recorders on your phone, audio recorders on your phone…the list goes on.

Having something recorded and documenting my progress throughout my language learning is one of the best changes I made to my process over the past couple of years.

Decide what feels comfortable for you.

If putting a video of yourself speaking the language you’re learning on YouTube scares you half to death then don’t do it.

If the idea of forcing yourself to write daily sentences in the language you’re learning is incredibly monotonous then don’t do it.

Pick ways that work for you. After all, remember you can always change how you document your progress along the way.

What will you use to learn along the way?

I’m Learning Spanish. Great, what with?

I’m not asking you to create an extensive or exclusive list here, just to have a few different suggestions in mind of what you will use to learn your target language.

We’re not necessarily just talking Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur Audio Course Series 1, and FlashSticks.

It’s more about starting to compile an ever-growing list of specific and not so specific resources, tools, and ideas you can use to help you learn.

For example, rather than just random names of specific titles of resources, feel free to also include vague things like video, songs, books.

This may seem obvious, but from time to time you will find yourself drifting off in boredom with your language routine.

You know the saying “if you’re bored then you’re boring”? Well, in this case, if you’re bored then chances are your language learning routine is boring!

Mix things up! Keep it enjoyable.

Such general things as ‘video’ can be defined further down the line as you experiment and figure out what works for you and, possibly more importantly, what doesn’t.

When will your learning fit into your life?

Again, at the beginning stages, this doesn’t need to be an exact science but having at least an idea of when different components of your language learning routine will fit into your life as it stands is going to put you in good stead in terms of success.

My advice here: fit language learning around your life, don’t fit your life around language learning.

The more language learning is crowbarred into your daily life, the less enjoyable it’s likely to be.

Identify times when you’re not doing labour intensive tasks, such as washing up; or you’re doing something that could also include language learning, such as driving.

(I’m talking about listening to audio courses here – not so much about booking an italki Skype lesson for your commute)

The easier it fits in to begin with, the more enjoyable it will be, and the more willing you will be to move things around to fit more of it in comfortably. Hooray!

If you haven’t already read my first ebook Finding Time in Your Life for Language Learning, now is the time. It’s free right here.

Use the present tense

Saying you “will” do something postpones it and therefore “de-prioritises” it, meaning that it seems further away then it actually is.

Taking out that word “will” brings our goals into the present, therefore making us think more actively about how we can achieve them.

Simple but effective little nugget of goal setting wisdom there!

Goals are like onions, they have layers

Goal setting for language learning is so important if you want to reach fluency. Click through to read how to set successful language learning goals and get your free worksheet to do just that!

Another point that many people forget is that simply saying something will not make it so. We have to put our words into action to make things happen.

However, a wide open vague goal such as “learn more vocab” is only the beginning – or the core layer of our onion.

To really succeed, we need to expand on each layer and ask ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ each time.

For example, “learn more vocab” might end up looking something like this…

Goal setting for language learning is so important if you want to reach fluency. Click through to read how to set successful language learning goals and get your free worksheet to do just that!

Each outside layer goes a little deeper than the last, and gets a little more specific.
This way, that vague dream of learning more vocab becomes a possible and achievable reality. When something becomes possible, it instantly becomes realistic.

Do you also notice how each outer layer is explaining how the layer before it will happen?

Your Free Worksheet

Language learning goals are so important if you want to see real progress all the time. If you missed it at the top, click below to download your free worksheet to get you started with setting successful language learning goals.

What are your language learning goals for 2016? How do you plan to achieve them? Share in the comments!

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About Lindsay Dow

Why hello there! I'm Lindsay and I do Languages. I blog, vlog and teach all things language. I blog about languages right here at Lindsay Does Languages, and about travel over at Mundo Trundle. If you're looking for language learning inspiration then stay a while. You might find just what you're looking for. :)
  • Great points on setting goals! I really like the point about being clear about how far you want to go with a language– this one has been super helpful to me. I realized dabbling is okay, or learning a little bit is still something worthwhile. I started learning Dutch in September and planned for it to be a 4 month-ish project.I liked having the boundaries, and now I feel free to decide whether I want to take it further!

    • Absolutely! I was nodding along reading that whole comment! Good luck with Dutch if you decide to go further! 🙂

  • andreaclaire

    What I got from this was that setting goals are like ogres. 😉

    (And I really hope you’ve seen Shrek.)