GOAL SETTING is probably the most fundamental step in a language-learning journey.
Without a clear vision as to WHY exactly you're learning a language, chances are you'll lose motivation as soon as life gets in the way.
Learning goals help you decide exactly what you need to know and what is not that important.
This makes learning more feasible and enjoyable and allows you to measure your progress and "see" the results.
And because I need to practice what I preach, I’ve decided to share with you what MY language-learning goals are. But before I do that, I’d like to get a few things straight.
1. Being a language teacher or having the highest measurable language proficiency certification doesn’t mean you are done with learning.
Of course, you don’t have to pay for courses for the rest of your life, but your formative journey does continue in some way, shape, or form. It may be intentional or a by-product of a never-ending quest for knowledge and self-development.
Having said that, …
2. One should never feel unaccomplished or insufficient in their language-learning journey. Wherever you are, you’ve already made progress, and you should celebrate that.
Just because there’s so much more to learn in a language doesn’t mean your knowledge is “not enough” or inferior.
You and only you decide when enough is enough. If you’ve achieved a decent level of English (or any other foreign language) to allow you to USE it as a tool to do your job well, to communicate with clarity and precision, and to be autonomous, you don’t “need” to continue learning. Nor do you need an accolade of certificates to prove that you’re “good enough”.
3. There’s always a WHY behind what we do.
People only NEED sufficient knowledge to survive and be able to function in society. Everything else that we intentionally CHOOSE to learn is not a need but a want.
So why would most folks WANT to learn a foreign language?
Here’s what a survey suggests are some of the main reasons:
To communicate better when traveling
To refresh their language skills
Out of pure interest in the language
For their current job
To help with a job search
To improve or maintain mental fitness
For a family member or partner
To understand their heritage better
I would also add “desire to belong and be validated” to this list.
Back to MY language goals. A questionnaire that I recently filled in (created by my dear colleague Katie @englishcustomized ) made me reflect on what exactly my own learning goals are.
I’m sharing my answers with you:
What is your language-learning goal?
A high level of fluency and aptness. Being able to talk about most topics with ease and flexibility, quickly retrieving a wide range of vocabulary, including topic-specific terms; achieving a high level of lexical precision and sophistication in my oral and written production.
Expressing myself accurately, but also creatively, convincingly, and beautifully.
Besides wanting to be an expert in the subject I teach (so I can help my clients better), my desire is to master the art of eloquence and use language in a skillful way to convey important ideas and touch people’s hearts.
I believe words are incredibly powerful and language is one of the most beautiful human inventions. I want to be able to use its full potential to make a difference.
How would you use that?
I don’t know exactly, but I’d like to use my voice to build bridges and make a difference, perhaps by writing a book/blog, creating quality content on social media, public speaking (?)… I want to somehow amplify the voice of oppressed or misrepresented social groups.
Looking at my answer more closely, I came to the realization that the offers I have created for my clients actually reflect my language-learning goals.
LEX-PRESS YOURSELF helps people to expand their vocabulary by engaging with compelling texts and SPEAK YOUR MIND provides a safe space to use all that advanced vocabulary in meaningful conversations about important societal matters.
If you’re still not sure exactly why you’re learning English (or any other language), the best way to figure that out is by asking yourself the following questions:
What do I want to be able to DO with this language?
Why is this important?
How do I feel about my language learning at the moment? (Some ideas: content/confident/excited/hopeful/curious/motivated/focused/tired/uninterested/bored/judged/frustrated/disheartened…)
How will I feel when I reach my goals?
Your answers to those questions will reveal some (unconscious) truths about you and will give more sense to your learning journey (and perhaps even fine-tune what you do as a professional).
They will determine what is essential to learn and what is irrelevant and will narrow down your focus, saving you precious time and energy.
They will allow you to see the hidden motives behind your goals. Get deeper and keep asking "why" after every answer. For example, if your goal is "to pass an exam", are you, perhaps, doing this to impress others or get their approval? If "personal growth" is your reason, why is that important for you? If you "just love the language", why do you think that is and how does that make you feel? How does your relationship with this language affect the way you see yourself and others?
These questions are far from easy, but I hope you take the time to reflect on them.
Remember that language is never your goal. It's what you will be able to do with that language, the doors it will open for you, the person it will help you become, and the way it will make you feel.