Because foreign language learning is a long-term project, setting specific, achievable goals is critical if you want to stay on track and make continual progress at a good rate. You first time planning your own course of study, though, it hard to know where to start. Here are some tactics to help you set good goals whether this is your first foreign language for fifth.
Set Your Time Frame and Study Time
Even if you hope to develop near-native fluency in the language some day, you’ll still need short-term goals to keep you on track. If you’re planning on reaching anything close to working fluency, one year out is a good time frame to start with. Then break the year down into four three-month quarters and set specific goals for each (check the next section on communication goals for examples).
Also consider how much time you have to invest in studying and practicing this language. Taking an eight-hour-a-day intensive course for three months will move you along a lot faster than spending half an hour a day.
Even half an hour a day of “serious study” is usually enough to make steady progress, though. You can easily sneak in a little extra study time by carrying vocab notes around so you can study while waiting in line or using an audio course you can listen to in the car.
Start with Communication Goals
Communication goals focus on what you want to be able to do with the language you’re studying. They’re goals like “order a meal in a restaurant,” “get the gist of a radio news broadcast” and “write a note explaining where I went and when I’ll be back.” Setting this type of goals ensures that you make progress on the things that matter most. It also helps motivate you because you’ll really feel like you’re making progress.
As much as possible, avoid goals like “get to chapter 5” or “learn the dative case.” These are too abstract to ensure that they’ll really help you (what if chapter 4 is full of stuff you don’t really need?) or motivate you with the promise of new communication skills.
Set your three month communication goals for speaking, listening, reading and writing. Then break those down into what you need to learn week by week in order to reach those goals.
Surprises are all part of the fun of foreign language learning. Because you can never quite be sure what any given language is going to throw at you, your goals don’t have to be set in stone.
Maybe one of your one-month goals was to be able to relate a story in the past tense, but you discover that the language you’re studying has several past tenses and it’s going to take you a while to learn to use each one. Just adjust your goals to reflect that and concentrate on learning to use one past tense at a time.
For specific strategies that will help you reach your language learning goals faster, check out Faster Foreign Language Learning.