I want to get better at English is not a goal.
I wish it were.
If having this thought were all that were needed, we would all be masters of English and many other languages I’m sure!
Why isn’t “I want to get better at English” a goal?
It’s not S.M.A.R.T.
I don’t mean smart; I mean S.M.A.R.T.
Perhaps you have heard of the S.M.A.R.T. philosophy introduced decades ago. It’s an acronym (a set of letters with each letter having a specific meaning). In order to be a S.M.A.R.T. goal, any goal that you set for learning a language must have the following characteristics:
Your goal must be SPECIFIC.
For example, instead of saying, “I want to get better at English,” your goal should be something like, “I want to be able to give a 5-minute presentation about a topic on which I consider myself an expert in front of an audience of 5 people.”
Do you see and feel the difference?
Your goal must be MEASURABLE.
In other words, there must be a method by which you can tell if you have reached your goal or not. So, using our above example, we could measure the results of your presentation by asking the audience afterwards if they understood 85% or more of the words you used.
This is just an example; you could choose any number of methods to calculate your success. The point is you must choose some way to measure it. If you don’t measure your goal, you have no way of knowing if you reached it!
Your goal must be ACHIEVABLE.
What is an achievable goal? It’s a goal that makes you feel a little uncomfortable. But it is a goal that you can reach with strong commitment, guidance, and the right tools. For example, if you have just begun to learn the basics of English (subject + verb) giving a 5-minute presentation by the end of this week would not be an achievable goal.
You'd be pulling your hair out by the end of the day!
You would need to build up your skills over time to accomplish this goal. However, reading aloud to your teacher five grammatically correct sentences that use a subject and a verb might be an achievable goal for you.
It is all relative to where you are right now in your language learning. Be realistic but also be willing to stretch yourself. You want to find that “sweet spot” (that perfect place) between your current skills and acquiring a new skill that will make you feel a little uncomfortable.
Your goal must be RELEVANT.
Your goal must personally relate your life. If you are a mom and have a difficult time understanding your child’s teachers, then learning vocabulary and phrases to use when talking to teachers would be a highly relevant goal.
On the other hand, if you are a salesperson at your company and you desire to be the Director of Sales, setting a goal of learning the vocabulary for engineering would not be relevant right now. Why? Your goal has to apply specifically to YOUR life. You must have an emotional investment in your goal in order for it to have relevance.
Your goal must be TIME-SPECIFIC.
Without a due date or a deadline, there is no urgency to complete the goal. Your goal must be bound by time. For example: “I will learn 10 new business idioms and attempt to use them in a conversation or in an email with my co-workers by the end of next week."
Turning your “I want to get better at English” into a S.M.A.R.T. goal can lead to more success and satisfaction during your language learning journey. Try it for yourself. Think of one small ESL goal you have been considering, and see if you can turn it into a S.M.A.R.T. goal.