If you want to improve your English, and you’re not setting specific goals and learning targets, you’re wasting your time.
This is especially true for those of you who already have a foundation in English. You’re at a stage where you want to develop more advanced skills, such as participating in meetings, making presentations etc., and communicate with greater accuracy and nuance.
The good thing is, most of you already know that having a goal is important. When I meet clients for the first time, you usually have something in mind.
For working professionals, you often say,
I want to use English smoothly at work.
Help, I get stressed out whenever I have to use English at work!
Way back when, I was obsessed with Japanese dramas, so I decided to learn Japanese. My goal: to be able to watch Japanese dramas without subtitles. I wish someone had told me then, that it wasn’t a good goal to have. (Remember Beach Boys? ↓↓↓ I was so inspired!)
What’s the difference between aspirations and goals?
What I mentioned above (use English smoothly, not get stressed because of English, watch movies without subtitles) are actually wonderful aspirations, rather than goals.
They are a vision of where we want to get to. Someday.
Unfortunately, ‘someday’ also means that they are far away, and kind of hazy, like a dream.
If only someone had told me back then: if you really want to learn a language, it helps to have both aspirations and specific goals. I would have saved so much money, time and energy!
Well then, what’s the difference?
Aspirations are like happy dreams. You’re doing something you want to do, having fun, and feeling awesome.
Goals are the milestones that help you make your dreams come true.
Inside these goals, you’ll need to have a few, or perhaps many, mini-goals—what I call ‘learning targets’.
So, if learning English is like climbing a mountain, your aspiration is the summit, your goals are where you camp, and your learning targets are where you stop to rest as you climb. Not that I know anything about mountain-climbing!
The more specific your goals and targets are, the more effective your learning will be. When you get specific, you give yourself focus.
Focus is at the root of many good things—take it from the Master himself:
The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.Bruce Lee
5 Reasons You Should Create Specific Goals
Specific goals create a virtuous cycle.
See the big picture: Focused learning → Progress in the areas that matter → You get a sense of achievement and feel more confident → You feel motivated to keep improving → You pick a new target, and the cycle starts all over again.
You’ll know what to focus on right now.
If you can read most of this post, you’re an Upper Intermediate or Advanced learner. If you’ve come this far and still want to keep going, you most likely have fluency as your aspirational goal.
The challenge with language learning at the higher levels is that you’re going for depth and precision.
With four skills (listening, reading, writing, speaking) and three domains of knowledge (vocabulary, grammar and culture) to cover, identifying one or even two as your top priorities, will help you go further, faster.
You’ll have clarity about what resources you need.
With the Internet, global online shopping and advancements in technology, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to how we want to learn. There are so many tools out there. Each targets a different aspect of learning, at various stages of difficulty, and with its own set of pros and cons.
For the most part, it’s a wonderful thing. We now have access to resources we didn’t before (where was the Internet when I started learning Japanese!), and it means that we have more than one way to improve our language skills.
The downside is that with infinite options, it is overwhelming to know what to use, so we tend to default to the popular or common option. It may work, it may not. How many times have you bought something, only to realise after a while that it wasn’t exactly what you needed?
You’ll know what kind of lessons to take.
When you were a beginner, you needed to build a foundation, so it might have been a good idea to use a textbook.
Now that you have built a foundation, it’s much more efficient to identify your needs, pick your own targets and work with a tutor to achieve your goals, than to rely on whatever pre-determined sequence a textbook offers.
Knowing the outcomes you want to achieve will tell you what strengths and skills to look for in your tutors. It also means that you can tell your tutor what you want to achieve—this gives your tutor direction, and helps them to create and shape lessons to your needs—which means better lessons for you!
You’ll save an incredible amount of energy, time and money.
When you’ve done the work of figuring out what you actually need before you start, you’ll know what you need to spend your time and money on, in order to get the results you want.
Once you’ve secured the tools you need, all you need to do is learn, practice and improve.
No more time and energy wasted wondering, “Should I do X or Y?”
With that in mind, consider your own goals for learning English.
Are they mostly aspirational, or are they specific enough for your needs?