If I were to ask you what your goals are, many of you would say: "I want to improve my English. Others would try to be a little more specific and say " I want to understand English speakers" or "I want to improve my grammar."
What do these "vague" goals actually mean? How do you know how to achieve them, or or when you have actually achieved them? How can a teacher help you when the words are so general they don't really mean anything.
So... what's the answer?
It's important for you to have a dream, a destination you want to reach. However, if you truly want to reach that destination, you can't just hope it will happen by saying you want to improve. You need real strategies that will help you achieve your dream.
Instead of having vague, undefined goals, you need to set realistic targets for yourself - targets you can actually hit or achieve.
Business experts and psychologists have proven that setting SMART goals will help you get to your destination much more efficiently and effectively. They will also allow you to measure and see t he progress you have made.
The word SMART is an acronym for the words: SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ATTAINABLE, REALISTIC AND TIMELY.
'Watch the following video on SMART goals. Then, think about how the strategy could be used to help you set "real" goals for different aspects of your English learning.
So what does this all mean?
One way to think about SMART GOALS is to think of them as a series of smaller, easy to accomplish action steps towards achieving your bigger goal.
If you use this method, you are more likely to move one step closer to your final goal instead of always being disappointed with yourself and your the progress. You are also more likely to develop the self-discipline to do the required work, and the belief that you can eventually achieve your bigger goal.
- Make your goal(s) specific, not general.
- What do you want to accomplish? Saying you want to improve your English grammar is general. It doesn't really mean anything because you don't really know what you really want, or how to measure it.
- On the other hand, if you are an advanced level student, start with something like " I want to be able to write with only a few verb tense mistakes by the end of the term, or I want to understand and use prepositions properly 80% of the time."
- Don't say you want to improve your communication skills.Try something like this: I want to be able to comfortably carry on a ten minute conversation with a stranger.
- Make your goals measurable. For example, if you want to make fewer verb tense errors in your writing, start working towards that goal by learning which tenses to use in your writing.
- Start proofreading and editing your writing. Finally, count the number of verb tense errors your teacher has marked. Are you making fewer errors each time? Don't give up after one or two tries. Keep doing this over a period of time, and measure the improvement.
- Are you getting closer to your goal? If you do reach your goal- extend the goal,or develop another one.
- Make sure you can achieve your goal within a realistic amount of time.
- Don't set too many at the same time. For example, if you are not comfortable speaking English out of class, don't think you will be fluent and comfortable at the end of three months. Instead, decide that you want to be comfortable speaking in a few non-survival situations. Then, make a plan and stick to it.
- If you never speak English outside of class, decide to join a church, a club, a meet-up group, or a sports team. Do this regularly, and as often as possible. Participate, become engaged rather than sitting back and letting others do the talking. Become as comfortable as you can with that particular group.
- After a few weeks, try to determine if your comfort level has increased.
- Continue measuring it. Are you now using your English spontaneously with strangers, at work?
- Make sure you goal is relevant to your needs.
- Focus on areas you are weak in rather than on stronger skills. For example, if your pronunciation is OK, leave it alone.
- Decide what you DO need to work on now. How about your vocabulary? Do you still use simple words like bad, good nice, interesting, have, be, and do instead of better words that show you are not a beginner.
- Determine the kind of vocabulary you want to be able to actively use correctly in three months.
- Make sure these words are useful ones for your life - NOT the kind you will only use once on a TOEFL test. Then, make a plan as to how you intend to accomplish this. Make your plan specific, measurable and realistic.
- Set a time frame, or deadline within which you want to achieve your small goals.
- Remember. There is no magic. Your English will not be perfect in three months. It takes time.
- But, you CAN make fewer mistakes in your writing and speaking. You CAN improve your ability to listen to the news, or understand more complicated instructions at work. You CAN start feeling more comfortable stepping outside your comfort zone and speaking to English speakers.
Let me know what you think, or if you have some suggestions of your own.