Setting yourself up for successful language acquisition
Reach for the Stars
The end goal of learning languages tends to be the ability to speak them fluently. While this is an admirable goal, it also is quite vague. What does fluency really mean when learning a new language?
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For some the ability to hold conversations with locals is enough. Others might prefer to continue onto a more technical level in order to get into translation or interpretation. Whatever the language learning goals are, it is important that they are SMART goals.
Set Smart Goals For Learning a Language
A brief explanation of SMART goals for those who haven't had the pleasure of sitting through the corporate training seminar:
What, precisely, is the reason for learning a language in the first place? The more specific the better, it is impossible to hit a target without knowing where to aim.
How is progress measured? What are the indications of success?
Fluency is an excellent goal, but it is important to set incremental goals along the way. It impossible to go from Zero to Fluent in one's target language in only a few weeks.
Do the incremental goals serve the long term vision? Do these language learning goals serve the purpose of learning a language in the first place?
What does the time frame look like? How do these deadlines serve the greater vision?
This is what it looks like in theory. With Russian as the target language and no prior exposure whatsoever, what do SMART goals look like in practice?
Language Learning Goals: SMART Goal Example:
Be capable of writing the alphabet and pronouncing each letter on sight, including letter combinations.
Create a recording day 1 to go back to and maintain audio and written logs every day for 2 weeks. Looking for easier recall, smoother handwriting, and more fluid pronunciation.
No doubt that learning an alphabet is not only achievable, but also necessary for learning a language.
Learning the alphabet is relevant to the larger vision, being able to speak with native speakers.
Two weeks to learn the alphabet. Maintaining a written record will allow for visualization of progress. Following the above, two weeks should be more than enough time to learn a new alphabet, so what's next?
Identifying Your Language Goals
Language learning goals are specific to each individual and for that reason it impossible to say precisely what the goal for any one person should be. As previously mentioned, for many people conversational is as much as they will ever need. For those who wish to learn a language in order to use it professionally, conversational will not be enough.
Figuring out where to set the bar can be difficult, but if the vision is to learn Mandarin Chinese for business the goal setting will look different than if the vision is to be mistaken for a native speaker or just communicate to people in their native language.
If the plan is to visit a country that speaks the new language in six months, then that also helps with setting a time frame. Get to the point of speaking the language before taking the trip is motivation to speak more often.
These are just a few ways that language learning goals can be effectively set. Not all goals are created equal, it's supposed to be that way. Take time to understand exactly why and the how and what will fall into place.
Assess How Much Time You Can Set Aside for Studying
When setting goals, one of the most important aspects is being honest about how much time can realistically be committed to the goal. If focused reading is difficult, but there's only 15 minutes per day to dedicate to it anyway, it might be worth trying.
If working on pocket phrases before a big international trip is what there's time for, then write examples down to enhance the exercise. Describe the week and practice how conversations will go when speaking with the locals.
Not everyone has all the time in the world to dedicate to learning a language. But focused effort on SMART goals will bring most people closer to the finish line. This can be difficult to see when just starting out, but there are ways to make it work. So before excuses start to bubble up, here are some ways to avoid self sabotaging when learning a language.
Lower Beginner A1
Something people often overlook when undertaking a new endeavor is, in order to be great at anything, it is necessary to risk being bad at it for a while. During this beginning phase it is important to focus on setting achievable goals that all support the main goal.
Whether it's learning the alphabet, practicing some new words, taking the time to write irrespective of how painstaking it is, or reading passages aloud, there are ample things one can do starting out to achieve success.
One thing to avoid, however, is looking for the perfect language learning environment. At the end of the day the most important thing is to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Stop Looking for the “Perfect” Language Learning Environment
Everyone learns differently. This is especially true when it comes to language learning. For this reason alone trying to cultivate the "perfect" language learning environment is often counterproductive and a great way to procrastinate while feeling busy.
The only thing that really matters when trying to create an environment that works is to personalize it for each individual. When it comes to developing a personalized framework, this is a pretty solid method:
A Basic Reward System
An aspect of setting goals that is underappreciated is the development of a proper reward system. Sometimes people forget that rewards are powerful, likely because they don't feel they deserve to be rewarded for something they think they should have done by now.
Still, rewards are important and there are some language learning rewards that can certainly help keep people maintain motivation when things get difficult. It's almost so obvious that it is easy to overlook. After all, why learn a language with no intention to get feet on the ground and use it?
Go on a language adventure
One of the great joys of any language instructor is knowing that their students are taking their newly found language skills and applying them in real life, real world situations. If someone spends the time and puts the effort into learning a language, visiting a country where that language is spoken should be a top priority.
Immersing in the culture and spending time with the locals is one of the privileges bilinguals are bestowed with upon acquisition of their target language. While it may be easier said than done, going on a language adventure is something everyone should do at some point in their lives.
Goal setting is paramount for success in just about any endeavor. Language learning is no exception to this. With this guide, hopefully the concept has been demystified a bit and deciding what to do and where to go from here will be easy.
Unfortunately, that's where easy stops. Language learning is difficult, but by using SMART goals and zeroing aim in on the target, things become slightly less complex. There are many examples out there of how to stay motivated when learning a new language, but having a proper reward system in place takes the guess work out of the equation. Whether the focus is on becoming fluent, being able to explain complex legal documents, or learning the key pieces of the alphabet before fulling diving in to some other goals, be sure to reward the effort being put forth.
As always, be sure to write and keep writing. Whether it's just building up a foundation of vocabulary words or working on organizing phrases into poetry, having the written history of progress is always worthwhile.
It will be difficult, but you can do difficult things and become great. So keep doing difficult things and working to become great. I will be working to do the same by your side.