Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

March 9, 2011

Setting SMART goals for your English language learning.

You have a language dream – how can you get there?

Start with your destination. Don’t worry where you are now, how much, or how little you know – where are you planning to go?

Without a destination in sight it is very hard to keep motivated and keep on track. You wouldn’t set off on a journey (at least most of us wouldn’t) not knowing where you were going. Your destination may need to be adjusted on the way and that’s absolutely fine but you really need to be able to plan this learning journey from wherever you are now to where you desire to be and it is this ‘map’ you have made that will help you to develop your skills, keep you focused and help you find the necessary support you need on the way.

One way of keeping yourself focused and motivated is to set targets for your language learning just as you would for any other process that you need to work through to get to your goal. We have all heard about SMART goals in other areas of business so why not set some for your language learning?

Here is a suggestion for how to set such goals to maintain your progress and keep your English language dream in focus.

Watch this overview on what SMART goals are and how to set them

Now let’s have a look at how that can be translated into your English language learning.

GOAL:  this is your overall aim it might be a dream (to use English as well as Pierce Brosnan) or it might be something more concrete (to make sure I get to do all the major marketing presentations next year). In either case it will not happen overnight and you’ll need to work out a strategy to get you there.

So let’s make these goals SMART!

(some of the words differ a bit here)


Make them specific and create steps. If you want to be chosen to do the presentations what changes do you need to make to your English in order for that to happen? Here are some things you might need to improve:

  • Get a wider and more varied vocabulary
  • Have better pronunciation
  • Perfect the ability to tell a joke

Whatever you think is stopping you from getting to your desired  level of English write it down. If you are not sure then ask your teacher. If you don’t have a teacher then check with someone else or consider whether you can do this by yourself – should you get professional help?


How are you going to monitor your progress?

If we take the specific goals above;

  • You will know if you’ve learned new words.
  • You may be able to find suitable jokes from presentations you’ve heard or by asking colleagues but will you know if you are telling them well?
  • With pronunciation can you really know how to improve it? There are some online tools and you can decide to use these, or use a voice recorder. You may decide that you need some help from a teacher.

The key here is to be honest and really look at the detail. Think carefully about how to measure progress and decide on the best strategy for this. You must be open and balance the reality against the dream. How important is the dream?


Here again you have to be honest with yourself! Could you really ever be just like Pierce Brosnan – no, but you can use him as your model and get closer. Think about what is realistically attainable for you.

  • If you set a goal to learn 10 new words a week in context can you achieve that?
  • Maybe you’ll get a teacher to help with pronunciation and meet once a week face to face or on Skype
  • You can compile a list of jokes from the internet. You could search for ones that are suitable for presentations. You might look for videos so that you  have the audio too and you can copy the speaker.
  • Maybe you can record yourself and then compare with the original. 
  • Could you set aside two sessions per week ?

These are all the kind of questions you must explore.

By breaking the tasks down into smaller chunks you can set yourself an achievable study programme. Small steps that you can achieve well are better than large aims that are too time-consuming.


In the video the term for ‘R’ is responsible – whose job is it. The answer here is ultimately – yours. However, it is realistic to ask for help if you need it. Then part of the responsibility can be shared with your teacher or the learning group you choose.

More things to consider:

  • How much time can I reasonably spend on studying to make the outcome effective?
  • It’s fine to push yourself but you have to know what you can manage
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help we all study and work better when we have someone to make us accountable


Setting time limits helps us to plan. Maybe you’ve set an overall deadline for being the chosen presenter – say a year. Then you need to break down the tasks you’ve chosen and assign times to those too.

  • Two sessions on vocabulary, one on pronunciation and one on jokes gives you a reasonable study plan for the week – would that work with your schedule?
  • A study programme starts to emerge.
  • The final piece is to add in some assessment – this can be informal but make it regular say every 4 weeks and make sure you are honest about your progress to date.
  • Or better still find an accountability partner – you can keep each other focused and encouraged.

Setting goals that are SMART, being honest with yourself and then sticking to the plan will get you well on your way to reaching your dream.

Two more words – flexibility – if it’s not working re-visit, re-assess – re-plan and – reward– don’t forget to ‘pat yourself on the back’ when things go well – it drives your motivation.

You will get there in the end!

Other posts you might like:

How to be a good language student

When English skills just aren’t good enough

Business English – what is it you really need to learn?

If you would like find out about my English language Mastery programme see here


  1. I did this yesterday, funnily enough. I like to make my students goals SMARTER, with the final two letters standing for enjoyable and recorded, two aspects I think are just as vital as the the others. To me, goal setting is a fundamental of a decent course, so I’m curious about how many teachers actually do this. Hopefully your post will encourage a few more!

    Comment by James Taylor — March 9, 2011 @ 12:15 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for your comment. I like the E R and agree this is also very important too. I do feel that there is sometimes an element of drifting in some courses. I work mostly with individual students or, at most, groups of 4 so it’s vital to know where we are going or the whole thing can be a waste of time and money.

      Comment by rliberni — March 9, 2011 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

  2. If you’d like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web-based application:


    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A Vision Wall (inspiring images attached to yor goals) is available too.
    Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web, Android and iPhone apps.

    Comment by Dan — March 11, 2011 @ 9:09 am | Reply

    • Thank you very much for this information Dan. I’ll certainly have a look and hope that others will be interested in doing so as well.

      Comment by rliberni — March 11, 2011 @ 9:57 am | Reply

  3. This has been officially sanctioned “good practice” in UK ESOL (i.e. ELT for speakers of other languages resident in the UK)for about ten years – learners set targets and these are recorded on individual learning plans. There’s a lot of information on this here http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk

    For me I can see the value of the kind of goal setting you talk about here, about learners thinking about things for themselves, and making plans outside their learning time, but it has become something of a stick with which to beat people with – inspection reports claiming “individual targets not specific enough” etc. I’ve blogged about this on my site a bit as well. http://samuelshep.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/whats-so-smart-about-targets-arguments-against/ and here http://samuelshep.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/whats-so-smart-about-targets-the-arguments-for/

    Comment by samuelshep — March 12, 2011 @ 10:03 am | Reply

    • Hi Samuel and thank you for your comment. The kind of targets I am envisaging have nothing whatsoever to do with target setting practised by educational institutions. I am thinking about individuals who are working mostly by themselves and looking at ways in which they can keep themselves focused and motivated. I would agree with you about the kind of target setting that exists in FE Colleges etc.. (I used to work in them myself) but even though these may be set by learners the overall ‘destination’ is not an individual desire I think. My idea is for learners to take ownership of their own goals and aspirations for their language and create the ‘map’ that will get them there. I am aiming this mainly at autonomous learners.

      Thank you for the links. It is good to get more information about this and perhaps see where goal setting might be ‘manipulated’ for different ends.

      Comment by rliberni — March 12, 2011 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

  4. […]  Setting SMART goals for your English Language learning […]

    Pingback by Is learning English becoming overwhelming? « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language — April 1, 2011 @ 10:39 pm | Reply

  5. […] 3.  Decide how much time you can dedicate to improving your skills daily, weekly etc.. and formulate a plan (see my post Setting SMART goals for your English). […]

    Pingback by Learning English needs a lot of stamina! « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language — September 9, 2011 @ 5:46 pm | Reply

  6. […]  Setting SMART goals for your English language learning […]

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  7. good comments

    Comment by kp — December 19, 2011 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

    • Thank you 🙂

      Comment by rliberni — December 19, 2011 @ 4:48 pm | Reply

  8. […] you’re interested, check out this post suggesting SMART goals for language learning, or this brief article on using goals that focus on communication, or even the abstract to this […]

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  12. We too love helping people craft goals. We work with cancer sufferers, people battling depression and people needing serious motivation and goals are that first step.

    Comment by Dan Jones — July 24, 2012 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

  13. I want to suggest the English learners that always try to set goal, strategy, process and time to learn the English language. If you are going according to the cycle of learning English which define in this post very well then you can easily learn it. Thanks for sharing important task.

    Comment by AnnyIngram — December 18, 2013 @ 10:41 am | Reply

  14. Smart Goals to motivate yourself to success

    Comment by salomon juan marcos villarreal — September 29, 2016 @ 9:35 am | Reply

  15. Being focused and systematic is always good when it comes to exam preparation. 🙂

    Comment by rliberni — September 30, 2016 @ 8:59 am | Reply

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