Set Goals!

Okay guys, time to take a break from all that learning stuff and talk about something else different, but related:

Setting Goals!

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Setting goals is a major part of learning anything, as I talk about in one of my YouTube videos (which will be coming out soon, I hope!).  I cannot tell you how many people have come to me to talk about English and had no idea what their goals were!

Often when I ask people – whether they are new students, friends or just people I meet at social events – why they are studying a language, a good number of them look at me confused, like they don’t understand the question.  Sometimes they say “Because I want to” or “Because I like languages” or “Because it’s fun.”  Some of them even say “I don’t know.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: if you’re studying a language as a hobby, these reasons are fine.  It’s important to have things that we enjoy.  It makes life more fun.

On the other hand, if you are serious about improving your English skills, these kinds of reasons aren’t going to cut it.

There are two major problems with these types of reasons

  1. Learning English is not always going to be fun
  2. These reasons are not motivating
  3. These reasons do not lead to any actions

Allow me to elaborate (remember this word from the last post?  Go check it out!).

Learning English is not always going to be fun

I’ve been teaching English for a very long time, and I’ve studied Japanese and Spanish, and I’m going to be honest: it isn’t always fun.  In fact, especially between being a beginner and an intermediate learner, it can be frustrating very often.  There were times I wanted to quit and I’ve seen many of my students get so frustrated they want to give up.  If you have been studying a language long enough, you probably know what I mean.  If you have ever studied a language intensely, you probably know what I mean.  Learning a language is usually fun, and it can be very rewarding, but it can also be tough.

So think about that: if your only reason for studying English is “it’s fun”, what is going to happen when it stops being fun?  That’s right, you’ll probably quit.  Why wouldn’t you?

On the other hand, if you have more reasons, you’re more likely to stick with it and keep studying.

“It’s fun” is not motivating enough

You can probably already guess why I said this now, but just in case: not only is English sometimes frustrating, but sometimes you’re just tired, or not feeling well, or down or just… not in the mood to study.  In all these cases, studying will not be fun (even if it was last time you did it).  The problem is, if you want to get better, it’s important to study, and it’s important to study consistently.  Even if it’s not fun, it’s important to keep doing it and develop the habit.

If the only reason you study is because it’s fun, what are you going to do when you “don’t feel like” studying?  That’s right, slack off.  The more you slack off, the easier it becomes to slack off.  It’s a downward spiral.

On the other hand, if you have other, bigger reasons to study, like “I want to communicate with foreigners” or “I want to take the TOEIC” or “I want to travel to America next year”, these reasons will move you to action.  If you can study when it’s not fun, imagine how much easier it will be to study English when it is fun!  Imagine how much better you’ll be in two years if you studied even when it wasn’t fun!  Now, wouldn’t THAT result be fun?

“It’s fun” doesn’t lead to any action

Now we come to the final point, and it’s probably the most important.

“Okay, so just studying English for fun isn’t enough for motivation, I need more reasons,” you might be thinking.  “But as long as I have another big reasons, that’s enough, right?”  No, I’m afraid not.  It will get you motivated, sure, but…

To do what?

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That’s right, one of the biggest issues that learners face is not that they’re not motivated to study.  It’s that they’re very motivated to study but don’t know what to do!

There are too many choices when it comes to learning.  You could buy textbooks, or get a private teacher, or study abroad, or read books, or watch movies, or listen to the radio, or take classes, or use websites or… the list goes on.  But what should you do?

This is why having goals is so important.  Through the process of figuring your goals out and setting them, you can work backwards to seeing what you should be doing now.

  • Are you going to take the TOEIC?  Then it’s simple: buy lots of practice test books and practice!  You could also take classes that specialize in test preparation.
  • Are you going to take a trip to an English speaking country?  You could buy travel guides!  You could buy travel English textbooks.  You could get a teacher who will help you deal with situations you will face in the country.  You could also learn about the culture!
  • Do you want to be able to watch movies without subtitles?  Then don’t waste time building your speaking abilities!  Watch videos on improving your listening.  Or you could buy audio CDs.  You could also get a teacher who will help you build your listening skills.

Those are overly simple answers, and goal setting can be more complex than that, but that’s the basic idea.  If you know what your goal (or goals) is, then you can work backwards and see what kinds of materials and resources you will need (and you won’t need!) to reach those goals.  This will save you a lot of stress and time.

Some of my new students are quite puzzled by my question, and they often say they don’t know what their goals are, or they haven’t thought about it.  This is very easy to solve.  Just think about this:

Imagine yourself in the future, after studying English for three years.

What do you want to be able to do?

That’s it.  Your answer (or answers) is your goal.  People learn things because they can’t do them now.  If you are taking lessons or studying English, it means there’s something you want to do in the future that you can’t do now.

Here is a short YouTube video that gives some good reasons for studying English:

So how about you?  What are your goals?  Share them with me here in the comment section or hit me up on twitter!  See you all next week!

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