Suppose you live in North-West England, and you want to visit a friend in London. You’ve never been there, but you decide to drive down south. You would never trust your good luck to find your friend’s house; most likely, you’d google her address if you didn’t have a built-in Sat-Nav in your car. So, why do most people learning a language only start with a vague intention? “I would like to learn ….” (Fill in the blank). Frequently it ends by being only a wishful thought.

All successful language learners have clear goals

At first you must have a clear idea about your objectives. You must visualise where you see yourself let’s say, in three or five years. All successful language learners have clear goals which allow them to focus on their objective and help them advance in the right direction. Also, when you have set goals, it will be easier for you to know if you are keeping on track and succeeding.

To accomplish your goals, you must know how to set them. You can’t say “I want to speak Italian” and expect it to happen just by magic. Goal setting should start with a clear idea of what you want to achieve, and you should bear in mind that it is not an easy ride. It takes a lot of hard work to excel.

In every motivational speech, we are shown how we can succeed at setting goals for every aspect of our life, and these principles are easily applicable in language learning as well.

Let’s look at these five principles.

1- Set goals that motivate you

Make sure that your goals are relevant to your plans, and that they add value to your life. The outcome must be so important to you that you truly care. This is the force that will drive you to achieve them.

You should be highly motivated. Motivation will drive you to completion.

Your goals should be related to the high priorities in your life. For example, the reason why you want to learn Italian is because you plan to move to the country.

To achieve your goals, you need to be committed and if there’s a deadline, the sense of urgency will keep you on track.

“I must learn Italian within six months because I’m moving to the country at the end of June.”

It is important to write down your goals, and most importantly the reasons why they are important to you. Imagine you want to convince a friend or your partner about the validity of your goal, what would you tell them? Write this statement down, and once you’re happy with it, copy it and hang it in a place where you can see it. It will help you when the journey becomes difficult and you feel like throwing the towel.

2- Make S-M-A-R-T goals

I’m sure you’ve heard about this, but have you applied it in your language learning? SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.

It is important that your goals are specific. They must be clear and must define precisely where you want to end up. Example:” I want to study ten new Italian words and phrases a day.”

Your goals should be measurable. You should have loads of mini-deadlines in your plans.

Examples: 10 new words a day,

finish 4 lessons at the end of the week,

write a letter to a friend in Italian by Friday,

post a video with me talking for 10 minutes in Italian on Sunday.

You can then measure your degree of success and be able to celebrate them when ticking off your accomplishment.

Set attainable goals

Don’t set goals that are too easy or too hard. Both ways you’ll be discouraged and will be more prone to abandon. Instead set yourself goals that are challenging but still reachable.

Set relevant goals

Your goals should be relevant to the outcome you are pursuing.

Example: having a conversation via Skype in English every Wednesday won’t help you reach fluency in Italian within six months so that you can move to Italy. By keeping your goals aligned with your plans, you’ll become laser-focused to get what you want.

Set time-bound goals

We’ve talked about it already. When a goal has a deadline, it produces two effects:

  • It helps you carry on and avoid procrastination.
  • It helps you measure your success.

3- Set your goals in writing

The fact of writing your goals down make them somehow more real and besides, they are there for you as a reminder. It is important to use the term “will” and not “would like”. I, personally use the present tense to make sure they come to completion.

Example: “I will study 10 new words in Italian every day”. I will psychologically put you in the driving seat, you’re in control.

Always use positive verbs:

“I will study one hour a day”. This is motivating, instead of “I will not watch TV for 1 hour every day so that I can study Italian”.

Write all your tasks in a To-Do list and place your goals on top. leave your goals where you can see them daily. Share them with people from your language group for added accountability.

4- Make an action plan

You should plan everything step by step. These are your tasks that once done will be crossed showing you how much you are moving forward towards your ultimate goal.

5- Be consistent

This is an on-going activity. Build reminders to keep you on track. Review your goals periodically, reassess their relevancy, make changes if needed.


Goal-setting involves many things; you should clearly define with precision what you want, why you want it, and plan the steps that will take you to the finish line.