Have you ever made a list of resolutions for the New Year and by March forget all about it? You’re not alone. Only 8% of people achieve their goals, and you might wonder why is the number so low. The same happens in language learning and I’m going to highlight one by one the mistakes leading to unfulfilled goals.

only 8% of people achieve their goals


1- Unrealistic goals

It is good to be ambitious, but when you’re establishing your goals, you must be certain that they are achievable.

Imagine you decided to learn Japanese and your aim is to be able to master the writing system and be fully able to write and understand hiragana, katakana and kanji in 6 months. Despite your best efforts you will not succeed because it’s simply not achievable. Even though it’s exhilarating to aim high, you should always be sure that your goal is not too ambitious.


2- Underestimate completion time

If we take again the same example, you established a six months deadline because you didn’t realise the work involved in learning from scratch logographic syllabic writings. But if you give yourself more time, you might be able to fulfil your goal.

Let’s see another example. You are planning to emigrate to a foreign country. You start studying the language three months before the move. You never learned the language before and you need to reach a good level for your work. It is most likely that you will fail because it will be difficult to reach a near native proficiency in such a short period even if you studied six hours daily.

Analyse your goal and your availability, and mostly make sure that your deadline is realistic.


3- Setting negative goals

It has been scientifically proven that our brain responds according to the way we think. If you say: “I don’t want to put on weight”, your subconscious only registers “put on weight” and your behaviour towards food and exercise won’t change much. You will lack the internal drive and motivation to succeed. But, if you rephrase your statement to a positive one like “I want to be healthy”, you’re more likely to get results.

The same applies to language learning. Focus on the positive outcomes you want to obtain. For example: “I want to learn ten new words a day” or “by the end of the month, I must be able to have a ten-minute conversation with a native speaker”.


4- Not reviewing your progress

You should have ways to assess the progress you’re making in your study, and a self-evaluating process in place. For example: “I want to be able to order food at a restaurant in my target language” or “by July I want to hold a conversation via Skype with a native speaker without hesitations”, or “I want to watch a film in my target language without subtitles by the end of the month”. The list is endless.

In doing so, you’re keeping yourself motivated by seeing the results of your efforts. These small wins will allow you to carry on.

It is important to see where you are, assess the need for changes, and constantly re-evaluate your goals to keep them relevant to your needs.


You fail, learn from it.


5- Not appreciating failure

If you fail, learn from it. Reassess the validity of your goal, re-examine what did not work, make changes, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and try again. Second time around, the odds of you succeeding will be much higher.

If we come back to the Japanese example, now set a more reasonable time-frame to accomplish your goal.


6- Setting too many goals

When you have too many goals to take car off, without doubt one or all of them will suffer. You only have a limited time and energy to dedicate to them. You should think more about quality over quantity. If setting too many goals is the case, it might be necessary to establish your priorities one more time and stick to the ones that are truly relevant and ditch the non-essential goals.


Don't set too many goals: think about quality over quantity.


7- Setting “other people’s goals”

When you decide to learn a language, it should always be because you want to, and it will enhance your life. Never commit to do it just to please your parents or spouse.

I am passionate about languages (DUH!), both my children aren’t. I have failed to instil the same passion in them. It would be a recipe for disaster if I forced them to study more languages than the Spanish and French each of them struggles with at school. If I did, I would be certain that this goal would never be accomplished.


These are a few reasons why only 8% of goals are achieved, and the best way to prevent a negative outcome to your language goals is to avoid them.

  • Always set realistic goals
  • Make sure your deadlines fit the task ahead
  • Always set positive goals
  • Review your progress and pivot if necessary
  • Learn from failure
  • Choose fewer goals wisely
  • Say NO to other people’s goals


If you follow these advices you will fulfil your goals, not only in language learning, but in everything you do.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.