There's so much info out there!
There’s so much language learning content online. Who should you listen to? Whose example do you follow? Does not performing as well as people you see online mean you’re a bad language learner? Absolutely not.
Because of the huge amounts of content we see every day related to language learning, we need to take time to sift through it. We have to realise everyone is individual and different, and our language learning goals should be personalised as well.
That being said, there are some common mistakes that language learners make when trying to set language learning goals.
3 common language goal-setting mistakes
1. Setting unmeasurable, lofty goals.
2. Looking at someone else’s years of progress and thinking that you are far behind.
3. Having the same learning approach for every single language.
Picture this. It’s the 1st of January and you are looking at all the languages you have on your list. You are setting goals. They might sound like this:
– become fluent in Japanese
– finally be able to have that conversation in Spanish
– read 15 articles of French
… now that the year is drawing to a close, you look back and think… “what does it look like to be fluent in a language?” or “how does reading 15 articles contribute to my language learning journey?” or “How do I actually measure my goals?”.
Mistake 1: Unmeasurable goals
One of the biggest mistakes we make as language learners is setting unmeasurable and lofty language learning goals.
The concept of fluency is very hard to define. I’ve talked about fluency in two videos which you can check out here.
Essentially, everybody has a different concept of fluency. I consider it a waste of time when we try to figure out what fluency is and chase towards this unattainable dream. Setting a goal to become fluent in a language is not an actionable path you can follow. It’s an aspiration. It’s a result of hard work. An end, not a means to an end.
What you need to succeed in your language learning journey is to set goals that you can track. Goals that are measurable.
Don’t worry! I’m still learning too. I’m guilty. On my Twitter profile, I track my language learning progress. I pinned a tweet with some of my language goals at the beginning of the year, and I realised over time that these goals have changed.
2020 lang goals— Lindie Botes | 린디 • 琳迪 • リンコ (@lindiebee) January 2, 2020
🇰🇷 한국어능력시험4급 합격하기
🇫🇷 Get comfy speaking again, read more French articles
🇭🇺 B1 in Hungarian, read & understand most of 1 article
🇻🇳 30min convo in Viet
🇲🇲 Learn to read and write, reach A1
🇦🇪 Refresh reading & writing, reach A2
I am now treating goals like a guideline and not a set rule. My goals are like a framework for me to move in. But of course, there are some goals I made like “Reach level B2”. Looking back, that was a wrong way to approach language learning.
I remember Steve Kaufman at the Polyglot Conference 2019 saying that fluency can be seen as something like “what was I able to say before and what am I able to say now?”. That’s a really good way to measure your progress.
You can measure your progress towards fluency by keeping a language learning journal, either in a book or via a video diary. If you look back a few months, you might notice, “oh I was only able to talk about these basic topics, and now I can do so much more!”. This helps you see your progress in a visual way, and is better than having a wishy-washy goal of “becoming fluent”.
Mistake 2: Comparison
Another mistake that language learners make is to look at somebody who’s been studying a language for 10 or 15 years and say, “this is where I need to be right now”. If we do that, we feel inadequate.
Language learning is a lifelong journey. It truly takes a long time to become fluent in any language. It won’t be easy. You might see some polyglots on YouTube with videos titled “how I learnt [insert language] in a week”. Sure, you can learn a language from zero to some extent, but you’d only be able to say basic phrases. That doesn’t mean you’re fluent in a week.
Yet what people do is to look at these polyglots online and use this as a base or the guideline of where they need to be at. You don’t see the hard work and time that it takes to be able to learn a language to an advanced level. The mistake that we make is that we look at somebody who is on page 100 of their journey and we look at our page 1 and think that we are inadequate. That is not the right mindset to have when learning language!
Mistake 3: The same approach for each language
Finally, having the same approach for each language is something that I found never to work.
Because each language is different in terms of grammar and vocabulary, the approach you take to learning each language should be different.
For example, if you’re learning Mandarin Chinese, you have to spend a significant time memorising and learning Chinese characters. You won’t need to learn a new writing system if you do Spanish or French — just different pronunciation.
If you are learning French and you know how to conjugate verbs, and you take that same thinking and apply it to Mandarin Chinese, you’re not going to get any verbs to conjugate! You’re gonna get a whole bunch of unfamiliar characters. Obviously, these two languages need to be approached very differently.
Change your way of thinking to be suited to the language you are learning now.
The more languages you learn, the easier it gets to pick up language learning methods that work for you.
Language learning is not a race. We are not competing against each other. We are humans and we only have so much time in the day and so many months in the year. Take it slow! Look at the languages you want to learn, create specific goals that you can measure and track, and take it from there.
Relax and enjoy the process!