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THGoal setting: what does 2016 look like for you?

by Claire Jaynes

It's that time of year. Some of us have made New Year's Resolutions, ranging from getting fit, or finding a better work-life balance to improving our language skills. There are no fast or easy solutions to any of these but there are stepping stones to guide us on our path.

Almost everyone is familiar with SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) but what does recent research tell us about setting language learning goals and actually sticking to them?

1. Express your goals positively: always state what you want, not what you don't want. What positively-expressed goals do you have for your English, for example? To deliver a confident presentation at your next conference perhaps, or to work on an international project with colleagues from a wide range of countries.

2. Be realistic. Don't set too many goals to focus on. Joseph Weintraub, the founder and faculty director of the Babson Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program, recommends no more than three. In language training, we might consider some of the following to be realistic goals: to learn ten new words per day and be able to actively use them (whilst on a training course); to write clear emails in English in a style and tone that fits my company; to improve my spoken delivery of a speech for conference X (looking at pacing, intonation, problematic sounds etc).

3. Find evidence: what will help you identify that the goal has been achieved? What will it look like, be like and even feel like? We all know that recognizing your own progress is tricky so create a step-by-step strategy to reach your goal. If your goal is to give a presentation at an overseas conference for the first time, there are a number of smaller goals to consider: knowing the specific vocabulary in English for the task; having an overview of the key points in English to go through with a trainer; getting feedback on difficult pronunciation points and recording yourself so you can hear how this is improving, etc. Work out what steps are important for you with a trainer.

4. Consider people: goals need to be within your control and your actions must be central to its achievement. With one caveat: it is likely you'll need others to help you achieve the goal. Identify who you need and how they will be available to you. In the same way that a personal trainer can help you improve your fitness and provide you with a tailor made programme, so a language trainer can focus on developing your strengths and help you minimise your weaknesses. Consider the benefits of working in groups versus working in a one-to-one setting, for example - what works best for you?

5. Commit to the goals: write your goal down and keep it visible. Also, commit to coming back to your goals, once a week or a fortnight (what is realistic for you?). As Steven Covey states in his book 'The 7 habits of highly effectively people' - we all need to take time out occasionally to 'sharpen our saw'. This could mean setting aside 10 minutes per day to listen to English (the British Council '6 minute English' could be a good place to start) or perhaps a freeing up a weekend for a 'kick-start your English' programme.

6. See the bigger picture: sometimes you feel discouraged if you have trouble understanding an American colleague on a phone call after a period when you thought you were progressing. Perhaps it was a difficult or challenging conversation (which would have been tricky in your language, for example) or perhaps they are speaking more quickly that day. Learning a language takes time: research suggests that reaching an advanced level can take anything from 720 to 1320 hours in a class of 1-4 students, according to the similarity of your native language to English.

7. Learn how to say no: according to clinical and health psychologist, Dr Bob Montgomery, “You should be asking yourself which ones (goals) are going to make a real difference and which can go on the backburner." This means carefully choosing your main goals and discussing these with your teacher. Even if ultimately, you'd like to be able to read extensive business reports in English or a whole novel, if you have a job interview in two weeks, then you'll need to focus on that. You need to build the skills that will help you get the job (talking about your previous experience and how it relates to the potential role , for example).

What are your goals for 2016? Why not tell us? After all, perhaps we can help you commit to them and hold you to account...

References
www.abc.net.au – ‘How to say no to others and say yes to your goals’ by Claudine Ryan 25 January 2016
www.businesszone.co.uk: "Setting goals for success", 2010
www.hbr.org: ‘Make your Work Resolutions Stick’ Rebecca Knight, 2014
www.languagetesting.com/how-long-does-it-take?
www.mindtools.com – ‘Golden rules of goal setting’
www.unimenta.com


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