Picture of a football or soccer goal. Text: Learning Strategies - SMART English learning goals

Learning Strategies: SMART English learning goals

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode looking at how to set SMART language learning goals and why it is so important to do this when studying English.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of English with Stephen. I am Stephen Greene and today we are looking at a very important, but often neglected, learning strategy: setting goals.

When you set a goal, you decide what your objectives are. Setting goals is an excellent way to motivate yourself and to make sure you are doing the right things.

There are many different ways to set your goals, but the one I use with my students is called SMART goals. I will share with you how you can create your own goals, after this.

If you like this podcast, please tell somebody else about it. You can share a link with a friend or relative, you can write a review on your podcast app or on my site EnglishwithStephen.com, or you can tell people about it on social media. All of these three things really do help spread the word about this podcast and I will be forever grateful.

Back to setting your SMART goals.

Before I start work with my students, I often ask them why they want to have classes. More often than not, the answer is something like “I want to speak English better,” or “I want to be able to travel,” or maybe “I want to get a better job.” All of these are great reasons to study a language, but they are not very well defined. These goals are often a long way in the future and it is also difficult to know when you have the necessary level of English. I mean what when is “better” enough?

Because these goals are long-term ones, and because it is difficult to know when you have achieved them, they can also be very demotivating. It can seem as if you have been studying for two years but your English is still not good enough. This can lead to people giving up their studies and wasting all of their effort.

So, one of the first things I do with many of my students is to introduce them to the idea of SMART goals. In this context, SMART is an acronym. An acronym is an abbreviation that is made up of the first letters of each word in the name of something. For example, NASA is the National Aeronautics and Space Agency. Take the ‘N’ from National, ‘A’ from Aeronautics, ‘S’ from Space and ‘A’ from Agency and you have NASA.

With SMART goals, the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

Let’s go through these one by one.

So let’s use the example of my student who wanted to speak English to be able to travel. This is fine as a long-term goal. But we can break this down into smaller goals by using the SMART system.

The ‘S’ in smart is specific. With this student, we might decide she wants to be able to make a hotel booking on the phone. By having a specific goal like this, it is much easier to take steps to achieve this goal.

The ‘M’ in SMART stands for measurable. We might decide that the way to measure this goal is through a test. I might agree to create a test for my student based on the context of booking a hotel room. There are other ways to measure language improvement, including actually doing the task for real.

The ‘A’ in SMART refers to attainable. Another way of saying this is that the goal needs to be realistic. If it is your first day learning a language, it is not realistic or attainable to say you want to be able to make a holiday booking by the end of the first class.

The ‘R’ in SMART means relevant. If my student wants to be able to go on holiday, then there is no point in setting a goal about being able to read Shakespeare. Reading Shakespeare is not relevant to being able to go on holiday. Making a reservation at a hotel, on the other hand, is totally relevant.

Finally, the ‘T’ in SMART refers to time-based. You need to set a time for when you want to able to achieve your goals. Continuing with my student who wants to travel, we could agree that she wants to be able to book a hotel room by the end of the month.

Ok, so we have seen what SMART goals mean, and an example of what a SMART goal might look like. Now I would like to look at why they are so powerful.

The first reason why setting goals is so useful is that you can break down your main goal into smaller steps. The goal of being able to use English on holiday is too big. How do you do this? Where do you start? By breaking the big goal into smaller chunks, you can analyse what you need.

This also makes it more motivating. If you set a goal for this month, and you achieve it, you can see real progress. This makes you want to keep learning English. When it is just one big goal that is a long way off in the future, it is very easy to lose all motivation.

Of course, you won’t always achieve your goal. But this is ok as well. If you don’t manage to learn hit your goal you can sit down and try to understand why. What went wrong? Do you need to learn some more vocabulary? Great, do it. Was it a problem with listening skills? Well, you can do something about that. Give yourself another month to work on the problems you found.

One more thing I should say is that you can set yourself a number of smaller goals. My student who wants to use English to travel also needs to be able to order food in a restaurant, complain about bad service, ask for directions, talk about health problems. So maybe she has 3 goals for this month, 3 goals for next month, and so on. Maybe there will be a medium-sized goal for the next 6 months which is made up of smaller goals for each month.

So now I’d like to hear from you. What is your main goal and how can you break this down into SMART goals? I’d love it if you could share your goals with me. You can do this on my site EnglishwithStephen.com, or on my social media like Facebook or Instagram. You can find me on most social media as English with Stephen, or you can find links to all my pages on my site.

Even if you don’t want to share your goals with me and the world, I urge you to think about setting SMART goals for yourself. Doing so will help to make you a much better, happier, and successful English student.

Thanks a lot for listening. I hope to be able to speak to you again next week.

So long!

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