How to Set Effective Goals for Language Learning

Understand your "Why," Create SMART goals, and Break down your goals

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. 

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. 


As a pilot and poet, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was certainly a dreamer, but he knew the secret of turning wishes into reality lies in creating smart goals and putting in the hard work to achieve them. Do you dream about you or your child learning a new language? That’s a wonderful first step! Here are some practical steps on how to set effective goals for language learning:



1. Understand Your “Why”


Before you or your child attempt to learn a new language, you need to understand WHY you want to do this. Is it to open up more opportunities? Ease of travel? Engaging the brain in a new way? Connecting with family members? Understanding, and reminding yourself often of your WHY will keep you and your child motivated during the difficult and discouraging moments of language learning. 


2. Create SMART Goals


Now that you have the ‘why,’ you need to create the ‘how.’ How are you going to learn a new language? Be:


  • Specific: To have the best success, your goals must be clearly defined and have special application. Instead of aiming to “learn Spanish,” try setting the more specific goal of “learn enough Spanish to hold basic conversations by the end of the year.” You can even break your goal down into more specifics (more on that later). 
  • Measurable: Being able to measure your progress is crucial to keep you accountable and stay motivated in the language learning journey. ‘Learn 10 new words a day,’ ‘Be able to use verbs in the past tense in one month,’ and ‘Find a language partner to practice conversation by the end of the month’ are all examples of measurable goals. Create a “progress chart” to check off as you hit your goals. 
  • Attainable: While we would all love to be fluent in a language as soon as possible, setting attainable and realistic goals will avoid frustration. Really think through your time, resources, and other possible limitations so that you can accurately challenge yourself, while not frustrating yourself.  
  • Relevant: Go back to your “Why” and craft your goals around that. If you plan to visit Spain for a week, set goals to learn Spanish phrases that will help you get around the city. If you want your child to learn Mandarin to connect with their grandfather, set goals to focus on listening comprehension and introductory conversations. 
  • Time-bound: It is human nature to delay a laborious task when there are no consequences. To fight against this, set specific times (such as 6 months, one year, two years) to complete a task and commit to these deadlines. 


3. Break Down Your Goals


Breaking down your goals into ‘mini goals’ will help you stay even more organized with your time and resources and keep you motivated as you see real, measurable progress week by week. Let’s go back to the goal “Learn enough Spanish to hold basic conversations by the end of the year.” Break those goals down into mini goals and write out a weekly schedule of how you are practically going to set aside time to surround yourself with the language and pursue those goals.


Example of Mini Goals:

  • Learn Top 20 verbs and their conjugations – three months
  • Learn basic vocabulary from the following categories: home, family, work, colors, and numbers – three months. 
  • Learn basic conversational phrases – one month


Example of a weekly schedule:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday



30 minutes reading literature in target language


30 minutes vocabulary game on phone during lunch break.


1 hour conversation with language partner


1 Hour television episode in target language


1 Hour podcast as I bike to work. 

10 minutes vocabulary 10 minutes Verb + Conjugations 10 minutes vocabulary 10 minutes Verb + Conjugations 10 minutes vocabulary



4. Adjust Those Goals


As you go along, you might find that your SMART goals are too easy or too difficult and need some fine tuning. Don’t be afraid to try out new methods and tweak your goals to fit your schedule and capabilities. 



5. Stay Positive and Patient


Learning a language is difficult because it challenges your mind and motivation to interact over a long period of time with unfamiliar frameworks, vocabulary, and grammar that your native language steps into without a second thought. When you can’t remember a word for the tenth time, keep at it and maybe you’ll remember it the eleventh. When you feel discouraged by how little of a conversation you understood, remind yourself of the progress you’ve already made. Thousands of people have learned a foreign language (or two!) and you will join them with time and patience. 

If you’re looking for some language help for yourself or your child, consider signing up for Cultural Bytes’ One-on-One tutoring program in Spanish, French, or Mandarin.

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