“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Ever felt like Alice about your English? Maybe you feel as if you have been “studying” English for an eternity but are still at the same level and making no real progress.
Well as the Cheshire Cat is telling Alice, you wouldn’t begin a journey (at least most of us wouldn’t!) without knowing where you were going. The same can be said about your English learning. Setting targets are a great way of keeping yourself focused and motivated. You may have heard about SMART goals in other areas of business, so why not set some for your language learning too?
You really need to be planning the journey from where you are now to where you want to be and it is this “map”’ that will help you to develop your skills and keep you focused. So let your Ziggurat teacher help you to create your SMART study plan.
First you need to think about why you really want to learn English in the first place. Do you want to be able to understand suppliers in India on the phone? Are you looking for a new job and want to be prepared to answer interview questions in English? Do you want to be able to participate more in meetings? All these are specific goals.
Once you have your specific destination, think about what you need to achieve it. Imagine that you want to be able to participate more actively in meetings with your international colleagues. What specific steps do you need to take to be able to achieve this? What is stopping you in English? Maybe you need to:
- Increase your listening skills
- Increase your fluency and confidence
- Learn work-related vocabulary and useful expressions for meetings e.g. how to interrupt someone, how to express your opinion, how to disagree.
The next step is deciding how you can measure/monitor your progress. If we take the specific goals above, you will know you have progressed when:
- You understand more of what your colleagues are saying.
- You are able to speak confidently in meetings.
- You have learnt the vocabulary and expressions.
ATTAINABLE / ACHIEVABLE
Now you need to think about how realistic and achievable your goal is and what you can do to achieve it. For example:
- Do you have time for 2 classes per week to work on your speaking skills?
- Will you realistically find 3 hours to spend on listening per week?
- Can you learn 10 new words a week?
You then need to check that what you are doing in English is relevant to achieving your goal. Is spending 4 hours doing grammar exercises going to help you understand and speak in a meeting? Don’t lose focus.
Setting time limits also help us to plan and stay motivated. First, you can set a general deadline e.g. in 6 months I will be able to participate actively at the international conference. Then you need to set time limits for your contact time in English and remember that it is always better to spend a little time every day instead of 3 hours at the weekend:
- Listening: I will spend at least 1 hour on listening per week. I will watch one episode of a series (see The Wonderful World of Watching Series in English for some recommendations) and spend 10 minutes every day watching the news in English.
- Speaking: I will spend 1 hour per week doing 2 phone classes to improve my speaking.
- Vocabulary: I will spend 10 minutes every day reviewing and consolidating vocabulary related to my work and useful expressions for meetings.
So don’t be like, Alice. Be honest with your Ziggurat teacher about where you want to go and what you can realistically do out of class and he/she can help you to set goals that are SMART, make sure that you follow the “map” (study plan) and get you to your destination!