Don’t you feel a boost of excitement and motivation when you think about your language learning goals for the new year?
I know I do.
Especially when there’s so much novelty ahead and 12 months seem like so much time to reach the fluency level you want.
But there’s one apparently small detail that most of us are oblivious to. Failing to account for this not-so-small detail leads to failure in achieving our language learning goals too.
And we don’t want that to happen, do we?
The only 2 Factors that really Matter for Setting Goals
When the new year comes, we tend to look forward. Just forward. Thus we miss the opportunity to get a broad perspective on how we approached language learning, when we made time to learn and what resources we used.
Without this kind of perspective, it’s almost impossible to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. So here’s what to do:
- Reflect on your progress over the PREVIOUS 365 days
- Plan your learning for the NEXT 365 days.
This is very different from how people traditionally go about setting their goals at this point of the year. Typically, they just set their New Year's Resolutions around what they'd like to accomplish at the end of the year, and just go for it.
The plan I suggest should be built upon your last year of learning experiences and an action plan at the three-month, one month, and daily levels.
As a result, you'll always be aware of what you should be working on, and you'll always be able to stay on track.
The 6 steps of the plan are as follows:
- Reflect on your language learning progress over the past year
- Assess your current language skills
- Visualize yourself one year from now
- Establish key goals and objectives for the next three months
- Break down your key goals into daily habits
- Review (and adjust) your plan every three months
Step 1. Reflect on your language learning progress over the past year
Look back on the previous year and think about all that you've accomplished in your language learning.
Here, it's useful to ask yourself a number of guiding questions, including:
- What went well in the past year?
- What didn't go so well?
- In which areas did I improve the most?
- In which areas do I still need to improve?
- What were my biggest lessons learned over the year?
Don’t be too rigid with exactly how you go about this. The goal is simply to get a general idea of your recent "wins" and "losses" so you can use this information to create a more optimized plan for the coming year.
Here's what I wrote when reflecting on my Hungarian learning for 2022
I managed to learn Hungarian very regularly throughout 2022, spending some time with the language at least 4-5 days each week. Also, I modified my practice activities to be mainly input-based, as opposed to the output-based activities I’d been doing previously. I mainly prioritized listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos, though I did read the occasional book, as well. My favorite podcast resource has been Hungarian with Sziszi.
2022 was also a great year for my Hungarian learning because I had the chance to visit Budapest and spend an entire month there during the summer. I’ve been to Budapest before, but this was the first time that I really felt comfortable using the language in everyday life. I also had a much easier time speaking with natives than I’ve had in previous years, and at one point, I even managed to have a two-hour conversation with my tutor, Petra!
In terms of takeaways, I can think of three:
- Learning (almost) everyday really pays off.
- Solid input skills are essential in order to build solid output skills.
- Traveling to the country where a language is spoken can be a great reward for hard work, as well as a worthy challenge that can spur future growth.
You see? Creating a short-but-sweet synopsis of the previous year's efforts can help you gain a clear perspective on what you have to do next.
Step 2. Assess your current language skills
Learning a language is equal to developing a network of interconnected skills in your brain. The 4 most prominent of these skills are listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
To determine which of the four skills you want to develop in the coming year, you should first take stock of your current abilities, so you can get a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses as a learner.
This is easier than it sounds.
All you have to do for this step is think of a few things you're capable of doing in each of the major skill areas. It may also be useful to highlight what you currently cannot do in these areas, so that you know what to work on next.
Here's how I recently evaluated my skills for Hungarian
I can read scripts of B2 level podcasts I upload on LingQ (affiliate), and I’ve just begun reading books aimed at native speakers.
My ability to understand podcasts and videos has improved drastically. In particular, I’m most comfortable with the podcasts that both Sziszi and Petra produce, and I’m even managing to understand YouTube videos on certain complex topics. Although I can’t understand news broadcasts yet, but my listening ability in general is much improved over where it was one year ago.
I can hold conversations on most everyday topics without major problems. Though I still hesitate and make mistakes, I feel quite comfortable overall, even during longer conversations.
I didn’t focus on building my writing skills in 2022, so I can’t really evaluate them at this point. However, I plan to begin keeping a daily journal in Hungarian starting in 2023.
Not too bad, right? The point of this step is to describe your language abilities in concrete terms, so that there's less guesswork when it comes to the type of practice you need to build into your new learning plan.
Step 3. Visualize yourself one year from now
This next step is about emotionally evaluating where you want your language abilities to be, one full year from now.
Why bring emotions into a learning plan?
Well, your emotional state strongly influences how motivated (or unmotivated) you are to do something. If we can tie strong positive emotions to your language goals, then you'll be much more likely to stick with them, even when the going gets tough.
You can build this connection between your emotions and your goals through creating a visualization. More specifically, by visualizing your future self after you’ve accomplished all the goals that you’re about to set in this plan.
I like to treat this as a kind of meditative exercise.
I close my eyes, and try to create a vivid mental picture of myself at the end of the year, doing all the things I want to be able to do in my target language. Once I've created a sufficiently vivid mental image, I write it down, so that I can refer to it and expand upon it throughout the year.
Here's the end-of-year visualization I recently created for Hungarian
31 December, 2023 - I am in Budapest, drinking a glass of pálinka in my friend’s apartment. We’re having a party, and I’m speaking Hungarian with the people there. Everyone I talk to is amazed at how well I speak Hungarian. “Wow, your pronunciation is incredible!” one person says. “You’re so fluent!” says another. I’m excited, because I plan on spending several months in Budapest in 2024, and I’ll surely improve even more by then. The future is bright!
This kind of visualization exercise may sound corny at first, but I can assure you that the results can be quite powerful, especially when you keep the written version handy and look at it whenever you're tired, stressed, or otherwise unmotivated to learn.
Step 4. Establish key goals and objectives for the next 3 months
Now you have a good idea of where you need and want to improve your language skills by the end of the year.
It's time now to take those general ideas and boil them down to concrete goals—to things you absolutely want to accomplish in the next 90 days.
Why 90 days?
Because that's how we're going to take the whole year and make it a bit more digestible. Instead of thinking about all 365 days at once, we'll primarily focus on 90 days at a time, which helps us remain focused in the short and medium-term.
So, ask yourself, based upon your previous year's learning, your current level, and your visualization:
What do you want to have accomplished by the end of the next three months?
Your answer can be anything, so long as it leads you towards the version of yourself you just pictured in your visualization.
Here are the language goals that I want to accomplish by the end of March 2023:
- I want to be able to understand most podcasts aimed at learners, especially Sziszi’s podcasts, even the most difficult ones.
- I want to be able to understand YouTube videos to a good 60-70 % without subtitles, be it content for Hungarian learners or for native Hungarian speakers.
- I want to be able to understand at least a good 60-70% of the news without subtitles.
- I want to be able to greatly improve my reading skills, especially when it comes to reading books and bilingual B2 books (affiliate), be it non-fiction or novels.
- I want to improve my spoken fluency to a level where I feel comfortable speaking both with my teacher and native Hungarian speakers in general.
Step 5. Break down your key goals into daily habits
Goals are useful for providing a “finish line”, but do little to help you manage the day-to-day work of language learning.
You've just created your 3-month goals, but the key now is to take those goals and identify the daily actions that will help you reach them. These daily actions will constitute your “habits.”
Any habit will suffice here, so long as it consists of something that, if done daily, will realistically get you to your three-month goal.
Here is a list of a few habits that come directly from the goals I have established for 2023:
- I want to listen to at least one episode of the Hungarian with Sziszi podcast every day, and even take her course, once it’s available!
- I want to watch at least 3 YouTube videos a week.
- I want to watch the Hungarian news for at least five minutes a day.
- I want to read at least 2-3 pages of a book every week.
- I want to talk to my Hungarian tutor Petra at least once a week and review the lesson 24 hours later
Step 6. Review (and adjust) your plan every 3 months
The last step in our 6-step planning sequence is actually a recurring one.
Every 3 months, you should take out your learning plan to review and revise it. Additionally, you should revisit Steps 4 and 5, and come up with both goals and habits for the next 3 months.
And since the year can be divided up into four periods of 90 days, you'll have to come up with four 90-day plans before the year is done, so keep that in mind.
Also, I recommend using a calendar or setting up some kind of recurring reminder for you to return to your plan every 3 months and set up your new goals and habits.
Sitting down every January to plan my language learning like this has done wonders for my ability to stay focused and make serious progress in recent years.
That’s why I'm certain that it will create powerful results for you too.
Now I want to leave you with one final tip: once you write out your yearly plan, print it out, decorate it, and leave it somewhere where you'll always see it when you sit down to learn. This will serve as a powerful reminder of why you're learning, and also help you remember to review and revise the plan as the year goes on.
I wish you all the best as you begin this new year, and I sincerely hope you're able to achieve all of your language goals by year's end.
Happy language learning!