One of the things you can do outside of studying a particular language, that will greatly enhance your results, is to set specific, measurable language learning goals and then work on their achievement.
For this article I will use Japanese as the target language since this website is JapaneseTactics.com. However, the strategies and benefits that I’ll explain are the same for all languages.
First I’ll go over why having goals is important and why, despite that, most people don’t have them.
Then I’ll show you how to set your own goals and create daily systems you can use to help you succeed.
Finally, I’ll show you why it’s actually impossible to lose at this game, even when you fail a particular goal.
Interested yet? Let’s begin!
Join The 3% And Achieve Far More Than The Other 97%
Everybody knows that it’s good to have goals in life, right? A goal is simply a written objective that you want to attain within a particular time frame. It could be to earn a certain amount of money each year, it could be to maintain a certain level of fitness, or it could be to reach a level of mastery with Japanese.
But when we take a look at the research, it comes as a shock that only about 3% of people regularly set goals and then work on achieving them. This could be because people don’t know how to set goals, don’t really care to set goals, or just haven’t really thought about it.
So let this be your insight into why you should set a goal.
Simply put, everybody is busy with life. There is simply too much going on for the average individual to “hope” that one day, somehow they will become fluent in the target language.
Setting a goal allows you to first decide exactly what it is that you want accomplish, and it then helps you to create daily systems that make sure you head in the desired direction.
In other words, if you know what you want, and you have an idea of what it will take to get there, then you can work on learning Japanese each and every day so that no matter how hectic the world around you becomes, you are still making progress on becoming fluent.
You actually save time in the long run because you don’t waste time on things that won’t help you.
Having a goal allows you to >focus< over the long term since you always know what you’re supposed to be doing with part of your time each day.
There is a saying that “what your mind dwells on, grows in your reality.” Simply put, your goal is a single outcome that you can think about each day that will motivate you to take action and work on it.
How To Set Your Language Learning Goals
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “You can’t hit a target that you can’t see.” What this means is that you have to decide on what it is that you want.
Do you want to reach fluency in Japanese? Or do you want to go higher than that to reach a level of native-like mastery of the language? These are actually two different things and will require different amounts of work.
There are three things that you need to have for something to be a goal:
1 – Decide exactly what it is that you want to be, do, or have.
The first step is for you to think about what it is that you truly want and then to write it down on a piece of paper that you can look at during the day.
Be as specific as possible. Make it so that you could show it to another person and they would understand exactly what you meant.
2 – Make it as measurable as possible.
It’s really hard to know when you’ve completed your goal if there’s no way to measure it. For example, “learn kanji” is a bad goal because you don’t really know what it means.
Does it mean learn all the jōyō kanji? More than that? Does it mean learn every single meaning and reading for each kanji? Or just one meaning apiece?
A better goal would be “Learn the (single) common meaning and reading of all 2,136 jōyō kanji.”
This is something that you can check in on each day to see how you are progressing. It will also allow you to know once you’ve hit the goal.
3 – Set a deadline for the goal.
The next step is to pick a timeline for hitting the goal. This can be a little tricky if you’re not sure how long it will take, but it’s still a vital piece of the process since it will determine the level of intensity that you will need to engage in on a daily basis.
It’s okay to make it a “guesstimate” to get you going. Once you’re actually in the process of working on it, you should gain a better understanding on how long it will take.
Taking all three of the above pieces, we can create a few different goals to look at. Here are some examples:
- Become fluent in spoken Japanese in one year.
- Learn one reading and meaning of 2,000 kanji in six months.
- Complete the Japanese textbook you own in the next 30 days.
These goals are specific, measurable, and time bound. This is important as it will allow you to gauge your progress along the way, and especially once the time limit is up.
Sometimes it’s hard with languages to make the goal measurable. For example, what specifically does “fluent” mean? In cases like these, you might want to include a test at the end that will give you a pass/fail grade.
For example, you might say that you are fluent when you can watch Japanese anime without any subtitles and understand 95% of what’s being said.
Don’t worry too much about your goals being perfect in the beginning. Having any goals at all is better than having none.
How To Create Solid Systems From Your Goals
Once you’ve set the goal, you have to think about the daily practices that you will need to engage in to make it a reality. Let’s take a kanji example to illustrate it.
Goal: Learn a common meaning and reading of all 2,136 jōyō kanji in six months.
Working backwards from the deadline, you can see how many kanji you will need to learn each and every day. Assuming that six months is about 180 days, that breaks down to 12 kanji per day.
What if that’s too much for you to handle? Then simply make it a longer deadline. Changing it to a year will reduce it down to six kanji per day, which is a lot easier to do for most people.
I wouldn’t go too far out on the goal if I were you though. Anything that goes over a year will most likely slip into the “someday such-and-such will happen” mentality and it will be much harder for you to stay focused on the daily work since you’ve “got so much time” for it to happen.
Remember, you want to break the goal down into something that you will be working on every single day. It’s good to have a little intensity in your life!
Play around with these two parts of setting goals, and creating daily systems for working on the goals. Eventually you should come to the right blend where you are excited for the end result (the goal) and you feel confident about the amount of work you’ll need to do for it.
Let me take a moment to talk about the two extremes of goal setting: TOO MUCH, and too little.
One of the worst things you can do is overwhelm yourself with too much work each day. This will lead to burnout and abandoning the goal altogether. If you’re not already in the habit of learning Japanese each day, then setting a goal that will require 4-hours of study is probably something you will quit within the first week
But another thing you need to worry about is setting a goal that is too low! A goal of learning just one kanji per day isn’t exciting at all (enthusiam is important for success), and this tiny amount of work will increase your total time to six years for just the jōyō kanji!
If you had to err on one of the two sides, too much or too little, I would recommend that you go with too much. I’ll tell you why in the next part.
What Happens If You Fail Your Goals?
One of the things that you have to keep in mind is that, it’s hard to completely fail at any goal you’ve set for yourself. Let me illustrate with myself as an example.
Back at the beginning of November (2017) I set myself a goal of posting a new article once per day, for a total of 30 articles for the month.
As you can clearly see by checking out the archives, I failed. But if you take a closer look at it, and then compare it to all of the preceding months, you’ll see that it was actually my best month ever for new blog posts! I did a total of 20 posts, and the next highest was 17 back in February.
So even though I “failed” at the goal, I still ended up winning because it was my most prolific month ever. When you set a goal that is too hard, and you fail, you can simply scale it back a little.
That’s Life. You try something, get feedback on how well it went, and then you adjust and move forward.
Now imagine if I had set myself a goal of only 15 posts for that month. I would probably have hit it (yay!), but I would probably have written that final 15th post near the very end of the month since I had allowed myself that much time.
The point is this: if you set a goal that ends up being too hard, you will probably still come out in better shape than if you had set yourself a low goal and actually hit it!
Even if you don’t learn 2,000 kanji in six months, you still might learn 1,500. You see what I’m saying?
Now I don’t want you to go absolutely crazy with your goal and time frame. I’m saying try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and accomplish something that you’ll have to work at.
At the end of the day, setting goals and the creating systems for their accomplishment is something that is extremely personal. I don’t know what it is that you want to gain, and it would be wrong of me to choose for you anyway.
Only you can decide what’s in your future, and how you’re going to go about making it come true.
But what I can do is to encourage you along the way, and also to hold you accountable to your word. 😉 This is something that, psychologically speaking, can be great motivation for learning Japanese.
Let me know what your language learning goals are with a comment below. I’d love to hear what you are working on and offer any helpful suggesting or insights that I might have!
To your success!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: