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Beyond simply enjoying the holidays, December provides a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and plan for the upcoming one.
So. On to the next.
Now’s the perfect time to start thinking about what you want to accomplish in 2021 and create your goals.
I know that many people make New Year’s resolutions (about half of us do), and many people don’t keep them (studies differ, but this one suggests only about half of us are still following our resolutions after 6 months).
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make goals or resolutions. In fact, it turns out that if you make a goal or resolution at New Year’s, you’re 10 times more likely to achieve it than if you don’t.
So make your English learning resolutions or goals for 2021. And then use these strategies to help you stick to them.
1. Set your goals — properly
Your first step is to set goals that you can actually achieve. My favourite way to do that is to set SMART goals: goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
For example, here are a few of my learning goals for Portuguese for this year:
- To read an entire novel of more than 200 pages in Portuguese by June 2021.
- To be able to understand 90% of a full-length movie in Portuguese by June 2021.
- To achieve a self-assessed C1 level in speaking by June 2021
Each of these is more specific than simply “learn Portuguese”. Each builds in a way to measure my progress. Each is doable for me at my current level. Each matters to me. And each has a time limit or due date.
Setting goals in this way helps you know exactly what you are aiming for and when you will have achieved it. Having a clear vision of your goals will also help you continue when it gets hard.
2. Develop a system to hold yourself accountable
The next strategy is to develop a system for learning English that helps you keep yourself accountable. A system will help you stay organised, help you stay focused on your goals, and help you feel motivated.
My system includes:
- A bullet journal. I use this to keep track of my language learning goals and give myself self-evaluations on my progress each month. Here’s an example of how to do this.
- A daily habit tracker. I use Way of Life, a daily habit tracker, to encourage myself to do at least one activity in Portuguese every day.
- Recording myself speaking. I try to do this once a month. It’s a great way to see how my ability to speak in Portuguese improves. Alastair is a big fan of this and would say that you can even try to do it every day.
Together, these help me make sure that I work at my language every day (or close to it) and also keep me focused on my progress on a monthly basis.
Your system doesn’t have to be as involved as mine—and it can also be much more involved. Just find something that works for you and that keeps bringing you back to studying English.
3. Find a partner or language learning buddies
There’s quite a bit of research to show that sharing your New Year’s resolutions with others is an effective way to hold yourself accountable and stick with your goals.
So one way to stick to your language learning goals is to do it with someone. This could be a friend or a colleague. It could also be with an English conversation partner that you found on the Internet.
Learning with other people will help you continue to stay motivated over the long term.
4. Join a community
But why stop at just one language learning partner? Why not do it as part of an entire community? Being part of a community can be very rewarding and help give you the motivation to continue learning a language.
That community can be an in-person one, such as an English conversation Meetup group at a local cafe. Or, it could be online. Facebook has several English-learning groups, Reddit has a number of them as well, and Leonardo English even has its own dedicated community of English learners.
For Leonardo English members, please do share your goals with the community and stay accountable to your fellow curious minds.
5. Make mistakes and try new things out.
Failure is your friend when it comes to learning English. Mistakes are an essential part of learning a language. For instance, to become a better speaker, you have to speak, even if you make lots of mistakes.
But more than just grammar mistakes, we have to be willing to take risks with the way that we learn, too. That means trying out new listening activities, new ways of learning vocabulary, even new methods to practise speaking and pronunciation.
Some of the things you try won’t work for you, but that’s okay. Some of them will. Your openness to experimenting with new learning strategies will ultimately help you find strategies that are effective for you and help you stick to your goals.
6. Set aside the time
Not making sufficient time to study English is a common mistake. And I get it: we’re all very busy people and have lots of distractions. It can be difficult to put in the time required to study English.
But it takes time to learn a language—there’s no way around that.
So, if you’re serious about English, set aside some time to study. For ideas on how best to do that, here are some ways of finding time to study English.
7. Build it into your routine
For me, the easiest way to make time to study languages is to build it into my routine.
Our habits are powerful: they help determine what we do. If you can create habits that include language learning, you’ll find it much easier to stick to your English learning goals.
For example, I listen to a news podcast in Portuguese in the morning while I’m having my breakfast. Then I listen to another podcast in Portuguese while I’m making dinner and doing the dishes.
I’ve done this so regularly that it has now become a habit: it’s second-nature for me now to pull out my computer and put on the podcast before I make my morning coffee. It used to be the case that it took some effort to listen. But now, it feels like no effort at all.
Creating language learning routines is a powerful way to ensure you actually study your language.
8. Focus on listening
For me, listening always feels like a quick win because it’s easy, I enjoy it, and it works.
So when you’re having trouble sticking to your language goals, try building in listening activities to your schedule.
Need ideas for listening activities? Check out our ultimate guide to improving your English listening.
9. Measure your progress
Part of the reason many people give up on their language goals is that they don’t feel like they’re getting anywhere. Language learning is hard and takes lots of effort. And if you don’t feel like you’re improving, it can be really hard to keep at it.
This may be especially the case for people at an intermediate level at the “intermediate plateau”. At this level, it can feel like progress comes especially slowly.
The solution? Find ways to measure your English progress. If you can see your progress, you will be motivated to continue.
Some of my favourite ways to measure progress are:
- Self-assessments using the CEFR levels as a guide.
- Recording myself speaking.
- Self-assessing the percentage of a movie or series that I understood.
- Using study tools that have metrics built-in (like Brainscape or Anki).
- Keep a journal.
Each of these allows me to go back and see what level I was at in the past and then compare it to my level now. Seeing those improvements helps me continue to work at my language learning objectives.
If you fall off the horse, get back on
January is a particularly good time to reflect and plan for what’s next. I encourage you to take advantage of it—use this opportunity to think about what you want to do this year.
Set goals. Make resolutions.
But it’s also useful to remember that this is not the only time you can think about what you want to achieve. I actually try to do a reassessment of my goals about 4 times a year—once every three months.
Remembering that there’s nothing truly special about January may be the best way to stick to your goals. It means that if you notice you’ve fallen away from your resolution or your goal, you don’t need to wait until next January to recommit. You can re-resolve all year long.
Ultimately, that’s how you’re going to accomplish your goals, whether they’re English learning goals or something else: staying persistent over a long period of time.
So set your goals. Use the above strategies to stick with them. And then celebrate when you find you’ve become fluent in English.
Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagys, M. D. (2002). Auld lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self‐reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.