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6 Goal Setting Methods & How to Set Good Language Learning Goals

6 Goal Setting Methods & How to Set Good Language Learning Goals

The new year is around the corner and many of us are setting our New Year’s resolutions.

Since you’re here you’ve likely set goals related to language learning. But are they good goals?

Wait… what?

No, don’t worry. I’m not judging you.

Rather, I’m here to help you make sure you’re setting good language learning goals.

What does a good goal look like?

For me, a good goal is something that’s specific, has a deadline, and a system for me to work towards it.

Let me share my goal for the new year with you as an example.

I want to learn 2,500 words in Norwegian within 3 months by using my go-to vocabulary app.

I have a specific goal: 2,500 words in Norwegian. I have a deadline: 3 months. And I have a system: my go-to vocabulary app.

How to Set Good Language Learning Goals

A few years ago, if you had asked me what my language learning goal was, it would have probably been something like “learn to speak Chinese fluently!”

But this goal is problematic for a variety of reasons.

First, it’s not specific. What does “fluently” mean? Does it mean at a native-like level? Does it mean perfectly? Does it mean being conversational? There are many different kinds of “fluent”. Which one was I aiming for?

Second, there wasn’t a deadline. When was I hoping to be fluent? Was there a set date? Or was it just something I generally wanted to achieve in my life?

And finally, I didn’t have a system. What exactly was I going to do to reach fluency?

I didn’t have the answer to those questions. So instead, I set another goal. Pass the HSK 4 exam after studying for 1 year. Now that’s a specific goal with a deadline. My system? Taking weekly lessons and completing practice tests. Did I succeed? You bet.

If your goals look a lot like my initial goal, don’t worry. I’m here to help you out and create goals more like my altered goal.

Here are XX goal setting methods and systems to help you achieve your language learning goals in the new year.


If you’re familiar with any goal setting system, it’s likely SMART goals. SMART stands for:

  • Specific: you have a specific, targeted goal (like learn 50 words)
  • Measurable: you have steps that get you to your goal (learn 5 words a day for 10 days)
  • Attainable: your goal is realistic (learn 50 words in 10 days [learning 200 words in 10 days is likely not attainable])
  • Relevant: your goal is relevant to you (for example, learning 50 words in the language you’re studying is more relevant than learning 50 words in a random language you don’t have any long term plans with)
  • Time-related: you have deadlines (again in our example, 10 days)

Here are a few of SMART language learning goals:

  • Learn 50 words in Norwegian in 10 days.
  • Do 15 minutes of Persian listening every day for 1 month.
  • Have one 1-hour lesson in Croatian every week.


Familiar with the expression “shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”? Those are OKR goals. An OKR goal is where you go big or go home and it stands of “objectives and key results”. And even if you don’t reach your OKR goal, you will still likely get farther in your learning than you would if you set a more conservative goal.

Here are examples of OKR language learning goals:

  • Have a 30-minute lesson in Russian every day for a month. (You’ll likely miss days, but still have far more Russian lessons than you would have otherwise.)
  • Complete 1 language learning course book every single month. (Again, you might not finish an entire course book every month, but you’ll likely work through a lot more than you would with a more conservative goal.)


4DX, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, is a goal-tracking framework developed by Stephen R. Covey and Chris McChesney. This method is similar to OKRs, but these bigger goals are things you intend to reach (whereas OKRs focus on overperformance).

The disciplines that make up 4DX are:

  • Focus on wildly important goals (WIGs): in other words, focus on the most important things
  • Act on lead measures: put energy into the work that will yield the greatest results (the 80/20 rule)
  • Keep a compelling scoreboard to track progress: a little friendly competition does wonders
  • Create accountability: when you have encouragement and community, you have greater chances of success

Speaking of accountability and community, now is the perfect time for me to take a quick commercial break to announce something new and exciting!

Recently, I put together a program called Language Conqueror.

Each month, we release a new language Quest and this coming month’s Quest focus is all about… goal setting! We go in-depth and provide loads of information on how to set good language learning goals and how to build systems to help you reach them. You’ll also get access to our course community where you can chat with other language learners like yourself.

You can learn more about Language Conqueror and join us here.

Join Language Conqueror

Now back to 4DX goals.

Here is an example of a 4DX goal:

If you are aiming to learn conversational Japanese, you would most need to focus on speaking and listening comprehension. So you should spend 80% of your study time working on improving your speaking and listening skills. By joining a community of other learners, you can compare how much time you spend working on these skills and even have a bit of friendly competition with them to rack up the most time.

See Also
How to learn a language online for free | Eurolinguiste


Another method of goal setting is called V2MOM and it stands for:

  • Vision: what you want to accomplish
  • Values: the principles that guide you
  • Methods: the steps and actions you take
  • Obstacles: any challenges or issues you may need to overcome
  • Measures: the goal’s minimum achievement

An example of a V2MOM goal for language learning is:

You want to learn conversational Hungarian (vision) without spending any money on resources because you’re working to keep a tight budget (values). You’ll find exchange partners and other free resources to study, getting creative in your search for tools because finding high quality, free resources is challenging. You’ll measure “conversational” as being able to keep an entire 1 hour exchange in the language at the end of a year.

Onion Goals

My good friend Lindsay of Lindsay Does Languages introduced me to a goal setting system called “Onion Goals”. This is where you imagine goals and systems as the layers of an onion. At the center you have your goal. And each layer you peel is a step you need to take to get to that goal.

You ask yourself how at each stage until you get to a step you can take each day.

Here’s an example of an onion goal in language learning:

I want to learn 50 words. How? By studying them with my favorite app. How? By studying five new words a day. How? By adding the new words that come up in my lessons to the app. How? By asking my teacher to add words I don’t know or understand to the chat during our lessons.

Ladder Goals

Another goal setting method I learned from Lindsay is “Ladder Goals”. This is more about the “what” than the “how”.

So you take a goal and identify what small goals, targets, and tasks need to be achieved to make that top goal happen. You work backwards, or down the rungs of a ladder.

So let’s return to the example of learning 50 words. What do you need to do this?

  • You’ll need to curate your word list
  • Get that list into Memrise
  • Study the words
  • And review them so they stay in your memory

Over to You

What are your language goals? Which of the above methods did you use to set them?

Want to learn more about effective goal setting and goal settings systems? Join us in Language Conqueror.

In the month of January, we’re focusing on goal setting.

You’ll get:

  • A video lesson introducing the Quest
  • A workbook with all the exercises and instructions you need to complete the Quest
  • A video demonstrating the Quest in action from one of our hosts (or special guests)
  • Trade secrets from Shannon and Caitlin: these are tricks you can use to succeed at your Quest
  • A Side-Quest: an action you can take to help you gain the confidence you need to complete your Quest
  • Access to the Quest community so you can collaborate with other learners, share what you’re working on, and get support
  • Your Quest: the final assignment you complete to put everything you learned over the month into practice

Join Language Conqueror.

Join Language Conqueror
6 goal setting methods and how to set good language learning goals
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