Setting SMART goals

Do you have language goals? You should if you want to improve your English. Research shows that people who set goals are more likely to achieve success. Goals help you identify what you want to achieve, keep you focused on what’s important, save you time, and provide a way to measure your progress – which helps improve your motivation to learn more.

It is very smart to set goals, but it is even smarter to set SMART goals. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific – Focus on a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – Try to be able to measure your progress in some way.
  • Attainable (Achievable) – Make sure that your goal is something that you can realistically reach.
  • Relevant – Be sure your goals are important to what you ultimately want to be able to achieve.
  • Time-based – Decide the deadline or time frame for when your desired result(s) should be achieved.

Set SPECIFIC goals.

If your goal is unclear, then there will be no clear path to get there. If you know exactly what you want to achieve, it will be much easier to create a personal study plan.

  • “I want to improve my English.” NO! This is way too general.
  • “I want to increase my vocabulary and get better at structuring my sentences.” OK! This is more specific.
  • “I want to learn 20 new words this week and be able to write compound sentences using “for”, “and”, “nor”,” but”, “or”, “yet” and “so “without difficulty.” YES! This is very specific. There is also a time limit. (See below.)


Even if your goal is a small thing, it will feels like progress if you can check an item off a list. Find a way to reduce your goal into smaller achievements so that you can show your progress.

  • “I want to get better at reading.” NO! Learning “more” and getting “better” are not measurable goals.
  • “I want to be able to read at 300 words per minute, so I will practice timed reading sessions of graded readers at my level everyday and count how many words I am about to read in a give time 2 times each week.” YES! This goal is specific and explains the method for how the goal will be tracked over time.


Most new language learners overestimate how many new words they can learn at a time. You might be able to memorize a lot of new words and their definitions, but that is probably not going to improve your communication. You need to use the new words again and again, in context, and not just memorize them. Are you able to use them correctly and appropriately in new sentences without thinking hard? If not, you have not yet learned the word!

  • “I will learn 100 words every day.” NO! This is not achievable for most people, especially without daily review.
  • “I will learn 5-10 words every day.” YES! This is something you can do (but remember: if you do not use the vocabulary regularly after the first time you study them, you will forget).

Set RELEVANT goals.

For example, if you are focused on improving your oral communication, then having a strong vocabulary base, understandable grammar, and clear, smooth pronunciation will give you confidence, so these types of goals are appropriate.

  • “I want to speak faster.” NO! Successful communication does not depend on speed. This goal is also not specific.
  • “I want to have enough vocabulary related to soccer to be able to talk about the soccer games with my English-speaking team mates.” YES! A strong vocabulary base in a given topic is important if you want to be able to talk about that topic. (Grammar is perhaps less important.)

Set TIME-BASED goals.

Once you have specific, measurable, attainable and relevant  goals, you need a study plan. How much time can you spend on your language studies every week? Creating a study plan that is too challenging will make you feel frustrated when you find that the schedule is too difficult.

  • “I’ll study every day after classes for 5 hours.” NO! Can you really give that much time if you are working or studying full-time, especially every day?
  • “I will find at least 10 minutes every day until the end of the month to to review and learn the grammar patterns for my English class exam.” YES! Sometimes you’ll be able to do a lot more, but if you make just a little time each day to study, there will be progress. This goal is also specific.

S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting Method

1) Write your goal.

2) Ask questions about your goal to find out if it is S.M.A.R.T.:
  • Specific. What goal will you accomplish? How and why will you accomplish it?
  • Achievable. Is it possible? Have others done it successfully? Do you have the necessary knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources to accomplish the goal? Will meeting the goal challenge you without making you feel frustrated?
  • Relevant. Is goal helpful and/or important to you? What is the reason, purpose, or benefit of accomplishing the goal? What is the result of the goal?
  • Measurable. How will you measure whether or not the goal has been reached (at least two ways to measure is ideal)?
  • Time-based. What is the completion date of the goal? Does that date make you want to take action right away?

3) Rewrite your goal to make it SMARTer.

4) Take action!

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