What exactly is a “SMART” goal? It’s a way of being systematic with your commitment to yourself. There are many different versions of this system, but we will focus on the one that is most useful for language learning.

This model was originally developed by George Doran in 1981 for management goals and objectives in a business environment, but it can be adapted to fit any aspect of your life. You can use this template to…

  • get children to do their homework
  • design a workout plan to get into shape
  • change your career
  • pick up a new creative hobby
  • find your soulmate (if you really think it will help…)


What exactly do you need to achieve? The problem most people have with goal setting is they are not specific enough about what they really want. They just say “I want to learn English”.

Ask yourself: What is it that I really want to be able to do? Defining your goals in terms of ability (be able to) rather than obligation (have to) will be so much more empowering  to you.


How will you know you are making progress? You don’t want to feel like you are taking a shot in the dark. There needs to be something (or someone!) that helps you to understand you are doing. It can’t just be “I want to be good at English soon”.

Generally, this part of the goal occurs in the form of a teacher. However, it doesn’t always have to be. There are many ways to study English independently. The teacher is helpful to have, but once you reach a higher level, you need to develop independence and autonomy.


How will this goal be possible to achieve? The key here is managing your expectations. You can’t learn English in a month, and you certainly can’t speak perfect English (some of my friends in Canada can’t, and they were born into the language!). You can see that “I want to speak like a native speaker” is very difficult to attain. Instead, be satisfied with mastery.

It is important to understand when enough is enough. You should set reasonable limits so you don’t disappoint yourself when the goal seems beyond reach. The goal should be just outside of your current ability. Success comes with slow and steady progress forward. There are no shortcuts in learning a language, only dedication and hard work!


Why does this goal matter for your life? Think big picture here. Think about how achieving this goal will help you to improve yourself, both personally and professionally. Similar to before, it shouldn’t be “…because I have to use English”.

A major part of having a relevant goal is ensuring your purpose is clearly defined. This means that you should have a reason for learning that you are comfortable with, rather than learning because of something you don’t care about.


How will you know when you have reached success? This means explaining what the finish line looks like. If someone asks you, “what does success look like?”, you should be able to provide a clear description, not just “when I’m good at English”.

This means something specific (see how all of these letters are related). It is also helpful to explain the method, or the tools you will use, to reach your goal here.

Let’s try an example.

I want to be able to speak English confidently and professionally in a business environment at an upper-intermediate level [Specific] before the end of August by studying two hours a week with my teacher and learning new vocabulary for four hours a week [Timely]. This is possible because I am already at an intermediate level [Attainable], and I will understand my progress by my teacher’s feedback and by recording myself once a week [Measurable]. This will help me to develop my career and become a part of the global business community [Relevant].

Once you have established a clear set of goals, it doesn’t mean that you are finished and success is certain to come. Too often people set goals and then never check up on them again, only to find next year they are in the exact same place as they started.

So what’s next? Well, remember Measurable? In order to understand your progress, you also need to check up on your goals on a regular basis (at least once or twice a month).

  • Take a look and see if you are moving in the direction that you want to be moving.
  • Ask yourself if this goal is still Relevant to your life. Or has something changed?
  • Make sure this goal is going to be Attainable within the limitations you set for yourself.

You should also be aware that while it is important to stick to your goals, sometimes it is impossible because of things beyond your control. Have a certain degree of flexibility (that you can justify to yourself), and be able to let go of the things that you can’t change.

Did you learn something? Help your friends to learn too!

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