Meaningful Language Learning Goals
The goal of fluency in a foreign language can often seem vague and elusive. It is not always clear what fluency means. Those who have not experienced the feeling of achieving fluency in another language doubt they can get there, and doubt they would know if they did. Learners often feel they are not making progress in the language they are studying. These circumstances can make language learning a frustrating activity.
How To Deal With Frustrations
I deal with these frustrations in two ways. First of all, I try to focus most of my language learning activity on enjoyable tasks. This means that my time is largely spent listening to and reading content that is of interest to me, learning about new cultures, and acquiring new information and experience. I know from experience that I will improve my language skills as long as I continue merrily listening and reading, exploring things of interest to me.
However there are situations where this is not enough. This occurs when the easy material in the language is now too boring and the interesting, authentic material is just a little too difficult. There are too many unknown words, the meaning is a little vague or fuzzy, and I have great trouble understanding when I listen. I need to force myself to persevere.
I was once at this stage in my Korean learning, and probably would be if I went back to Korean. (I am trying to learn Arabic right now). What should be enjoyable and interesting content, podcasts that I have found and had transcribed for our library at LingQ, like well-known artists Kim Youngha’s literary podcast, is still a chore and a challenge for me. The intermediate content in our LingQ library is more accessible, but of little interest. The result is that I sort of start and stop in my Korean learning, and have not achieved my goal of fluency. In fact, that is part of the reason why I went on to other languages.
That is where I believe measurable short-term langauge learning goals and targets can be important to keeping me on task. Let’s look at some examples from other areas of activity.
Reaching Language Learning Goals While Exercising Body And Mind
I like to exercise. When I lift weights or do push-ups, I do a specific number. I do 20 push-ups, or three sets of 10 repetitions of a certain exercise. I do this a specific number of times a week. I don’t just do an indefinite number of exercises whenever I feel like it. If I am swimming in the ocean and want a good workout, I will pick a buoy or something in the distance and swim to it and back, once or several times. I know that these exercises will contribute to maintaining or improving my physical condition.
I don’t think about how much more fit I am becoming. I am not really thinking about my long term goal, which is, in fact, quite vague. I just focus on the immediate tasks. I know that doing these exercises, reaching measurable and immediate language learning goals, will have the desired effect of keeping me fit in the long term.
The same applies to language learning. When we are faced with the vague sense that we’re not sure how proficient we can become in a new language nor if we are improving, it becomes important to carry out short-term and measurable tasks. It is easier to force ourselves to perform these specific tasks, than to just “study the language”.
My Drive to Korean Fluency
I am determined to improve my Korean, a language that I have studied off and on for quite some time. I went through one 90-Day Challenge in Korean a while back, which brought from a beginner level to a reasonable intermediate level. Certainly I increased my vocabulary and improved my comprehension skills, as well as my conversational skills. You can check out the YouTube videos that I posted during this challenge here.
I made considerable progress, but didn’t get to the stage where I could comfortably understand the kind of material that I wanted to listen to and read, the kind of material that would really enable me to connect with Korean culture and Korean people.
In September of 2016, I embarked on another new 90-Day Challenge for Korean, at the end of which I hoped to become comfortably fluent. I was hoping to significantly increase my vocabulary, my familiarity with the language and my ability to comprehend native speaking Koreans on a wide variety of subjects.
This turned out to be too ambitious a goal. The concept of fluency is somewhat vague so I set myself very specific targets for the 90 days, using the statistics that we keep at LingQ. I was going to read 450,000 words of Korean over the 90 days or 5,000 words each day. I was going to listen to at least 135 hours of Korean or 90 minutes per day, in my car, exercising, washing the dishes or while reading on my iPad.
I usually listen to the same content as I read, in this case, the podcasts with transcripts that we have in our library at LingQ. My number of “known words” in Korean was going to double, from 30,000 to 60,000. (At LingQ, knowing the word simply means that you understand its meaning in a given context.)
Alas, I didn’t make it. I increased my known words from 30,000 to 45,000, or half of my goal. That is still over 150 words a day, but only half of my goal. My other language learning goals, such as words read, hours of listening, and LingQs created etc. also fell short. These statistics at LingQ are not really a measurement of progress in the language, but rather a measurement of activity level. I didn’t do as much as I had planned, and didn’t achieve the results I had hoped for. However, having specific goals drove me forward in Korean, despite the difficulty of the learning material I was using. Without these specific goals, I would have achieved less.
During the 90-day period I also stepped up my output activities, speaking online with tutors and writing.
I improved there as well, but I know I haven’t reached fluency. For me, comprehension is the key to being able to carry on conversations. If I am struggling to understand at times, it makes me less confident when speaking. I also don’t want to limit myself to uninteresting conversation but prefer to talk about subjects related to my reading and listening, history, politics, literature.
A major benefit of speaking, and engaging in meaningful discussion is that phrases come back to me that reflect what I was talking about. These conversations are a great input opportunity. The input has a high resonance and tends to stick, since we are really engaged with it. In order to have these meaningful conversations, I have to up my game a little further.
So another major breakthrough in conversation skills will await another leap forward in my Korean comprehension skills. That will be my next 90-day Korean challenge, where I will strive to reach that 60,000 word (LingQ count) level. I am confident that the improvements in LingQ that I have experienced in my more recent Greek, Ukrainian and now Arabic learning, will make it more likely that I reach my goals this next time. I am looking forward. What is more, I will no doubt use a similar strategy to propel myself forward in other languages.
I know that being active in one’s language learning, spending quality time with the language, is guaranteed to produce results, even if one’s reach exceeds one grasp. Clear measurable goals keep us going when other factors may be holding us back. Even we don’t reach our goals, the benefits of setting measurable goals are considerable.
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