English Fluency For Advanced English Speaker (2015)
Chapter 2: Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals -- The Secret of Getting What You Want When You Want It
Pedro complained to his English instructor one day that he was disappointed that his fluency in the language seemed to have hit a peak. “I can’t advance any farther,” he said, “and I’m far from sounding like a native speaker. And that is the long run is my goal. Did I set my sights too high?”
The instructor told him that, indeed, he did not set any goal that he could not accomplish; he just may have to re-think how to reach them. That’s when he told Pedro about S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Are you feeling “stuck” in your level of learning? Are you, like Pedro, beginning to think you’ll never break through to that next level of learning in which you sound more fluent – more like a native speaker?
Then perhaps it’s time you look into using S.M.A.R.T. goals as well. What are they? What make SMART goals different from any other? Simple. When you create this type of goal, you’re strategically placing yourself in a position of achieving them. If you follow the guidelines of these techniques, in fact, it would be extremely difficult to fail.
I can hear you now, “When do we start?” Well, there’s no time like the present. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Responsible and Time-Bound. If you make your goals in accordance with these five guidelines, you’re well on your way to fulfilling your English-language dreams.
But more than that, this is a technique used by a growing number of business executives as well as entrepreneurs to move their projects forward. It’s time tested. And the best part is that you can take these guidelines and use them for any goals you have for your life.
The letter “S” in S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific. You’ve probably created many goals in your life. Think back to several of them. Think about the times you succeeded as well as those instances in which you didn’t reach them. What made the difference? What did you do right when you achieved your goals? How did this differ from the times you didn’t reach your dreams?
Perhaps it could be that the ones you achieved were worded more specifically. Did you know exactly what you wanted? This works regardless of what your goals are—they aren’t necessarily related to your learning the English language.
Take, for example, the individual who wanted to lose weight. She started out by saying that “someday” she’d like to lose weight. But until she decided specifically how many pounds she wanted to lose, her weight held steady. Once she made the decision and gave herself a deadline, however, she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t stick to an eating plan.
So your first step is deciding specifically what it is you want to do. Once you know exactly what it is, then create specific steps you believe will get you there. Let’s say your goal is to be able to speak English well enough to make a presentation in front of your supervisors and several department managers at work..
Now write down what you believe you need to do in order to speak English well enough to do it. These are your steps for reaching your goals. For example, if giving a presentation is the goal, you must look critically at your spoken language skills now.
Decide what type of improvements you need to make. You may decide you
Want to work on your pronunciation
Learn more vocabulary words – as well as perfect their pronunciation
Learn how to tell a joke in English
What else do you believe is keeping you from reaching this level of fluency in the English language. Not sure? Ask your instructor or a trusted friend.
Make sure you keep a list of these, because you’ll going to need them for the next step. Keeping in mind your goal of making this presentation, we’ll go to the next step in S.M.A.R.T. goals
The M in S.M.A.R.T. goals stands for measurable. That may be a no-brainer when it’s said that way, but you’d be surprised how many people create goals without thinking about how they’re going to measure their progress. And if you can’t measure whether you’re a quarter of the way to your goal or half to making your dream come true, how will you ever know when you’ve reached that particular goal?
That’s why you need to discover a way to measure your progress. Let’s continue with the example we used in the previous paragraphs. You want to perfect your ability to speak English so you can give a presentation at work.
The first thing we listed that needed to be improved was your ability to pronounce English.
Let’s say this is your goal as well. Just saying it doesn’t get it done. You could spend years perfecting it, but never recognize when your speech is, indeed, good enough. Your first decision – and creating a measurable goal – is to either recognize your improvement yourself or getting someone’s opinion on your pronunciation. Ideally, this would be your instructor or a trusted friend.
You see how by adding this idea of measuring your improvement, you’ve created a goal you can work toward – and feel good about attaining once you’ve reached it.
Your second step in speaking English well enough to make a presentation was expand your vocabulary. Here again you need to set a certain number of words you want to learn and to pronounce. If you don’t settle on how many words, you could be learning words forever. So not only settle on how many, but perhaps pick out a few from an English book, or ask your English teacher for recommendations on a few words. You may even want to ask a few colleagues what type of words they would recommend that may be business related.
Within this, you’ll then want to start tackling this list. In addition to having friends and tutors help with your pronunciation, remember the web – especially any dictionary applications or sites you have access to. The definition each entry provides you with a proper pronunciation of the word.
And finally one of your goals was to be able to tell a joke. How are you going to turn this into a measurable goal? You may want to practice in front of the mirror or with a good friend who’ll be honest with you. Once you’ve earned the thumbs of a friend you may want to take your joke to several more people to get their opinions.
The key to success in creating any successfully measurable goal is to look at the details of what needs to be done and honestly evaluate your ability to do it. Making the decision on how to measure your progress is a big step in ensuring this will work.
While you should never give up your dream, you also need to be open to the process of making it measurable as well as creating the best possible strategy to make this happen You also need to continually reassess how vital these goals are to you.
Now that you have one or more goals that are specific measurable, your next step is to ensure that your goals are attainable Yes, the A in S.M.A.R.T. goals stand for attainable.
This is an important aspect of creating any goal – not just those related to your speaking English. This step may take some time. First, you need to be absolutely honest with yourself. What do you truly believe you can attain. Don’t overstretch your reach and set some impossible goal that is beyond your level. That will only disappoint you and you may wrongly believe learning English is simply beyond your capability.
It’s better to set a goal and break it into two steps and reach it than set one that’s simply impossible to reach. Let’s face it I’m five foot two inches tall. If my goal were to play professional basketball that may be seen as an unattainable goal. But to set a goal that I make so certain percentage of the shots I take on the court is attainable for me. That goal involves more my skill more than my natural height.
Pedro, for example, originally set a goal of learning how to pronounce fifteen new words a week. Before he committed himself to that goal, though, he thought long and hard if it really were attainable. Having second thoughts, he instead set his sights on learning ten – at least for the first week. After that, he would adjust his goal depending on how he performed the first week.
When you’re working with the idea of whether your goals are attainable, you may have to be flexible. If you discover that you set your sights a bit too high, reduce them. There’s no shame in doing that. In fact, having a desire that is at least realistic will help build your self-confidence.
On the other hand, you don’t want to make your target so easy that it doesn’t challenge you. If your goal is too easy, you won’t push yourself to do your best – and you may even lose interest.
Pedro may also want to create an attainable goal that he can meet with a teacher or close friend weekly to help him with his speaking. Once a week, for example, sounds reasonable. If he set his sights on meeting with someone five times a week that may be a bit excessive and end up being something he couldn’t achieve – which would possibly make him feel as if he failed. In reality, he really didn’t fail, he simply underestimated the time involved in meetings like that.
Pedro gave much thought to how to perfect telling a joke and the attainability of that goal as well. He admired several comedians on television. The question he had to ask himself was should he hold himself up to a professional level of delivery when he wasn’t even a native speaker.
The fact of the matter was that he admired the presentations of several of his colleagues who had told some great jokes. The attainable goal, then, would be to practice until he felt he could present more like them. He thought that would be an attainable goal.
He could learn to pitch these jokes through various ways – including professionals on television as well as the colleagues you work with. Pedro also recorded himself telling the joke to review his pronunciation.
Not only does Pedro have to learn to be flexible, he has to discover what smaller, equally attainable, goals he break this dream into smaller chunks.
The letter R in S.M.A.R.T. goals stands for the word responsible. The question becomes who is responsible for achieving this goal. The obvious answer is Pedro. As you create your goals, it will become quite apparent that you are ultimately responsible. What Pedro learned as he went along, however, was he needed to hold those who offered services of their help responsible as well.
He would have difficulty attaining some of the goals without the help of his friends, colleagues and instructors. This by no means absolves him of all responsibility for achieving them, but it does mean he may have to ensure in some from that those who offered to help him actually do.
If that should occur, he may have to take the imitative in reminding his instructor or others that they had volunteered to help. He may have to suggest times they could meet. Pedro can’t – and neither can you – just ask for help and then expect them to always take the initiative to help you.
Other issues that may fall under the responsible portion of the S.M.A.R.T. goals include the amount of time you can realistically invest in each goal. Hold yourself responsible for ensuring you’ve created goals that over extend you or your resources. If you set unrealistic goals, you’ll be disappointed and tempted to give up.
You’ll also have to approach your goals responsibly. A large part of that is knowing when to ask for help. It could be that you need someone to spend time with you and assess your pronunciation. It could also be something as simple as an individual who you report to occasionally who holds you accountable for your progress.
The T of the acronym of S.M.A.R.T. represents the phrase time-bound. Have you ever heard the saying that goals without a deadline are dreams? While it’s admirable to have dreams, the word itself implies that it’s something that you’ll see fulfilled in the future. Or worse yet something that’s totally unachievable.
You’re not dealing with pie-in-the-sky dreams that you don’t expect to come true. Not by a long shot. You’re creating specific targets that you expect to reach. When can you expect to see these goals manifest? That’s up to you.
One thing is one hundred percent certain, though: if you don’t hold yourself to a deadline, they’ll never materialize. Pedro discovered this. He found that if he didn’t put a specific time to reach his goal, he was far less likely to actually achieve them.
Pedro, for example, knew that it would take some time before he would be able to master the English language well enough to present a project report to his colleagues at work. So he set his sights on achieving them in one year.
But he also knew that he had to do the same thing with the intermediate goals that would eventually get him to his dream. So he sat down with pencil and a calendar in order to start assigning a timeline to his smaller goals.
In order to do this correctly, he needed to analyze the smaller goals and set an attainable time line for all of his goals. The moment he realized that he would be running behind on one of the smaller aims, he then would need to re-evaluate all the goals which followed. It could mean that he would encounter a chain reaction. All the steps after that one would also be met later than he had intended.
If he encountered this, he could handle this is two ways. First, he could just delay the attainment of these steps and assignment himself a later manifestation day. Or, he could adjust his goals – even if it means working a bit harder and longer – in order to reach his ultimate goal on time.
The point of setting specific completion dates is that it helps you to plan. Pedro set a final target date as one year. A year from the day he started he hoped to be standing in front of his colleagues informing them about the progress of a project. If he saw he was falling behind on this timetable, he could then adjust his intermediate steps to recover some of the lost time.
Being held time-bound for a goal is also a great motivating factor to aid in your planning. Once Pedro set a final goal, he worked backwards in planning deadlines for all the smaller steps. He started with his final goal date and carefully charted where he had a be a month before his final goal and then two months before that date.
He actually spent quite a bit of time figuring out how much time he’d need for all the smaller steps needed in order to get where he wanted to be on time.
Pedro decided that in a week he should work on one lesson on vocabulary – learning the meaning of the words. Additionally, he needed to put in two practice sessions on pronunciation. One of those would be conducted on his own with the help of a recorder and the internet and one would be – when possible – with his instructor or a good friend.
The final decision Pedro made in fulfilling the time bound portion of the S.M.A.R.T. goals was to take a few moments periodically in order to assess his progress. He set his assessment dates as once a month. He compared where he was to where he hoped to be. Was he on track? Would he be able to make his goal within the time frame he set? Or was he running behind?
Did he need to increase the number of vocabulary words he was learning every week or did he need more work on his pronunciation. Whatever he eventually decided, he fine-tuned his schedule to accommodate his ultimate completion date.
S.M.A.R.T goals are an excellent method of ensuring you don’t lose sight of your desires. How many times have set New Year’s resolutions only to find by February, you realize you’re not working toward them? That’s because you didn’t apply the follow up work necessary to keep you laser focused on your goal. You merely wrote down some vague goal and went on with your life. Your New Year’s resolutions become nothing more than afterthoughts as you continued on with your life.
You can easily see how setting – and maintaining – S.M.A.R.T. goals are essential in manifesting your desire to speak English fluently. The key to working these goals is to keep them uppermost in your mind. Pedro learned – and so you’ll discover this as well – that learning English is a daily discipline. You can’t learn to speak fluently by cramming a week’s worth of work into a day or two.
The Need for Flexibility
The other lesson Pedro learned from instituting this technique is that he needed to maintain a degree of flexibility. If a step isn’t working, then he needed to revise it. If he hadn’t progress as far as he had hoped by the end of a month or so, he needed to re-assess his strategy. He needed to analyze what was working and what wasn’t. and he needed to do it on a regular basis.
But there is one more action Pedro took when he successfully completed each of his smaller goals. He rewarded himself. At the very least, he stopped for a few moments and told himself how good he was doing. Sometimes, he would treat himself to a dinner out or buy himself a small present.
You should consider doing something similar. It needn’t be a large purchase or even a huge dinner. The important thing is that you stop for several moments and compliment yourself on doing a good job. Then cheer yourself on to going all the way.
Once you’ve set your goals, it’s time to move on to learning methods on achieving these goals. In the next chapter you’ll learn that the fastest way to learn English is to just dive into the language. You’ll also learn some techniques on doing just that.