This article talks about setting goals, once again. I like to insist on this subject because it’s one of the major factor to succeed (or fail) in your project of learning French. This technique I’m about to explain comes from the field of project management, and it will help you set concrete and realistic goals.


What are SMART goals?

The SMART method was invented by George T. Doran in the magazine Management Review. It defines a set of requirements allowing you to set quality goals, which are hence more likely to be reached. This method is used a lot in the corporate world, and it can perfectly be applied to the field of language learning.

Why goals are essentials

If you already started to learn French, you probably forgot to set goals. It’s totally understandable because the fact that you started to learn represents in itself a source of motivation. It means you already have a good reason to keep on working and moving forward. However, after a while, you realize your excitement to learn French is slowly fading away and you end up asking yourself why you bother learning it every single day.

If somebody ask you what’s your goal when you learn French, your answer is generally quite vague: “Well… Speaking French very well”. That’s not a goal, it’s rather a simple wish. You haven’t set any time-related objective and “Speaking French very well” is absolutely not explicit. Basically, it won’t be enough to keep you motivated for a whole year. However, if you answer “Being able to visit France by myself, knowing how to ask for directions, ordering a meal, within about six months.”, then you are defining a concrete and humble goal which you will definitely achieve.


The SMART method applied to learning French

SMART stands for 5 different criterions which will enable you to find quality goals. These 5 factors may vary depending on your project. Here are the ones I’ve gathered to help you learn French:

  • Specific: Your goal must be clear and concrete. “Reaching the C2 level of the CEFR” or “being able to hold a common conversation” are very specific goals which can satisfy your own needs.


  • Measurable: It has to be quantifiable and based on objective standards. If you want to learn French, you could start to learn the 1000 most common French words for example.


  • Attainable: You must be able to easily realize the different tasks of your project, like revising vocabulary on your phone regularly or going to a French class every week. On the contrary, if you plan to speak French every day in order to practice your pronunciation whereas you don’t have anybody who speak French around you, that’s not an attainable goal.


  • Relevant: You won’t be able to read Victor Hugo or Molière after just 3 months of studying French, sorry about that. You must be sure that you can reach your goal. If it’s too far away from you, you will get discouraged; if it’s too easy to reach it, the lack of decent challenge will also impact your motivation. Do not hesitate to ask people around you to give you their impression about the feasibility of your goal.


  • Time-bound: Some people will say learning a language is a process that never ends. It’s not wrong, but yet it’s the very nature of a project to be time-bound. You should consider your goals as intermediate milestones in your learning process on the very long term. If you don’t put any time-related pressure on yourself, you are taking the risk of letting your learning process stretch forever and to not make any progress at all.


Theory in practice: think about the right questions

Take some time to analyze each one of the 5 factors, and ask yourself on which criterion you can work on. To help you doing this, here’s a few questions I recommend you to ask yourself (not necessarily in the right order):

  • Specific > (WHAT?): What do you want to be able to do?

That’s the ambition you are displaying, the core of your project.

  • Attainable > (HOW?): How will you put this project into practice, on which step will you be leaning on?

Here you identify your learning method and the material you will use: online course, books, conversations, software…

  • Measurable > (HOW MANY/MUCH?): Which quantifiable criterions can you use to know what your current situation is so far?

You should be able to determine if you are ahead of time or lagging behind. This can be based on a certain amount of words to learn or on the number of lessons in a course to study… Of course, don’t become obsessed by a crazy routine. The CEFR scale may, incidentally, be very useful.

  • Time-bound > (WHEN?): Set a deadline before the realization of you project.

Try to find the balance: this deadline must neither be too short, nor too long. If your project is very complex and takes too much time, try to divide it in several sub-goals.

  • Relevant > (validation): Once you have set the previous criterions, ask yourself if your project can be fulfilled with these conditions. If it’s not the case, try to correct the faulty parameter.

This is not necessarily obvious, especially if you lack of experience and perspective. Don’t be afraid to ask the advice of a teacher or any more experienced person.

Don’t forget that any project is made to evolve, so if you think you haven’t well-adjusted one of the parameters, keep in mind that you can always modify it later on. Your goal is not set in stone, but it exists only to serve your needs.


Your SMART goal as the base of your learning

Once you have clearly defined your goal, you must absolutely place it in the core of your study. If you don’t do it, you will simply waste your time. You have to regularly ask yourself where you are so far ; have the guts to be even more ambitious if you are ahead of time in the learning process, or scale back your expectations if you bit off more than you can chew.

Here’s a short advice for the less motivated people: summarize your project in one or two sentences and write it down on a sheet of paper. For example: “I want to learn French (specific), being able to hold a simple conversation about familiar subjects which is the level B1 (measurable), within six months of studying (time-bound). I will take a class twice a week, revise vocabulary with flash cards and read simple texts (attainable)”.

Of course, this project must seem realistic to you. If you are afraid of being discouraged, put this little paper somewhere you can see it clearly: next to your computer, in front of your bed… you can choose! Thus, you will regularly have your goal close to you and will be less tempted to leaving it aside.

I strongly recommend you to think about a SMART objective. It takes not even 10 minutes, but you will considerably benefit from it on the long term: stronger motivation, more regular and efficient work. Of course, if you are struggling to find solid goals, feel free to tell it to me, I will answer all your questions!

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