Keep yourself accountable

Yes, I really need to do that later. I’ll do it next week. I really want to do it, but I don’t know where to start. I’ll go for a walk instead. Oh, I haven’t done anything about it this week, never mind. It’s the weekend. I’ll look at it again next week…

Sometimes language learning can feel a bit like that. We have good intentions, but somehow they never materialise. However, it doesn’t have to be like that.

1. You need to have goals if you want to reach them

Chapter six of my book is all about bringing structure to your learning. Basically, if you really want to see progress, you need to work out some relevant and achievable goals, and then plan how you’re going to reach them.

So, when you’re thinking about your goals, they need to be
Specific – so you know exactly what you want to achieve;
Measurable – or how else will you know that you’ve achieved the goal?
Achievable – don’t set yourself up to fail;
relevant – don’t take on someone else’s goals or your heart won’t be in it, and you won’t care about the outcome;
time-bound – set yourself a deadline so that things actually get done.

2. Goals alone aren’t enough

Ok, so you’ve got your goals, which is great, but how are you going to set about achieving them? It will be really hard for you to make progress if you don’t have a plan of action!

In a previous job, our team had a delivery action plan. It was basically a big spreadsheet that broke the organisation’s main targets down into lots of individual tasks that had to be completed throughout the year. Using the spreadsheet, we could track the progress of the smaller tasks and then get a clearer idea of how things were going in terms of the main goals.

If you’re learning a language, there is just one person – and that’s you! However you can still track what you’re doing to meet your language goals. This is helpful because:

A. It makes you feel good about yourself if you can see how much you’ve done!
B. You can see where you are putting your attention – it’s easier for us to do things that we enjoy, but these aren’t always the things that we need the most. For example, when I was learning Turkish, I loved reading and listening, writing was ok, but I hated speaking. Tracking my activities helped me to make sure that I got in some speaking practice, even though this was my least favourite task.

I developed a spreadsheet for myself so that I could track my activities for Turkish learning. This idea will appeal more to people who like numbers and spreadsheets, or maybe people who like games and challenges. I was motivated to see if I could earn more points than the day before. Points were earned by doing activities, and the activities that I liked the least were weighted so that they gave me more points than activities that I enjoyed.

At the end of the week, I could see what I’d done, where I needed to focus my attention next week and of course, how many points I’d earned! Nobody is checking up on you, so you have to be honest, but if you cheat, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.

It was also a good way for me to check that I was doing certain activities consistently through the week. Ok, I didn’t have time for reading today, but I’d like to read three articles this week, so I’ll have to find one tomorrow.

You can get a copy of my spreadsheet too – just enter your details at the bottom of this page.

If that sounds too complicated for you, there are other systems, such as setting specific days for specific activities. Mondays = learn some vocabulary, Tuesdays = do some listening practice, Wednesdays = read your book. However I like variety and I found that this system allowed me to be more flexible.

3. Get together with other people who will help you

Sometimes language learning can be a lonely business, particularly if you’re not attending a group class.

Building your own personal learning network can be a great way to find other people who are interested in language learning and finding support for when you need it. You can read my article on personal learning networks here
Also, if you’re interested in being part of a group of people who want to learn English, you can check out my plans for a business English club.

Download your own copy

So, if you’re interested in learning more about my spreadsheet, you can request your own copy. If you then want to use it, think about the activities that are relevant to you – they may not be the same as mine. You can then change some of the activities so that the sheet better reflects the things on which you want to focus. If you want to give yourself double points for activities that you don’t like, just add 2 each time you do that activity, rather than the usual 1. Otherwise, just add a 1 in the correct square each time you complete an activity.

Good luck and I’d love to hear how you get on!

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Author: Kirsty Wolf

I am an English teacher and a language enthusiast who also speaks German and Romanian. I help motivated professionals to improve their English so that they can communicate confidently and authentically.

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