How To Define Language Learning Goals That Work

Just as I did last year, I am going to get my year started by setting some goals and laying out a clear set of expectations with the language. It is always important to do this with big projects, and learning a language is definitely a big project.

Saying you want to learn a language is too vague. Even using the word "fluently" isn't clear. When half of the alotted time is over, you need to be able to look at your list and feel confident that half of your expectations have been met, and determine which ones you still need to work on.

As I did last year, I'll start by defining fluency.

Define fluency

  • The term fluent is a form of the word fluid, or flowing. In other words, a fluent speaker of a language should be able to form flowing speech. Pauses to think are natural for anyone, but what’s important is the ability to chain words together casually.
  • A fluent speaker should be able to understand a casual conversation, and insert themselves into it without breaking the momentum. For example, if I am with friends and they’re talking about a new restaurant, I should be able to jump in and say that I’ve been to that restaurant, what I had, and what I’d recommend. Just as I can, and do, in my native English.
  • A fluent speaker should be, within reason, grammatically correct. It’s okay to be imperfect; in fact, I’m foreign is a great excuse. But the mistakes being made should be grown-up mistakes, not those that any five-year-old native speaker would laugh at.
  • I am not going to focus on word counts or vocabulary size. While these things may come up as part of my study, they will not be used as metrics by which to gauge my success.
  • A fluent speaker shouldn’t be tripped up by slang. We don’t say is not, we say ain’t, and we don’t say going to, we say gonna. These shortcuts will exist in any language you learn, and without learning them, you’re gonna be lost.

Okay! Now that I've got a clear understanding of my expectations, it's time to design a few "proofs," against which we can measure success. So, here are my expectations this year with Turkish.

My goals for Turkish

  • I should be able to chat with new friends online about general subjects without using any translator or dictionary
  • I should be able to read an article from a Turkish newspaper or news web site, and be able understand and summarize it without any help from a translator or dictionary. I don’t need to know every word, but I need to understand the details of the event being discussed.
  • I should be able to accomplish normal online tasks in Turkish, such as checking email or weather, shopping for clothes, or searching for plane tickets.
  • I should be comfortable expressing my personality through the language as I do in English, by making silly jokes, puns, wordplay, and flirting in conversation.
  • I should be able to watch a movie in Turkish without subtitles and understand what’s going on.
  • I should be able to download a short news clip in Turkish and understand it.
  • And finally, I should be able to have an in-person conversation with a native Turkish speaker for at least 30 minutes, without using English.
  • Most importantly, I will achieve these goals without using lesson books, vocabulary CDs, flashcards, word lists, instructional software, classes, teachers, or tutors.

The list is slightly different this year, compared to my checklist for Italian last year. Any interest in Italian is sure to include literature, whereas that's not such an obvious case for me with Turkish. But based on my results from last year, I feel I can (and should) raise the expectations on the length of conversation. Most significantly, I have added the fact that I will not be using any traditional language-teaching materials to learn this language.

I will keep a nice checklist of these items on my mission page, and as the year goes on, I will check off the items on this list as I accomplish them. My intention is that before 2011 is over I will have successfully completed each one of these goals, thus proving to myself that I am, in fact, fluent in Turkish.

Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.


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Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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