New year, new you. As one year ends and another begins, many of us like to set ourselves goals in order to make our lives better. You might even be thinking about how you can improve your English level this year!

To help you achieve your objectives, you should make sure your goals are SMART.


What are SMART goals?


SMART is an acronym that helps us plan more effectively by making our goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. When we write SMART goals, we become more focused and think about what we need to do to achieve them.

Whether you’re studying for an important exam, you need English for work or you’re learning it for fun, SMART goals can help you. Here’s how:

S is for Specific

First, ask yourself what you want to achieve and write it down. You can make a general goal like “improve my listening skills” more specific by breaking it into several more specific smaller goals. For example:

“I want to be able to…

  • understand interviews with my favourite musician”
  • understand international customers at work”
  • follow what’s being said in a group conversation”


It’s a good idea to break all your big goals into smaller chunks like this because it helps you start directing your own learning. To help you do this, come up with some questions using Wh- words (what, where, when, why and how) and try to answer them in order to find out exactly what you need to do.

To get you started, here are some useful questions to ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to…(improve my listening)?
  • What do I need to do to achieve this?
  • What materials or resources do I need?


Now write out a specific goal for yourself.

To find out more about how to improve your listening skills and to help you with your goal setting for this important skill, have a look at our post 5 Ways To Improve Your Listening Skills At Home.


M is for Measurable

Great work! You have something specific you want to achieve. Now you need to make sure you can measure your progress. This will keep you on track and motivated.

You could draw up a chart or checklist where you can tick off activities as you complete them.

How SMART Goals Can Help You Improve your English in 2020 | Oxford House Barcelona

You can also decide on exact numbers to measure, for example:

  • I’m going to listen to and understand 10 minutes of a business podcast
  • I’ll learn 15 new words when reading the news
  • I’ll learn three new expressions while watching Netflix

Now make your specific goal measurable!


A is for Achievable

It’s essential that your goal is something that you can achieve. That means it shouldn’t be too difficult – or too easy, either! You will need to be realistic about what you are capable of doing, considering the amount of time and resources you have.

Look at it this way, for a newbie runner, finishing a marathon in six months probably isn’t very achievable! Think about learning English in the same way. Choose activities that you know you will have time to do.

If you only have a couple of hours a week, you might want to consider small goals such as:

  • Spend ten minutes playing vocabulary games on your favourite language learning app
  • Read one article for pleasure (reading doesn’t have to be followed by comprehension questions!)
  • Watch a short video about a topic you’re interested in

Now revise your goal so far, is it achievable?


R is for Relevant

Is your goal the right one for you? To decide, you’ll need to think about your strengths and weaknesses. It can sometimes be hard to evaluate this on your own. Ask your teacher what you can work on in your own time and think about what you’d like to achieve.

  • Would you like to watch a series in English?
  • Do you want to use English while you are travelling?
  • Perhaps you need to pass an English exam for work?

Your current level of English and personal ambitions will help you decide if a goal is relevant for you.

Now ask yourself, is my goal relevant to my learning needs?


T is for Time-bound

When will your goal begin and end? Putting a timeframe on things can help maintain momentum, especially if it’s not too far away.

Ideally, you should break up long-term goals into smaller goals. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing sight of your original aim and losing track of your progress.

Use time phrases like these to help you plan short, medium and long-term SMART goals:

  • By the end of the week, I will have…
  • By the end of the month, I will have…
  • By the end of the summer, I will have…
  • By this time next year, I will have…

Now add a time frame to your goal!


Example SMART Goals


>By the end of March, I want to improve my listening skills so that I can understand an episode of Game of Thrones in English and write a 200-word review of it in my own words.

By the end of the summer, I will have listened to an entire 30-minute podcast in English and be able to understand it enough to explain it to my teacher.

Next class, show your teacher your SMART goals and ask them to give you feedback and advice.


More SMART Goal Tips


While planning, it’s a good idea to create a visual timetable or add what you aim to do to your calendar. An example week in your calendar could be:

Monday: Listen to a podcast and write a 50-word summary

Wednesday: Read my favourite website in English and write down new vocabulary

Friday: Go to Oxford House’s Happy Friday language exchange and use five new words

This will help you stick to your plan.

Or you could use an app such as Goals On Track to keep a record of what you do and when, in the same way as you might use a fitness tracker. Seeing how much you have done can be really motivating and give you a great sense of achievement!

So, are you ready to set your own SMART goals? What are your aims and objectives this year? Let us know in the comments section below!

If you’ve got this far, you’re already on the right path to improving your English. So why not also read our post 5 Ways to Become a Better Learner?

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

To draw up (pv): plan and write.

To tick off (pv): write a tick next to something to show you’ve done it.

Newbie (n): a person who is new to an activity.

Timeframe (n): a period of time in which you will do something.

To maintain momentum (exp): to keep progressing at the same pace or more quickly
to lose sight of (exp): to forget what your aim is.

To lose sight of (exp): an estimation of spending.

Fitness tracker (n): an electronic device, e.g. a bracelet, that monitors physical activity.

(Great) sense of achievement (exp): a feeling that you have done well after completing something.


pv = phrasal verb

n = noun

exp = expression

v = verb

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