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How to set goals when you are learning a language

How to set goals when you are learning a language


How to set goals when you are learning a language independently

Do you have goals for the language/s you are learning? As we embark on our current Language Learning Trip in Viet Nam (it’s our first day here today!) I have been thinking about goals much more seriously. Lingo Dada and I are both enroled for private Vietnamese lessons while we are here in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and again for 5 days while we are in Hanoi.

What do we want to spend our lesson time learning? How will we maximise our time with our teacher and our time in-country?

How did I start studying independently?

I first learned Vietnamese 20 years ago – here in Saigon at the National University of Vietnam. I studied intensively and had classes each day. My tones and pronunciation got to a fairly decent level – probably about B2 – upper intermediate.

After I returned to Australia, I continued my studies in Vietnamese. It was my major subject in my Bachelor of Arts (Languages), but I really felt my level had slipped being outside of the country and not being immersed in the language every day. I came back to Saigon for another 6 months after I graduated and did some more language study and part-time work. My love of language learning trips had begun!

I have only recently started learning languages independently. After I returned from China at the beginning of 2014, I spent 18 months in group classes at the Confucius Institute, but when I had my daughter I stopped attending classes and pretty much had a language hiatus for 12 months..! Over the last year or so I have embraced solo language learning, but also learnt that it requires discipline and goal setting to keep making progress.

I started back with my Chinese study earlier this year and in May 2018, we took a 2 week Language Learning Trip to Taipei for some consolidation and intensive study.  Read more here on my experiences in Taipei learning Mandarin Chinese.

I spent the next few months preparing for the HSK 4 exam (read more here about preparing and passing the HSK exam) and doing regular iTalki classes. I loved studying independently, and there was no turning back now! And after I passed my HSK 4 exam, and Vietnamese was my next language to tackle.

What are my goals for my Vietnamese studies this time around?

I have three language learning goals for this Language Learning Trip in Vietnam.

  1. To conduct an interview in Vietnamese
  2. To learn vocab and expressions to use with Lingo Bubba
  3. To improve my food-related vocabulary.

Specific steps to achieve these goals 

My main goal is to conduct an interview (on camera!) in Vietnamese for a minimum of 2-3 minutes, on the topic of learning a foreign language. This is quite a specific goal, so learning the grammar, phrases and vocab required should be (hopefully) quite achievable.

My second goal is to learn vocab and expressions useful for talking to and teaching Lingo Bubba. Things like – “look, what can you see. What colour is the dress? Oh is it? Good girl! Do you want something to eat?” These are all expressions that are useful to use with Lingo Bubba as a way of interspersing other languages into our everyday life. These phrases I can cobble together, but I want to get to a level where they ‘roll off the tongue!

My third goal is to improve my food-related vocabulary. I have been focussing on regional specialities with my iTalki tutor as well as revising specific ingredients (with vocab taken from an old Lonely Planet world food guide). So my time in Vietnam will be a good chance to learn more vocab, and practice the words I know already.

My Vietnamese level is way lower than it used to be – I now classify myself as A1-A2 – still very much at a mid beginner stage. But…. I know that with time and practice all that Vietnamese knowledge could come back to the surface! It’s in my head somewhere!

Having a specific, well-defined goal helps you so much with your language planning and tracking your progress.

Lingo Dada also has a defined goal for his learning. He works in an area in Melbourne with a large Vietnamese community, so his practice revolves around vocab, phrases and expressions useful for communicating in a work situation.

On his action list is:

  • learning how to ask general personal details (address, phone number etc)
  • learning all the familial terms (daughter, nephew, grandfather etc)
  • practising all his favourite food and drink vocab (we are lucky in Melbourne, we can have great Vietnamese food and get the chance to order in Vietnamese too!)

Lingo Dada gets great feedback on being able to use some basic words and phrases in his job, so increasing his vocab will only help.

You can read more about Lingo Dada and his language learning journey here.

How to evaluate your success?

For each goal you define, you need to know how you will measure its success. Is the end goal knowledge on a particular topic, passing an exam, preparing for a job interview or being able to buy a train ticket on your trip? The more specific you are, the better!

For my first goal, of conducting the interview I feel it will be pretty easy to evaluate my success.  If I can undertake the interview and pull together some questions and responses in a logical and thoughtful way, then it will be a success!

The second goal of using short phrases with Lingo Bubba will hopefully be evident after our three weeks here in Vietnam. If I practice and use these phrases every day, they should become a part of daily conversation. The trick is to keep this up after returning to Australia.

The third goal of improving my food-related vocabulary is a little bit harder to measure. I want to be able to read and recognise the majority of food signs I see on the street, ask vendors to prepare me the dishes knowing what the main ingredients are (and what I do and don’t want to be included).


Each language and each learner has a different goal

As language learners, we are all so different in the way we best learn. So it is not surprising that we should all have different gals and a language focus.

What are your language learning goals?

Has it been easy to define your goals and set up an action plan to achieve them?

Is going on a Language Learning Trip one of your goals?


I love hearing from you, let me know your thoughts!


Until next time,


Lingo Mama


Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam


Penelope Wilson


  • Lingo Dada

    08.11.2018 at 17:59

    I’ve had two lessons so far on this Language Learning holiday – and already feel confident going out ordering coffee or lunch by myself and asking how much to pay! Can’t wait to learn more and more!

    • pennywilson

      12.11.2018 at 19:36

      That is so amazing Lingo Dada! Immersion and Language Learning Trips are great for making fast progress in your target language, and for just building confidence. Go you!

  • Ioana

    08.02.2019 at 00:14

    Loved the article – it’s crucial to have goals when you learn a new language – helps you keep yourself accountable and motivated…
    Keep up the good work! And congrats on launching the blog – it looks lovely. Also, nice intervention on the podcast 🙂
    A smile from a fellow international blogging day class of 19 🙂

    • pennywilson

      12.02.2019 at 07:37

      Thanks Iona! Great to hear from you! Are you leaning a language too? Thanks for getting in touch, and all the best with your blogging too! What’s you site? Penny