Helping Learners Understand Spoken English

SMART Goals for English Language Learners

3 arrows in the center target
Set goals to hit your target!

What are your goals?

Whether it’s the beginning of a new year, new semester, or new phase of life, setting goals is important. This post was inspired by Derek Sivers’ Ted Talk on goal setting.

Let’s take a look at what SMART goals are with some examples.

smart goals graphic with arrows and symbols representing each goal aspect

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are Specific/Measurable/Achievable/Relevant/Time-bound. Let’s look at each component individually.


What exactly do you want to achieve?

Learn English isn’t specific.

Learn 100 new words per week is specific.

However, even this goal still needs some work to make it a SMART goal. Being specific is just one step.


How? How many? How much? How will you know you have achieved your goal?

Watch TED talks isn’t measurable.

Watch 10 TED talks in 30 days is measurable.

With measurable goals, you can chart your progress and know if you have achieved what you set out to do.

Goal with the O as a target with a dart in the center of the O
Set achievable goals


Can you really do it? Is it possible? Is it attainable? Is it realistic? Do you have time for it?

Watch 50 TED Talks every day isn’t achievable for most people.

Watch 1 TED Talk every day is.

While not impossible, even if the 50 TED talks you watched were each only 5 minutes long, it would still take over 4 hours per day. This might work in the short term during summer vacation or on weekends, but it isn’t realistic to think you can maintain this on a daily basis.

We only have so much time and energy each day. With sleep and other obligations, setting aside 4 hours each day to watch TED Talks will probably not happen. Watching 1 TED Talk per day or 5 TED Talks per week is a more realistic goal, but it depends on you. Maybe you only have time for 1 per week.

Returning to our vocabulary example, you might not be able to realistically learn and remember 100 new words per week, but you can probably learn and remember 10 per week. Watching TED talks is one way to add to your vocabulary.

Increase Your Vocabulary: Why Learn Vocabulary in Context?

Whatever your goal, choose something that is realistically achievable for your situation.


Does it make sense to do it? Is it meaningful to you? Is it worth your time and effort?

Watch 5 TED Talks per week might not be relevant if your overall goal is to improve your speaking.

Converse in English for 20 minutes 2 times per week is a more relevant goal to improve your speaking.

Of course, you could use TED Talks for the speaking topic and create a more refined goal, such as Watch 2 TED Talks per week and discuss it with a friend in English for 20 minutes.

You might be surprised to find how 20 minutes can turn into 40 minutes when you have both a good topic and a good conversation partner.

The more relevant and meaningful a task is to you, the more likely you are to do it.

Watching TED Talks on the topic of engineering might be meaningful and relevant if you are an Engineering major, but if you’re a Sociology major, watching TED Talks on the topic of sociology will be more relevant. If you are an Education major, TED Talks on the topic of education might interest you. There are thousands of TED Talks and other videos to choose from to match your interests.

Set a deadline.


When? Set a deadline. A deadline is the latest time or date by which something should be completed.

Watch 5 YouTube videos doesn’t have a deadline.

Watch 5 YouTube videos by 10:00 pm next Saturday has a deadline.

Example SMART Goal for Improving English

If your goal is to improve your English vocabulary and listening skills, your SMART goal might be:

I will watch 3 TED Talks per week for the next 30 days and add 15 new words or expressions to my notebook each week.

This is just one example of a SMART goal. Only you know what you have time for and what you are able to do. Create your own based on your language learning goals.

Writing SMART goals is a great way to stay motivated and achieve your short and long-term goals.

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For your English language goals, Espresso English has many affordable courses that can help you meet a vocabulary, speaking, listening, pronunciation, or grammar goal. Each course also has free samples, so if saving money is one of your goals, use the free resources.

Now that you know what a SMART goal is, increase your chance of reaching your goals by writing 1-3 SMART goals. Give yourself some accountability by sharing your goals in a comment on my YouTube video related to goals: Achieve Your Language Learning Goals

If one of your goals is to watch 5 TED Talks per week, you can get started right now with Derek Sivers’ TED talk: Keep your goals to yourself. As we like to say in English to encourage people to take action immediately:

There’s no time like the present! 

Video and Discussion

Below are 10 discussion questions to use with Derek Sivers’ Ted Talk about keeping goals to yourself. The video is 3 minutes and 9 seconds long and includes a transcript and subtitles in over 50 languages.

Begin with the first 4-6 questions, then watch the video and continue with the remaining questions. If you are studying alone, you can think or write about your answers in English. You can even speak about them by talking to yourself. It may sound strange, but this kind of speaking practice will help you improve your speaking skills.

If you’d like, connect with me on LinkedIn and DM me your answer to one of the questions below. I’d love to hear from you. Mention that you read my post about SMART goals, and I’ll write back to you. If you want corrections, let me know, and I’ll include them in my response.

Discussion Questions

  1. What comes to mind when you hear the word goals?
  2. Why is goal setting important?
  3. How often do you usually set goals?
  4. What are some goals you have set in the past?
  5. Do you prefer to share your goals or keep them to yourself?
  6. How do you feel and what do you do when you fail to achieve a goal?
  7. How do you feel and what do you do when you succeed in achieving a goal?
  8. What role does motivation play in achieving goals?
  9. What is your usual method of setting goals? Had you heard of SMART goals before today?
  10. After watching this Ted Talk, do you want to share your goals or keep them to yourself?

TED talk about goals by Derek Sivers

Have you written a SMART goal?

If so, will you keep it to yourself or share it? Some people believe that sharing goals increases the possibility of achieving them because we are held accountable. To be held accountable for something means we have a responsibility that people expect us to meet. It is not the best type of motivation, but it can put help motivate us to do what we say we plan to do.

You can give yourself some accountability by sharing your goals in a comment on my YouTube video related to goals: Achieve Your Language Learning Goals. Then, when you’ve met your goal, comment again to let me know.

For more TED Talks on goals, click here.

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Never stop learning!