Goal setting

What’s the connection between what I talked about at IH Milán on Friday (and also at the British Council at the end of September), and what I was doing last Sunday, which you can see here?

2014 Gijón 10km

a) None.
b) I was in all three events.
c) There were a lot of people at all three events.
d) Goal setting.

OK – no prizes for the answer, but you might like to think about why it is d). And for me, it’s because goal setting is critical to success, which is critical to life-long learning. Let’s take setting pronunciation goals, for example. If the goal (implicit or declared) is a native speaker accent, then very few learners (and I mean very few) are likely to achieve it. This is rather like me setting winning last Sunday’s race as my goal. It’s not totally impossible, but it’s highly improbable.

There is a school of thought, of course, that says that you have to tell learner’s to ‘go for gold’ in the knowledge that they won’t succeed, but that by aiming high they’ll get close. I don’t share this point of view. Aiming for gold on Sunday meant finishing the race in 30 minutes. It took me 48:33 which put me in position 1194 of under 2000 participants. What a disaster! Truly depressing!

But was I depressed? Well judge for yourself.

A very happy 'failure'

So how can I be so happy when I’ve failed so miserably? Answer – because I set myself a goal that was realistic, and not only did I achieve it – I actually bettered it.

Students who set unrealistic goals for their pronunciation (or are set such goals by their teachers, coursebooks or learning environment), run the risk of failing big time, and most people rather than run that risk, don’t try. If I’d been set the goal of 30mins for Sunday’s race, I’d have stayed in bed. Instead I set my own target time and feel great about my achievement.

So let’s all do ourselves and our students a real favour with invaluable implications not just for learning pronunciation, but for life in general. Set realistic goals. Go out and achieve them, and then re-set the goals on the basis of your success. It’s a win-win situation for you and everyone around you.

PS. You can read more about setting goals for pronunciation here.