The italki language challenge is a fantastic way to push yourself and your language skills to a whole new level. But as a language learner myself, I often ask myself, ‘Can I really improve in such a short time?’.


Well, yes…and no. The answer is a little bit complicated.


If you are just taking regular lessons with teachers, then you might find that a month is too short to see some progress. You might be demotivated that after taking so many lessons, you don’t feel like you have achieved anything. You might even think it is a waste of money.


But honestly, as a teacher of English and a student of Japanese and Korean, I think the language challenge is a fantastic way to boost your fluency in the language you’re learning. All you need to do is approach the challenge in a SMART way by setting the right goals!


SMART is an acronym that stands for many different things but for a language learning goal, this is a really good breakdown.


  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Responsible
  • Timed


You might have already heard of this technique of setting goals if you work in business. Let’s check out how this business tip helps with your language learning goals.



1. Be SPECIFIC with your goal


If your goal is too vague, at the end of the month, you cannot know if you have really improved.


So, don’t try to improve all of your skills in one month – this is just an easy way to fail. Instead, why not pick a few skills or just one skill that you don’t feel confident in?


For example, for the month of February, rather than saying:


  • “I want to improve my Japanese level.”


I should be saying:


  • “I want to improve my listening skills in Japanese”.


I can make it even more specific. I think I am pretty good at understanding formal Japanese, which is usually spoken at a slower pace. However, I find it very difficult to understand casual, informal Japanese from chat shows and podcasts. So, let’s change this goal even more by saying:


  • “I want to improve my listening skills in informal Japanese, focusing on talk shows on TV.”


Let’s try this with a speaking skill. If you find speaking on the phone really difficult, maybe your main goal is to improve your Telephone English skills. So, instead of saying:


  • “I want to improve my speaking skills in general.”


You could say:


  • “I want to improve my Telephone English skills for work.”



2. Make your goals easy to MEASURE


This is actually a really difficult step because it is very hard to measure progress in language learning. However, I have a special 2-step approach to this.


For example, if my goal were to improve my listening skills in informal Japanese, I would pick a talk show I really enjoy and choose a random episode that looks interesting. I would listen to it once before the challenge starts and write down what I understand and what parts I find difficult.


After working on listening strategies with a teacher every week, I would watch the same show again. I could write down the new challenges I face. I may also try and add a new challenge to my listening task like transcribing short sections of my video or shadowing some speakers from it.


At the end of the month, if I can understand the show, transcribe it and also read along at a natural speed, I must have obviously improved!


You can do the same thing with speaking for example. Rather than saying:


  • “I will improve my telephone English skills by the end of the month.”


You could say:


  • “I will improve my telephone English skills by the end of the month. I will record a roleplay with my teacher on how to make reservations, ask for information and make plans before the challenge. I will do this again at the end of the month and compare the two recordings to measure my improvement.”



3. Make your goals ATTAINABLE


If you are an intermediate learner, there is no point in setting a goal to learn all the advanced idioms there are in the dictionary. Not only is this impossible to learn in one month, but it is also not a goal that is attainable for your level.


Be realistic and set goals that you can achieve. Of course, you want your goal to be challenging but if you set very high expectations, you will feel demotivated when you don’t achieve them.


If you have already set a specific and measurable goal, your goal is probably quite attainable already.



4. Discuss your goal with a RESPONSIBLE teacher


Before you even think about doing the language challenge, you should already have a few teachers in mind. You should have a few lessons with them to check if your learning style matches their teaching style.


I think all students need to have chemistry with their teachers. This is built when you get along with your teacher, trust them and find their lessons challenging and useful. So, the language challenge doesn’t actually begin on the 1st of February – it should start earlier when you begin looking for a few good teachers.


Let your teachers know about your SMART goal. Make sure that you both understand what you want to achieve in one month. They can also help you finalise your goal if you are not sure about what you want to improve on.



5. Give your goal enough TIME


Many students sign up to do the language challenge but then, they get busy with their lives and forget to finish it.


You are the master of your time. Don’t let your English (or other language) take a back-seat when you get busy. Remember, if you schedule something, it will definitely happen!


Before the language challenge starts, book packages with teachers and plan what days and times you want to study each week. Booking all your lessons before the challenge starts also ensures that your favourite teachers are available. During this time, teachers are usually very busy!





While reading this article, you might have found some ideas for your own SMART goal. Maybe, look at your previous lessons on italki – did you find any weaknesses?


If you want to try setting a goal and seeing improvements in your English level, why don’t you book a lesson with me?


Hero image by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash