New year, new goals and new ways to get bored of your goals within a week of starting….
Excuse my pessimism, but we’ve all been there, from losing weight to spending more time with the family. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are, other things take priority and we just say “I’ll start again from next week.”
And the reason is probably that the goal you set was too big, to vague and not very realistic. According to the Statistic Brain Research institute, only 8% of Americans who make New Year’s Resolutions actually complete them.
So this year, let’s do the complete opposite and set some achievable, bite sized Chinese learning goals that you (and I) can achieve!
Have a Goal You’re Interested In
In the past, my Chinese learning goal was ‘improve my Chinese’. I’m sure you just saw the tumbleweed fly past you. There’s no incentive, no motivation and NO way to improve with such a massive aim. First, I had to decide to actually take learning Chinese seriously and not rely on living in China, because surprisingly, that wasn’t enough. I had to be interested in learning, and open to the language. If you see learning a language as a chore, then you either need to get a new interest, or find something out about the language that really gets the juices flowing. If you’ve read any of my other articles about my Chinese learning journey, you’ve probably heard me mention my love of radicals, and how, once the proverbial penny had dropped, radicals became my motivation for learning Chinese. I needed to find something that really fascinated me about the Chinese language, that made me think ‘I want to learn this language’. I’m sure the ‘thing’ that interests you about Chinese is different to my own, but think about some of the following as a gateway into the Chinese language:
Break a Goal into Smaller Pieces.
As I mentioned previously, my goal of ‘improving my Chinese’ was basically an empty thought until I started to look at what I needed to improve and work on those precise details. What, realistically could I do to show signs of improvement? I needed to aim for something, so I started working on an HSK exam. This is how I started to break my rather large ‘goal’ into smaller pieces that I could actually work on.
Maybe you want to pass the HSK 3 exam? For this exam, you need to learn around 600 words. How long do you think it might take to learn 600 words? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Don’t make it too easy, but don’t set an unrealistic goal either. Also, bear in mind, if you’ve learned characters before, this will reduce the number of characters you will need to learn.
So, now let’s say you’ve decided to take an HSK exam in 6 months. Book the exam now. Go on.
All sorted? OK, now to take the exam in 6 months you need to learn 25 words per week. If you only study 5 days a week, that’s 5 words a day. 5 words a day is your new bitesize goal.
Before you go mental and say that’s too many to learn in a week, look at this list of words from the HSK 3 exam:
电子 邮件 (diànzǐ yóujiàn)
All five of these words feature the same character: 电 meaning electricity, which makes learning these words much easier since, after studying the first word, you will already know that character.
Of course, even 5 characters a day may be too many, or 6 months too soon in the future, but breaking up your goals into smaller chunks is really essential if you want to establish some good habits and achieve your larger goal.
Get into Good Habits
I’ve recently started to set myself goals, in all aspects of my life, but instead of making grand goals for the year, I split everything up into daily or weekly goals. You could almost call them habits now, and that’s exactly what you want to do in order to reach your goals. There are lots of articles online that provide the golden number where picking up (or losing) a habit is concerned, which vary between 21 and 66 days. It seems to come down to personality and the type of habit you’re trying to start or break. However, I believe that setting a short, but very specific daily task, such as learning 1 character a day, will become a habit much faster than setting yourself the mammoth task of studying for an hour. I have to note, that I’m still unable to get into the habit of journaling and reading 10 pages of non-fiction (55555!), but I HAVE succeeded with my Chinese learning habit, YAY! I usually do it on my commute to work, it’s only about 10 minutes, but that’s a start and better than nothing, and as you’ll read later in the article, the idea is to ‘build’ up habits.
Write Your Goals Down
Before I clap myself on the back of being such a good student, I would never have started my habits without using some kind of productivity type app to keep me on the straight and narrow. I recommend using TaskLabels, because you can set up recurring daily, weekly or monthly tasks and set reminders, which is perfect for making new habits. You might still prefer paper to write down your goals, or want to be more creative and have a goal board on Pinterest!
Balancing Your Expectations with Reality
Although I believe that a goal should be somewhat out of your comfort zone (otherwise it’s just something you could have done before), I also think that it should be something realistic. I’m not talking about your dreams and aspirations, but that your daily or weekly learning goals should be based on practical expectations such as time. If you have a full-time job, 3 kids and a dog/cat/hamster, then setting the goal of learning 500 words in 1 month, is probably unrealistic. Not impossible, I’m sure, but pretty darn difficult. Consider your work schedule and available free time, including commuting or that sneaky hour you spend watching your favourite TV show (unless it’s 爱上超模 -iSupermodel of course)…
Start with 1 Goal
Another reason why many of us fail at our New Year’s Resolutions and goals is that we set too many. It’s not realistic to change every part of your life, or in this case, become a Chinese learning ninja (although that would be great, right?). By starting with 1 goal, and starting 1 good habit, this will pave the way to set more small goals and habits further down the line.
Have a Mini-Goal Every Month
If you read the article from the beginning of my post, you might have noticed that it differs from person to person on how long it takes to start or break a habit. However, starting a new mini – goal each month will help build new habits throughout the year instead of trying to accomplish too many things at once.
Your Chinese learning goals could be as simple as learning X amount of Chinese words in a month with your end goal as ‘Take HSK3’.
Returning to the habit building idea, adding a new ‘habit’ each month will also prevent feeling overwhelmed with your resolutions. Here are some ideas for your monthly habits.
January: Study Chinese Flashcards 15 minutes, 5 days a week
February: Learn a character every day (meaning, pronunciation, how to write etc)
March: Find an online tutor and have a class once a week
April: Listen to one Chinese learning podcast every day
May: Watch 1 Chinese movie a week
You could track your goals in a notebook or Bullet Journal! Check out some other ways to study Chinese using a notebook in our article ‘8 Creative Ways To Use Your Bullet Journal For Language Learning’.
Measure Your Chinese Learning Goals
Probably one of the most difficult things about setting goals is knowing how well you’re doing. If your resolution is to lose weight, you can use an app to measure your calorie intake, how much exercise you do and ultimately how much weight you lose.
There are a few different ways you can easily measure your Chinese learning progress:
- 1. If you’re studying towards an HSK exam, print off the vocabulary list, or keep them as a pdf and cross the words off that you have already learned.
- 2. Make yourself a spreadsheet, or document and manually record your progress.
- 3. Get a Chinese character poster and cross off the characters you know as you learn them.
- 4. Use the study function in a flashcard app.
- 5. Use an app like our favourite, TaskLabels, where you can see simple statistics on how many of your tasks you are completing.
What’s most important, however you measure the progress of your goal, is to be able to see how well you’re doing. This will keep you motivated and able to achieve your big goal.
Good Luck to all of you with your Chinese Learning this year! If you have any other suggestions on making your Chinese goals stick, please leave them in the comment section below.