Performance-based Language Goals

Walter Freiberg
4 min readJan 6, 2023

The start of the year is our favorite time to set new language learning goals. After reflecting on the past year, we plan ahead for the next twelve months. We dream about where we’d like to be with our target language, one year from now. Most people set their goals according to the CEFR (Common European Frame of Reference for Languages). They tell themselves: ‘I’d like to reach a B2 level in Spanish’, or ‘I want to pass a C1 exam in French.’ I have set such goals for myself in the past with good results. However, this year I’m trying something different: I’m setting performance-based language goals.

When I think of language goals in terms of performance, I’m aiming at a very specific and individual result. At the end of the year, I want to be able to do X, Y, or Z in my target language. This can be more inspiring and motivating than a certificate. We will see! 😊

What are performance-based language goals?

A performance-based goal has to involve some sort of action or activity. Ideally, it should be something you look forward to doing and that sparks joy and excitement just by thinking about it. An avid reader learning Portuguese may set a goal of being able to read an entire book by Fernando Pessoa with a comprehension rate of +95% (as measured by how many unknown words you come across in a single page, on average). A professional keynote speaker learning German for business may set a goal of delivering a paid speech in German by December 31.

Advantages of setting performance-based language goals

One of the key elements for language learning to happen is motivation. When we feel motivated to practice, we make faster progress. And, as we progress and start seeing results, we get even more motivated to keep working at it. It’s a virtuous cycle!

When we set language goals based entirely in a desired action we want to accomplish, we’ll feel like practicing more often than not. Of course, there will still be days when we would rather skip the practice session. That’s when the performance goal will act as a powerful reminder and will nudge us to do the work to continue making progress towards it.

How to set performance-based language goals

The first thing in setting a language goal is identifying the language skill(s) you want to improve upon. Is it a comprehension skill (reading, listening) or is it a production skill (writing, speaking)? You choose where you want to focus on. Setting a comprehension goal, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you will skip production activities for an entire year. It just tells what’s your priority for the next 12 months. If you are practicing two languages at the same time, you could pick a comprehension goal in one of them and a production goal in the other.

Once you select the language skill you’ll practice, you need to picture that in a specific task or activity. Some examples:

Comprehension goals

  • Being able to read [insert book title] by [insert author] in [insert target language] with a comprehension rate above 90% by December 31, 2023.
  • Being able to watch [insert film name] in [insert target language] without subtitles with good comprehension by December 31, 2023.

Production goals

  • Being able to speak for 10 minutes about [insert topic of choice, personal hobby] in [insert target language] with very few mistakes by December 31, 2023.
  • Record and publish 5 episodes of a podcast about [insert topic of choice] in [insert target language] by December 31, 2023.

Note that some goals were very specific regarding the desired outcome (reading a book with a comprehension rate above 90%) while others were looser (watch a film with good comprehension; being able to speak for 10 minutes with very few mistakes). Here you can create your own definition of ‘good comprehension’ and ‘very few mistakes’ or just leave it like that. Sometimes, the mere action could be enough. Recording and publishing a few podcast episodes in your target language would be a great accomplishment, regardless of how good your pronunciation was or how many mistakes you made. Most people don’t publish a podcast in their native language, let alone in a foreign one 😄.

In the examples above, I have added a deadline for completing the task at the end of the year. You could break it down in smaller goals to be reached at the end of each quarter or at the middle of the year. Before feeling comfortable giving a 10-minute speech, you could shoot for 3 minutes (by March) and 5 minutes (by June). In 2020, I spent an entire month recording daily 1-minute short speeches in Italian with my cellphone. After that, I moved on to 3-minute videos and continued practicing at that length for a while. It’s possible to apply the same criteria to work your way up to challenging goals, step by step.

Time to set your performance-based language goals

If you never tried setting this type of language goals, I encourage you to give it a try. I started doing this in 2021 with my Skill-building in foreign language projects. For me, these projects were exciting performance-based language goals. Each one of them! When we connect a language goal with a personal activity, we can get make a lot of progress and have tons of fun 😀.

If you’d like to try this, but you’re not sure how to go about it, I’d be glad to help you. In my language coaching sessions I guide language students in their goal-setting process. Here you can learn more about it 😊.

Have fun with your language learning goals!

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Walter Freiberg

Language coach - I learn things and I help others how to learn better — walterfreiberg.com