There are a million possible things you could learn about English, but what’s important to you, right now?
Let’s examine why being specific about your needs, goals, and desires can help you get the results with English that you truly desire.
But first, some context.
A few months ago, I surveyed the members of the English with Kim email community and encouraged respondents to share what they most wanted to improve with regards to their English skills.
As I reviewed the responses, I was struck by some themes that kept repeating themselves.
And it hit me: these may be major reasons why you’re encountering challenges as you try to make progress and improve your English.
This whole article is about you feeling positive and empowered to take charge of your English learning so that you can truly make progress.
As a coach, teacher, and guide, I want to help you understand what may be stopping you from getting the results you want and having the English level that you desire.
Let’s get started.
Reason 1: You haven’t identified what you specifically want to achieve.
To make progress, you need to narrow down your focus.
Since I focus on communication skills, pronunciation, and other speaking skills, people often write to tell me, “I want to improve my speaking.”
But… what do you mean by that?
(That is always my first question!)
While mentioning “speaking” is a step in the right direction, I suggest you get even more specific. After all, this is how you’ll know if you’re making progress!
What does speaking better English mean to you
I often talking about having a goal for what you want to get out of a conversation in order to be prepared to answer questions more confidently.
It’s just as important to have a goal for what you want to achieve in a certain period of time.
(For more guidance on this topic, please check out How to Find Focus and Improve Your English More Quickly.)
If you haven’t identified what you specifically want to achieve, it’s going to be really hard to know if you’re moving towards that goal!
It’s also going to be difficult to decide if you’ve achieved that goal.
And without a goal motivating you, it’ll be extra challenging to make significant progress!
So let’s try this again: if you want to improve your speaking, what do you specifically want to improve.
Here are some ideas:
- Do you want to improve your accent? Or speak more clearly?
- Are you hoping to learn to speak more naturally or more quickly?
- Do you want to master the tone and rhythm of English?
- Would you like to speak more confidently in professional situations?
- Do you need to learn to negotiate more effectively with native speakers?
- Would it be nice to sound more articulate and more fluent when speaking with colleagues?
- Are you an non-native English teacher who wants to ensure their students learn culturally appropriate language?
All of these goals will help you improve your speaking, but you have to decide what matters most to you.
Think about the following: in what context, in which type of situations, in what areas of your life is speaking better English really going to help you?
Once you narrow your focus and decide for yourself, you’ll be able to make a lot more progress.
Remember, your goals shouldn’t be based on what other people think matters. Your focus needs to be on what you *personally* believe is necessary for your own needs, goals, and desires in your life.
Keep in mind that your needs and goals will change over time.
Here’s what I mean:
At the time that I became fluent in Spanish, my goal was conversational fluency when interacting in social situations.
But when I started to work in Spanish, I wanted to sound more professional and learn how to be less direct and more polite.
Even if your goals aren’t related to speaking better English, you can use this same approach to narrow your focus in writing, reading, and listening.
It’s one thing to write a casual email and quite another to write a business email.
You might want to have a great WhatsApp conversation or leave really good comments on YouTube.
You may need to write an academic essay, official report, or a thesis. This will be different than a personal blog or journal.
Reading and understanding articles from sources like blogs, newspapers, and other websites can require a widely varying set of language skills and vocabulary.
You need to be as specific as possible based on your own interests.
If you want to improve your listening, you’re going to need to sharpen different skills.
If you want to understand native speakers in everyday conversation, you have to learn to filter out mistakes.
If you watch a movie or tv show, the actors have rehearsed their lines and probably speak more clearly and effectively.
A formal speech might require you to pay more attention to stress, pausing, and phrasing for effect.
As you can see from these examples, when you identify and simplify your goals, you’ll be able to make more noticeable progress towards achieving them!
As we continue to consider the other reasons you might not be making progress, decide what’s truly important to you and then let us know in the comments below.
Reason 2: You are letting other people’s priorities distract you from your goals.
With so much information on the internet, it is very easy to let other people distract you from your goals.
It can be challenging to know what is most important for you when everything seems essential.
For example, you’ll notice that a lot of information online seems to be focused on fluency.
In a survey of the English with Kim email community, almost everybody said that they wanted to be fluent.
So I asked myself, is this because they really, truly want to be fluent, or because people seem to be talking about fluency everywhere?
If fluency is your goal, I encourage you to identify reasons why you personally might want to be fluent, if that’s your goal, rather than letting other people define fluency for you.
Here’s the truth: all English teachers and language coaches with a website or YouTube channel have their own priorities, including me!
As you’ve probably noticed, I want to talk specifically about communication and accent reduction.
But if you’re super interested in the TOEFL or writing, then maybe my resources aren’t right for you! (Just being honest!)
If you don’t agree with what I say is important, please don’t let the information I share distract you from your goals!
You might get “shiny penny syndrome,” which means you keep getting distracted by the bright, shiny new coins, or options, and forget about your original reasons for seeking out guidance!
When you feel overwhelmed, you lose sight of your needs and desires, and other people’s priorities creep in and replace what you know is truly important to you.
You need to decide for yourself what you want to learn first, and then start seeking out information that can help you achieve those goals. Not the other way around.
When we make resources, we usually create them in response to questions we frequently receive.
But if a video or article doesn’t suit your priorities, then there’s no reason for you pay attention to it right now.
Come back to it when – and if – it does!
For example, I don’t write very much in Spanish or Portuguese. If I hear about a great course designed to help me improve my writing in Spanish or Portuguese, I may be tempted.
If I’m not confident about my priorities, I might be convinced to invest time, money, and energy in something I don’t really need.
When I meet with clients, most of our time is spent clearly identifying what they specifically want to improve.
(That’s why a language coach can help you narrow your focus and spend time and energy on what will truly help you achieve your goals.)
For example, many people think they want to sound perfect, but what they really want is to sound natural!
Reason 3: You haven’t found a way to make English a consistent practice.
Real talk: To really achieve the English level that you truly want, you need to make English a near-daily practice.
Obviously, the amount of time you can dedicate to improving your English depends on your life and responsibilities, but even five minutes a day makes a difference.
If you really want to improve your English, you need to make an effort towards your goal every single day.
What’s going to help you stay focused on your specific priorities day after day?
To avoid information overload and overwhelm, decide on small, steady actions you can take each and every day.
You might choose to watch one YouTube video a day, and focus intensively on sentence stress, transitions and expressions, or intonation.
Or you might decide to learn one new word each day and take notes in your vocabulary journal.
You can write down the word stress, context where you discovered the word, and its meaning in English.
(I talk more about my approach to learning vocabulary naturally here.)
If you only have a few minutes each day, you can review the most recent entries in your word journal or refresh your memory on the oldest ones.
You might read and try to understand just one article about your personal interest or professional focus each day.
You might decide to look for vocabulary you don’t know or just try to get the general idea.
Or you could read the article out loud focusing on your word stress.
You can take a short podcast that’s only 3-5 minutes long and shadow or imitate the sounds of that person’s voice.
(You could even take one sentence or a short clip from one of my videos and do the same!)
This kind of simple, consistent practice will help you improve your English.
Remember, since your goals can and should change over time, your focus can shift along with them.
You might be traveling and as such want to focus on travel vocabulary to make sure your trip goes smoothly.
You may have a business meeting and decide to sharpen your negotiation skills.
(For more guidance on how to choose a focus for three months, be sure to check out How to Find Focus and Improve Your English More Quickly.)
A word of caution: avoid taking in lots of information without putting it into practice in some way.
For example, after reading this article and watching the video, you may want to write down the three reasons you’re not making progress and three things you’re going to do to change that.
Find a way to take whatever you’ve learned and put it into practice.
As for me, I have a tendency to read several books on the same topic. Unless I make the effort to actually do what the books suggested, I’m not going to be making the progress that I want on my goals.
Serious progress comes from small, consistent steps taken over time. Even five minutes a day will make a difference.
Now that we’ve talked about the three reasons you might not be making progress in English, I want to hear from you!
First, what is one priority that you’ve decided on after watching the video?
(If your goal is to improve your speaking or sound more fluent, I want you to be more specific than that. Dig deeper. Brainstorm. Name what you personally want to achieve. Put it into words.)
Second, what are you NOT going to pay attention to or focus on at this moment?
As we discussed, other people’s priorities can distract you from your goals. What are you going to ignore for the time being so that you can prioritize your own desires?
Third, how are you currently making or going to make English a consistent practice?
I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!