Thoughts on Setting Stretch Goals

In December I set a goal to finish Duolingo's Swedish course, with all 66 Swedish skills completed to level 5. At that point, I was about two thirds done with the Swedish course, and it had taken me about 20 months to get that far.

Screenshot of my Swedish Duolingo Progress
Do I look contemplative enough?

It was a tough goal, but I did reach it.

In this post I want to reflect on setting goals and how it related to my recent push to learn Swedish.

The Importance of Setting Daily Goals

With big goals, it is important to set smaller goals. I did this by counting how many crowns I had left to finish the course, counting the number of days I had until the end of December, and doing some simple division to figure out how many crowns per day I needed to earn.

One problem with that method is that not all crowns are earned equally. For some Swedish skills, it takes 2 lessons to earn a crown. For others, it takes 10. I noticed early in the month, I was focusing on the easier crowns to reach my daily goal of 3 to 4 crowns per day.

That method was potentially dooming me for failure, by putting off all the hard stuff to the very end.

So, I switched my focus to lessons per day, instead of crowns per day. This was harder to figure out, and I had to wait until all the Swedish skills were unlocked to know how many lesson were needed to finish each skill. By the time I had it figured out, I realized I needed about 15 lessons per day to reach my goal.

Ugh. That's a lot.

But at least knowing kept me from falling behind, and actually motivated me to work harder. I knew if I did more than 15 per day, I wouldn't have to work quite as hard at the end of the month.

Setting a goal that required 15 lessons per day may have been a mistake.

I have mixed feelings about the difficulty of my goal.

It was a good thing, because it pushed me to improve. And I did improve! I feel I made more progress learning a language during December than almost any other time in my life. It was fun being able to understand more and more Swedish that I found online. I'm glad that I leveled up so much during December.

However, spending over 2 hours a day, every day, for a month, meant that a lot of other things in my life went down in priority. Luckily I finished my school semester early in December, and luckily we are in a pandemic and I have almost no social life right now. During normal times, spending 14+ hours per week on language learning would not have been possible for me.

Also, it's not a pace I can keep up indefinitely. I am still doing language study every day, but I've reduced it down to 15 to 30 minutes per day (if you don't count passively listening to Swedish music on YouTube, which I do for a few hours a day still).

Stretch goals are important for making progress

You could probably describe my normal method of language learning in two ways: consistent, but casual.

I have the consistency part down great. I study languages every single day, and almost never miss a day. Almost every day I find something to watch on YouTube in another language, or something to read in another language, and I currently boast an 863-day streak on Duolingo.

But, even with my well-established daily habit of language learning, I don't make as much progress as I could, because I'm pretty casual with my language learning. I usually do whatever I feel like. Some days I feel like French, other days I feel like doing something with German.

Having a stretch goal in Swedish made me concentrate on one language for a month. And concentrating on one language helped a ton. I made more progress in Swedish during the month of December than the previous 20 months. It was good to have something to focus on.

Duolingo does not get you to fluency

Another important part of setting goals is setting the correct goal. I want to speak Swedish fluently and understand what I hear. Duolingo got me much closer, but I still have a ways to go.

I understand a lot of what I read, and some of what I hear. But I'm not at the level I would like to be at.

That makes me wonder if spending that much time on Duolingo was the smartest thing to do. Honestly, I don't know the answer to that. But it's got me thinking, and I'll probably write more about that later in another post.

What's next for me in language learning

It's been about a month since I finished my Swedish Duolingo Goal. In the past month, I've gone back to dabbling, but for the most part I've kept it to just three languages: Swedish, German, and Spanish.

It is nice not to have the pressure of difficult goal, but I am also not making much progress in any particular language right now.

I also miss starting a new language. I haven't done that in a while, and Icelandic is looking more and more attractive.


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