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From goals to objectives



So far, you have decided on your long-term language learning goals and on a general strategy for getting there. Now you need a more detailed plan, including specific objectives.


An objective is a specific statement of the outcome you aim for in a learning activity. You want to state your objectives in a measurable way, so that you can evaluate whether you have met them.


Isn't setting objectives the job of the teacher or language curriculum designer? In a way it is. Anyone who designs a language course or a set of language learning materials has some objectives in mind for the learner. Teachers and tutors also have objectives in mind. But are the teacher's or course designer's objectives the same as yours? Being an independent language learner means that you have taken responsibility for your learning. You need to set objectives for yourself and make sure that you meet them.


What kinds of objectives can you set for yourself? Here are different areas of communicative competence:


Linguistic competence:


the ability to control the phonology, grammar, and vocabulary of the target language.


Discourse competence:


the ability to construct and interpret connected speech in various genres of discourse.


Sociolinguistic competence:


the ability

  • to use language to perform various communication functions
  • to recognize the social meaning of different varieties of speech and use them appropriately, and
  • to follow the rules of conversational interaction.

Cultural competence:


the ability

  • to interpret what is said according to the cultural frame of reference of the speech community, and
  • to communicate your own ideas within that frame of reference.

Strategic competence:


the ability

  • to use communication strategies to compensate for lacks in your communicative repertoire, or
  • to repair misunderstandings arising from any source.

You need to set objectives in each area of communicative competence. The objectives should fit your current stage of proficiency, and your needs and long-term goals.


At the beginning, your objectives will probably be the same as those of most other people learning language. All language learners need to master

  • the sounds
  • the grammatical structures
  • the core vocabulary
  • survival situations, and
  • basic courtesy functions.

As you progress through Intermediate, Advanced, and Superior levels, your objectives will differ from other students. Objectives depend on the tasks you need to do using the language:

  • the topics you want to discuss
  • the situations you encounter, and
  • the communication functions you want to express

At these levels you start to specialize and decide what you want to learn first.


Once you have achieved Superior level and are working toward Distinguished level, your objectives will become more like those of other language learners. You work toward being able to understand everything.

See also

Context for this page:

Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 3.5, published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 1999. [Ordering information.]

Page content last modified: 17 September 1998

© 1999 SIL International