by Alysia Bartley

New Year’s Resolutions – Taking Flight to English Fluency

CHIANG MAI THAILAND - NOVEMBER 24 : Yee Peng festival, Buddhist floating lanterns to the Buddha. Nov 24,2012 in Sansai district, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

It is 2014 and a new year. New Year’s is a time that means new beginnings. Although the official New Year is celebrated by many people throughout the world, it may be celebrated at another time of the year.  Regardless of when it is actually celebrated, this “new year” traditionally comes with the opportunity to think about the past year and make resolutions. What is a resolution?

Merriam Webster defines resolution as

  • the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.
  • the act of resolving something
  • an answer or solution to something

In many countries, individuals make resolutions. They decide to do something, to dig deep and to set goals. If you are like most people, your resolution may have something to do with:

Health (losing weight, eating healthier, exercising more, stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol)

Money (paying down debt, saving money, spending money wiser)

Career (finding a new job, proving to be a valuable team player)

Education (improving grades, getting a better education, learning something new, completing that certification or degree, studying harder, reading more)

Projects (completing any number of things from gardening to sewing, cleaning to building, etc.)

Self-improvement (reducing stress, being more patient, managing time, becoming more organized, having a better balance in life, being a better person, building stronger relationships)

Time (volunteering, helping in your community, engaging in activities with friends and family)

That’s where this article comes in. This is a perfect time for ESL learners to make a resolution related to English learning.  In an online English class this week, a student asked about New Year’s Resolutions and just what this tradition is all about. So I thought I would ask the rest of my students about their plans for New Year’s Resolutions… and especially those related to language learning.  I thought you might like to know about some of their resolutions. Who knows? They might help you think about similar goals. What’s more? They might inspire you. They might help build confidence.

Some ESL-related Resolutions

It only took a short time for the first brave student to share and then the entire class chimed in. I sat back and listened.

  • Find a 1-1 English tutor to help me polish my resume for a new job
  • Get rid of my accent
  • Read some books about how to interview for a job in an English-speaking company
  • Improve my spelling of English words
  • Join a weekly English conversation group
  • Find an English speaking book group
  • Improve my ability to speak on the phone in English
  • Read a daily newspaper in English
  • Watch the nightly news in English
  • Learn and use 3 new vocabulary words a day
  • Learn the difference between casual and formal English expressions
  • Speak only English on the weekends
  • Write an email every day in English
  • Study English for 1 hour every night after dinner
  • Watch a film in English every week
  • Hire a tutor to teach me English
  • Take an English class at the local college
  • Try out for that part in the drams (English speaking play)
  • Read one book in English every week
  • Listen to music in English for 30 minutes a day
  • Read in English on the train commute to work
  • Study English during my morning break at work
  • Try to write one story in English every week
  • Get a new job that is challenging and helps develop my ESL
  • Keep a daily journal in English
  • Hire someone to help me edit my papers in English
  • Try to speak English more often
  • Make a point to use English when I am out in the community (store, bank, etc.)
  • Volunteer to tutor in my native language at the local high school and use English
  • Start that blog or develop a webpage in English
  • Look up words I don’t know in an English dictionary
  • Learn one new idiom a day and try to use it
  • Memorize 10 vocabulary definitions a day
  • Give a speech in English

Finally there was silence. I was amazed at my students.  Next we had a discussion about resolutions, in general. The students shared resolutions they made in the past and swapped stories of those that were successful and why. I again made a list. When the students were finished, this is what they had come up with:

Be Realistic

Simple goals are more tangible. You can always do more. Start small and build success. Walk a few blocks before running that mile. Take one class before adding another. Save 10% of your salary before trying to save more. Pay one credit card off at a time. Pencil-in Sunday afternoons to spend with your family. Then add another night of the week.

Have Specific and Measurable Goals

Review your goals twice every day in order to be focused on achieving them.- Les Brown, motivational speaker from Ohio, former Ohio politician
If you want to lose weight, determine how many pounds or how many dress sizes you want (need) to lose. Maybe you want to record your weight each morning before breakfast. It might work for you to take some body measurements and the compare these measurements each week. It might to think of something that you can record like the number of times you work out at the gym, the blocks you walk or the miles you run, the number of books you read, the grades on your English assignments. You get the idea.

Next commit your resolutions to paper.

I have tried to keep on with my striving because this is the only hope I have of ever achieving anything worthwhile and lasting. – Arthur Ashe, winning professional tennis player

Write them down. Keep a journal of your progress. Make a chart to visually track your progress. Put your resolution(s) in a spot that is visible throughout the day. It will serve as a reminder of what your goal is. Review them time to time. Once you start making progress towards your resolution, it will serve as motivation to continue.

Share your goal(s).

Consider telling a close friend or family member your resolution. If you feel this will help, then by all means do it. Maybe you have someone you know who has the same resolution, then it might be advantageous to share your goals. Do you want to run a marathon together? How about take the same class? Having someone who shares your goal(s) and someone who can offer support along the way can be quite valuable to you in your pursuit of keeping your resolution(s).

Reward yourself…

Give yourself a reward now and then. How about a favorite movie? A special coffee? A visit to the bookstore? Making a change in your life is hard work. It’s okay to tell yourself that you are doing a good job. This will help in sustaining motivation and offer the thrust necessary to keep going. It might also serve as motivation, especially during times when it is more difficult to focus.

So what do you think? Have you outlined any New Year’s resolutions for yourself in 2014? 

  •  Have you thought about your own language needs?
  • Do you want to speak English better? If so, can you pinpoint certain circumstances? Is it in more formal settings or casual settings? Is it with a specific individual or in a group setting?
  • How are your English writing skills?
  • What about your reading skills? Do you feel at ease reading the level of English required of you at work?  At school? In everyday life?
  • What do you feel about your listening skills? Do you understand most of the English that is said?

Take a moment to assess your abilities. Be honest.  You know yourself better than anyone. So what do you think? Can you think of some area in English language learning that you would like to improve?

Perhaps you want to polish those speaking skills with your colleagues or maybe learn how to write that weekly business report better. Maybe it is to talk on the phone with clients or to conduct a business meeting. How about that power point?  Do you need help with giving oral presentations?  Well, instead of thinking that learning English is so overwhelming, turn your thoughts to targeting one or two specific areas. Tell yourself that now is the perfect opportunity to take charge of what it is that you want to do.  After all, it is a new year.

You can join the ranks of those who have met success. The suggestions from students in my class might get your started. But what helps you increase your chances of success? Psychologists who study behavioral change list several key factors:

A Desire to Want the Goal

Having an aim is the key to achieving your best.– Henry J. Kaiser, American industrialist who became known as the Father of Modern American Shipbuilding 

This desire must come from the inside and you must be ready for it. If someone is talking you into it or you are just doing it because you know you should, then that might not be the right motivation to sustain the effort necessary to meet your goal.

The Ability to Make the Change Possible

  • Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. – Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father and 3rd President of the US
    This goes back to the idea of having a realistic goal. If you have never run any distance before, it is probably not realistic for you to be able to run a marathon in spring. Likewise, if you know a handful of vocabulary words in English, it would not be realistic for you to say that you want to complete graduate school in Canada at an English-speaking university within two years. You may need some preliminary skills and preparation first before “beefing up” your goals.

An Environment that Supports

I’ve always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you’ve got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish.- Chuck Norris, American martial artist and actor
Are there stumbling blocks that you can foresee? For example, is the gym far from your house? Do you have enough money for that class? Will it be okay with your family if you are gone one night a week to take that class? Maybe some of this you can control and some of it you can’t. Talk to yourself about the importance of your goal and then try to plan choices involving activities and who you associate with to support your goal(s).

Feeling confident?

Crystallize your goals. Make a plan for achieving them and set yourself a deadline. Then, with supreme confidence, determination and disregard for obstacles and other people’s criticisms, carry out your plan. – Paul J. Meyer, author and motivational speaker
An important step in meeting your resolution is the belief that you can. Entertain positive thoughts.  Give yourself pep talks. Be your best cheerleader!

Give feedback instantly and often

Start. Try to make progress right away. Then reward yourself. Keep the momentum going. This will help you to focus. Remember it takes hard work, but success is worth it.

Be patient

I have no regrets. I don’t believe in looking back. What I am proudest of? Working really hard… and achieving as much as I could.– Elena Kagan, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court
Change takes time. Breaking habits take time. Tell yourself that over and over. Don’t let impatience win. Keep repeating your new behavior until it becomes the welcomed habit you want. You can do it. Tell yourself that over and over again, too. Becoming fluent in a language is hard work. You can do it.

Be forgiving

No one is perfect. So what if you go to the gym two times instead of three this week. Or you read part of that book by Sunday but not the entire book as planned. Maybe you just can’t make it to the book club. Let it go and start over the next week. Remind yourself that no one is perfect. Just try again. Get back on track as soon as you can. Don’t harbor any negative thoughts. Think positively and give yourself reassurance that you can do it.

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New Year’s Resolutions. What’s yours? I’m here to help you as…

There’s nothing better than achieving your goals, whatever they might be. – Paloma Faith, English singer-songwriter and actress
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About the author:

Alysia is a co-founder of TalktoCanada. Since founding the online English teaching company in 2006, she has gone on to teach over 10,000 hours of online classes and managed large and small English training projects around the world. During her free time you can find her listening to the latest business book, travelling and going to the gym.