SMART Goals for Learning Chinese

Smart Goals for Learning Chinese

Goals must be SMART if you want to have a solid chance of reaching them. In case you’ve never heard of this concept, or you need a refresher, let’s review what SMART goals are, and help you create a few for yourself. SMART goals are:






Let’s go through these goals one by one and see how we can apply these principles to Mandarin Chinese learning.


Go into as much detail as you think is necessary to make the goal clear. Make it “high-resolution.” A great way of doing this is to:

1. Make sure all of your words are clearly defined.

Here are some unclear goals I’ve seen, heard, and made myself over the years:

Bad Goal 1: “Become fluent in Mandarin.” 
Bad Goal 2: “Learn 50 words.”
Bad Goal 3: “Improve my pronunciation.”

What does “fluency” actually mean? What does it mean to “learn” a word? How about “improve”?

So, if you can’t define these words, that tells you that you don’t have enough information to make this goal a reality yet.

2. Answer pertinent questions to get to the essence of the goal, such as the 5 W’s:

Who: Who is involved in this goal?

What: What do I want to accomplish?

Where: Where will you achieve this goal?

When: When do I want to achieve this goal?

Why: Why do I want to achieve this goal?

Bad Goal 1: “Become fluent in Mandarin” could become: 

Good Goal 1: “Be able to use the most common 1000 Mandarin words in a sentence upon request without more than a 5-second delay.”

Bad Goal 2: “Learn 50 words” could be:

Good Goal 2: “Create mnemonics and SRS flashcards for the next 50 words in The Mandarin Blueprint Method foundation course and be able to recall them all with at least 95% accuracy.”

Bad Goal 3: “Improve my pronunciation” could be:

Good Goal 3: “Successfully identify and produce all Mandarin syllables, tones, and tone pairs through the approval of my native tutor.”


Make sure you have an indicator to a) let you know if you are progressing towards your goal or not, and b) let you know when the goal is completed successfully or not. Let’s apply this to the three good goals we just made.

Measuring Good Goal:

Number 1: We can measure basic fluency somewhat reliably by the ability to use each of the 1000 words in a sentence or using them in spoken conversation with a tutor. 

Number 2: If you use Anki or some other SRS software, you will see real-time stats of your recall.

And, Number 3: There is some subjectivity here from tutor to tutor, but a trained native speaker’s approval should be enough of a measure.

So, if your goal is less tangible, such as doing a certain amount of listening or reading by a specific time, the time invested per day will be your measure.


Ask yourself, can you reach the goal with the time and resources you have available? Aim high, but within the realms of possibility. If aiming high doesn’t work, aim low. Any aim is better than being aimless. Can you do a single flashcard each day? Sure, anyone can do that.

Good Goal 1: Whether fluency is attainable within a specific period is tough to gauge if you have limited language learning experience. Take another look at our estimate based on users of our course and decide how much time you will be able to invest on average per day. 

Good Goal 2 + 3: These are both 100% attainable.


The goal is what you want to achieve, and the objective is the thing(s) you plan to do to achieve the goal.

Hence, a common cause of failure is making an objective to perform some action or series of actions that are not relevant to achieving the goal. Here’s a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean:

So, how about if you aim to sing a song a day in Mandarin (objective) to achieve better pronunciation (goal)? Would that really improve your pronunciation?

What if your goal is to have two online sessions a week (objective) to improve speaking (goal), but your tutor is awful?

What if you want to make flashcards for 3000 characters (objective), but your method for learning characters (goal) doesn’t work?

When setting a goal, first ask yourself the following:

Why do I want to reach this goal? 

What is the objective behind the goal?

Do you have sufficient evidence that your objective will achieve the goal?

If you can give satisfactory answers to most of these, your goal should be relevant enough.


Always end your goals with “by + (specific date).” Once again, aim high but keep it realistic. Exactly when you decide you can complete each goal is determined by two factors: 

1) How much time is needed to achieve the goal

2) How much time (on average) you can invest each day. 

You may have more time than you think, and your goals may take less time than you think.

Make short, medium, and long-term SMART goals

Short Term and Long Term Goals

Not only should goals be SMART, but they should also be for graduating lengths of time into the future.

Here are some examples of daily, monthly, and yearly goals we’ve had at some point:

Short-term SMART goal = 1 day – 1 month

“Finish all Anki reviews by the end of the day.”

Shadow the audio from episode 3 of 狗熊有话说 podcast three times by the end of the week.”

“Read one short story in Chinese ten times by the end of the month.”

Medium-term SMART Goal = 1-12 months

“Recall the reading, writing, and pronunciation of 3000 Chinese characters with at least 90% accuracy by November 1st.”

“Have 100 hours of online tutor sessions in Italki before August 15th.”

“Write 10 x 500+ character-long journal entries by Christmas.”

Long-term SMART goal = 1+ years

“Pass the HSK 6 exam by 2022”

“Complete Level 57 of The Mandarin Blueprint Method”

“Read the entire Game of Thrones series in Chinese by June 2021” (This is one of mine)

Some final tips on SMART goals

Write them down.

Writing out your goals by hand can be highly effective. Wildly successful author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy suggests creating at least ten goals you would like to achieve over the year and writing them down daily in the first person and in the present tense.

For example: Instead of “Perform a five-minute speech in Mandarin by June 1st, 2021,” he suggests changing it to “I perform a five-minute speech in Mandarin Chinese by June 1st, 2021”.

Doing this is rather time-intensive in comparison to just reviewing your goals, but doing this helped me reach my goal of passing the HSK 6 in a very short time, so I think it is worth trying.

Make your SMART goals public

So, go ahead and announce your more long-term goals to your friends, family and even on social media. Perhaps even make a public blog or take part in forum threads on goals. This will make you more accountable and therefore less likely to slip. 

In addition, make sure you have a daily or weekly goal for a certain amount of reading & listening.

Thirty minutes per day of focused input is the minimum amount to invest in input if you would like to see significant progress quickly.

Also, this goal is not that lofty at all if you spread it out over each day.

Nonetheless, Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. 

If you fail to reach a goal, draw a line immediately, and start again. Never dwell on failure because it helps nobody.

Now go and make some SMART goals

Write out as many long, medium, and short-term goals as you can, and start applying what you’ve learned to increase your productivity and motivation. 

If you need any advice on the specifics, get in touch.