In most situations, goals are set through the teacher by the curriculum. However, giving students the opportunity to establish their own personal goals, in addition to or in collaboration with those set by the program, allows students to reflect on their reasons for learning a second language and to decide on their learning direction, thus increasing their motivation and personal involvement in the learning process. Goals can be either short term (set by asking oneself, what do I want to learn to be able to do this week/unit) or long term (set by asking, how am I going to use this language in my life, what do I want to be able to do at the end of this year/semester.). Depending on your students and curriculum, long term goals may be used to help set shorter, more reachable goals. For example, if a student's long term goal is to be able to live and work in Japan for a year, then he may focus on weekly short term goals such as being able to buy a train ticket, social customs for talking on the telephone, and giving culturally appropriate biographical information about himself. Long term goals are usually set at the beginning of the course, but may be re-evaluated and adjusted periodically. Short term goals are set more frequently (weekly, biweekly).
You may need to model for students the difference between long term, short term, reachable and unreachable goals. When first asked to set goals, students unaccustomed to goal setting may set objectives such as "I want to understand everything my Spanish speaking friends say." This is not a realistic goal towards which the student can positively measure progress. If goals are not reachable, then students are likely to become discouraged and loose motivation when assessing progress towards the goals. Rather, examples of reachable goals are "I want to learn 20 new words about music." or "I want to be able to give my opinions on and understand the main idea in a conversation about popular music." By modeling examples of different kinds of goals for the class as a whole and by working with students individually, you can help students set reachable goals that give students' confidence and a skill that can be transferred to other subject areas.