How To Create An Amazing Language Journal

What if you had a language learning tool that costs you hardly anything, adapts to your own preferences, boosts your memory and helps concentration?

Turns out you do, and it's probably in your bag right now: Your notebook!

Today on the podcast I'm joined by language lovers Kathryn and Sam who are passionate about taking fantastic language notes. Listen to discover their experiences, language learning tips and strategies for effective note taking.

This episode of the show is sponsored by LiveLingua (click for a free lesson), the best place to connect to your new favourite Skype teacher.

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Why Keep a Notebook?

There are so many huge benefits to keeping a language learning notebook, from the brain science aspects all the way to mindfulness and wellbeing.

Personalised Learning

Language learning notebooks are a completely blank canvas where you can design the textbook of your dreams. You control the layout and the content, and get to create what makes sense to you.

Clearer Thinking

Writing in a notebook means you are expressing concepts and sentences in a way that makes sense to you personally. It automatically helps organise what you are learning. Sam mentions that he selects what he finds most helpful and important from podcasts, YouTube videos and online lessons so he can curate his own version of a personal textbook.

Memory Boosts

When you write your notes by hand, you become better at remembering them. The act of writing, perhaps even colouring or illustrating your note is an in-depth repetition of what you’re learning. Add to that the personal connection as you write what is meaningful to you, and the increased repetitions as you look back over your notebook, and what you have created is a reliable system for remembering what you learn.

Enjoyment

If you have a creative side you’d like to unleash, your language learning notebook is a welcome new playground. Kathryn and Sam already loved drawing, design and papercrafts. The language notebook became a way of adding language to what they enjoy, and it has helped create time to combine two great hobbies.

Freedom from screen

Learning online gives you access to infinite materials, but sometimes it’s hard to remember everything that you see. The notebook becomes your place to capture the coolest bits you find on the web, the new words you learn from an app, everything you find in your personal language learning world.

What Can You Write In The Notebook?

Anything and everything! The possibilities are endless: Kathryn keeps her journal in her target language Norwegian. Sam doodles around tricky pronunciation rules and curious idioms. Here are some more ideas:

  • Vocab doodles or lists

  • Jokes & Cute Pictures

  • Repeat and review things you learnt from YouTube or a podcast

  • All types of language learning goals and motivations

  • Memories from cool things you’ve done

  • Tracking: Core skills balance, daily contact with an app

  • Your resource lists

  • Weekly learning plans

Get Inspired With These Instagram Language Journalers

Episode Links

How To: Bullet Journal for Effective Language Learning

Have you ever found yourself in a really good language learning flow, only to have a couple of days off and fall off the wagon? I know this has happened to me numerous times, whether when learning a language, trying to work out daily, or even trying to keep a housecleaning routine.

But now there's a perfect and beautiful answer: the Bullet Journal. Could this powerful paper-based organisation system help you get fluent in another language? Let's dive in and check it out!

Read More

The Book That Will Change How You See Language Learning (+ Clever Notes & Action Plan FREE)

One of the most common things I hear from language learners is

becoming fluent book

"what is the best way to do this?" You want to know how to learn a language, in as much detail as possible.

And it's hard to answer that question once and for all, for everyone. People are different, and no one's going to teach you good habits overnight. I know there are plenty of players out there telling you that their way of doing flash cards or listening to native content is the real answer.

But seriously, guys. What it really takes is that you learn to understand your own smart and capable self. That's where a book like Becoming Fluent comes in.

By the way, I've gone ahead and done a little bit of hard work for you guys. You can now click the button below and download my book notes for Becoming Fluent along with a fab little action plan template so you know what to do next.

What Is Becoming Fluent?

Becoming Fluent is an impressive book in the field of language acquisition. It's written with the scientific background expected from academics. But that doesn't mean that language learners cannot apply it to their lives: Throughout the book, the authors mix explanations and practical tips. The book is written for adult learners who want to conquer another language, and goes into the following topics:

  • What do you have to do to make sure you become a successful language learner?
  • How can you choose the right target language to study?
  • What are the best
  • How important is it to know the culture and norms of people who speak your target language every day?
  • How can you get better at memorising and remembering more?

Why It's Awesome

There are many language learning books out in the market that tell you all about how wonderful the author's methods are. Most successful polyglot-style books follow this system. The logic is that if following certain steps made the author fluent in another language, then you can do the same by copying the steps.

In Becoming Fluent, I detected none of this. The authors do work from their own experience in languages but never claim to know all the answers. Each chapter is based on a new aspect of language learning and gives a neutral summary of what the science says, followed by practical advice.

I've never used or endorsed the "copy a winner" approach, and I don't think it's quite how things work for language learners. Success in language learning is about more than just playing the game right. The more you learn and discover about yourself, your habits, your preferences and strengths in language learning, the more you will approach a real ability to learn any language quickly.

So for me, Becoming Fluent was an outstanding book about language learning because it doesn't tell you what exactly to do. This one is about empowering yourself to find your own perfect method.

What Wasn't So Great

Becoming Fluent is smart and thorough and scientific, which is a big rarity in language learning. It's great to read such a sensible voice in our field. The book comes at language learning from so many different angles that some great aspects get a little lost.

I would have liked the book's action-focused tips to be highlighted or separated from the main text, making it easier to find exactly how to put new insights into action. As it is, Becoming Fluent does require you to put in a few hours for reading, but this is time well spent.

My Favourite Parts

  • All of chapter 2, which addresses the many lies and misleading beliefs that we hold in our heads before we even start learning. If you can only listen to/read one part of the book, this chapter is going to make a massive difference. It's a small window into how your brain trips you up.
  • This sentence in Chapter 3:

"The REAL test of how well you speak a language is how easily you communicate when you are using that language, and the pleasure you derive from speaking it."

  • The ideas behind common ground and the zone of proximal development, which are all about how you think of how good you are, how good other people are in comparison, and how you can get better step-by-step.
  • The focus on learning and speaking a language like an adult, not a kid or teenager. This focus builds great insights, for example the understanding that it's more important to be yourself in another language than to sound "exactly like all the native speakers".
  • The image of tutors and helpers as a Sherpa, i.e. Someone who's climbing the mountain with you, showing you the way, teaching you about the process as you're doing it.
  • The concept of cognitive overload, which explains exactly why and how and when you get tired.

Overall, I am very happy that I read Becoming Fluent and recommend you check it out too. I ordered my copy from the local library and am very glad that it's in their catalogue now. You can get your own printed copy in the same way, or order it from Amazon (here's the US link and the UK link).

Don’t forget, you can grab my full book notes (9 pages!) by clicking the button below. They include your own action plan template and a checklist of books to check out, so next you can be prepared on your next visit to the library or to Amazon.

If you want to try a faster read gives instructions on what to do, try Fluency Made Achievable (which is written by me, so you will definitely enjoy it if you like this blog).

The Miraculous Benefits of Keeping a Language Notebook

Are you an electric language fiend, armed with Flashcard apps and podcasts? Or going it old-school with pen and paper?

In today’s article, I want to introduce you to some of the tricks I use to get the most out of my language learning routine without adding to my screen time.

language notebook

My absolute language learning essential is a notebook. Flashcards are great for vocabulary lists, but notebooks are for everything. The first thing I do with a new word is write it down in a notebook, maybe with an example and pronunciation note.

Why write on paper?

Working with a paper notebook can bring many excellent benefits to your language learning routine. It provides a refreshing break if you spend most of your time chained to a computer screen or mobile phone. Here are a few reasons that writing on paper can help you add vocabulary, improve your memory and create a better learning experience:

  • Filling a book is visible progress, a huge psychological benefit which is going to keep you motivated and coming back to your language time and time again.

  • As you add notes, you are filling pages of paper with clear signs of your work. It is unmistakably yours as it’s written in your personal style and handwriting. No matter if you are 5 or 50 pages into the adventure, there is nothing like the proud feeling of looking back over what you have already done. Popular apps take the same approach of course by adding skill trees and points scores, so the core message here is to work in a way that shows your progress.

  • Your thoughts become clearer in your own mind. The UK Handwriting Association features this great quote from a 17-year-old student on its website, illustrating the way in which a screen can actually make it harder to focus on what you are learning. He says:

The process of handwriting promotes clear thought and natural structure. Being so close to the page means that translation of thought has less opportunity for deviation.

When typing I find I compulsively re-read my work on the screen and the ability to edit is sometimes paralysing, Although computer work can allow for more complex structure, it is often too complex and has many complications for timed conditions.

  • The act of writing notes down by hand has been scientifically proven to aid memory many times over. When you write your notes by hand, you become better at remembering them. The conclusion of this study was that typing can help you score highly on tests very early (just think Duolingo), but hand writing retains the upper hand when it comes to adding new items to your long-term memory.
  • You are in charge of your learning experience. Writing allows you to start from zero and design your page in the way that aligns best with how your mind works.

Some note takers prefer mind maps and doodles, while others jot down information in a linear way. The pages you create will reflect your state of mind, and allow you to make your motions through the learning progress visible.

How to work with the notebook?

When you start learning languages, the notebook becomes more than just the place to note down the bare facts. You can use it for two core purposes:

1. Language Learning

Noting new vocabulary as and when you hear it, drawing memory aids, mapping out your memory palace even. Notebooks are also the right space to write down grammar rules and example sentences. On the pages of my own notebook, I see pronunciation notes and alphabet practice. Basically, anything.

For reviewing and testing yourself, there can be pages dedicated to vocabulary learning. My technique for such pages is the classic language learning approach of writing two vocabulary columns with a line down the middle. As I review the new words, I cover up one column and work through the list.

Here is an example of what this looks like in my current book:

The fabulous "draw a line in the middle" technique in action.

The fabulous "draw a line in the middle" technique in action.

It is easy to highlight words that I tend to forget, and even easier to add them to another list at a later stage so that my revision materials always stay fresh.

At the start of every new session, try looking through previous pages to review what you have learnt before. There is no need to memorize it word for word, but it will jog your memory and set up the ground today’s session can grow from.

2. Goal Setting and Productivity

Language learning is a big journey. For some learners it’s about growth and development, for others it’s a hobby or an aspiration. No matter what your goals and motivations are, you can gain a lot from journaling and noting them down in the notebook.

Consider adding interesting facts about places, drawing maps or pasting in tickets and mementos from your trips.

Again, writing by hand and focusing on the book in front of you aids clarity and minimises distraction. In a busy world full of overachievers, this is more important than ever.

How can you navigate the notebook?

One of the downsides of paper is that it doesn't have a search bar.

To aid yourself with a bookmark system, consider colour-coding areas like "grammar", "vocab" or "situations". Again, the beauty of your notebook is that this is your personal space. You’re no language learning robot, so work with what feels good to you.

The great thing about building your personal language learning system is that these categories can be unique to you and help you build the exact language course that you need (remember that this is one of the core principles in independent language learning).

My favourite bookmarks are sticky notes such as this very cute set from Busy B, but this isn't the only way. You can experiment with a notebook in sections, with highlighter pens or beautiful bookmarks.

Good Notebook Options

You can get paper from anywhere of course, but the best language learning notebooks are durable and built to handle a bit of use.

You will leaf through the pages a lot, so forget about spine or refill pads straight away. Go for a notebook that is bound like a real book and lasts you all year. Next, discard any paper that is too thin or delicate to take scribbles, highlighters and different kinds of pen. You never know when you'll want to write something down and all you'll have to reach for is your auntie's fountain pen.

The style of paper does not matter - go for squared, lined or blank and pick a paper size that gives you a little space to work with. The language learning notebook works best it doesn't fill up too quickly. My favourite options are the Moleskine A5 Lined Notebooks and the custom booklets from Bound.

##Love the Freedom

The key to using notebooks in your language learning is that they allow for an amazing range of creative activities. In paper choice, organisation and pens, and even the content: This is YOUR space. I cannot tell you what to do, but only tell you what works for me.

If you want to become more effective and enjoy vocabulary learning, check out my book The Vocab Cookbook. This book will guide you through the process in detail and give you a step-by-step approach to learning vocab in an organised way.

Do you use a paper notebook? Is it part of your regular learning activities?

If yes, then I would be very interested to hear more about it (maybe even with a photo?) in the comments or over on Facebook.