As language learners, we are always encouraged to take notes. They allow us to know what we’re studying and help when planning revisions. Furthermore, there are scientific reasons why note-taking plays an important role in the learning process.

Note-taking improves comprehension of what is heard by boosting learners’ attention.

Various studies have proven the advantage of handwritten notes over notes taken using a keyboard. They show that students who took handwritten notes performed better on comprehension tests than those who used electronic devices. The reasons mentioned are the following: first because handwriting is slower allowing for more mental processing of the information as well as a better ability to summarise the content.

Note-taking in language studies, trains the learner to focusing in the main ideas and key words that will help develop short-term and long-term memory.

This process is much more helpful in more advanced phases of language learning (intermediate onward) where students will have to face big chunks of unknown words in listening practice and must learn to go pass them and still grab the general meaning.

The Cornell Note-taking.

There is a way of note taking called the Cornell note-taking system.

It was developed in WWII by a colonel called Walter J. Pauk.

He wanted to teach his soldiers how to read and study effectively for their correspondence courses.

Traditionally, the Cornell notes are made of three sections. The main section which is around 6” is the note-taking column. On the margin of 2 ½” is the cue column. In this section students write questions down to summarise large chunks of information.

There is a third section at the bottom of the page - 2” high – where the student summarises the notes on that page.

Pauk attributed the success of his system due to the following:

“by relating newly learned conceptual material that is stored in the left brain, to a visualised object stored in the right brain, you can efficiently affect long-term memory”.

How can this method be useful to language learners?

There are notebooks set up in the Cornell style and you can find them on Amazon. If not, you can easily make your own.

Divide each page in four sections:

A title section at the top

A seven-line summary section at the bottom

A section for cue questions and recall prompts on the right and

A main note-taking section.

You can either use grid or lined paper.

Title section

In the title area write the topic: verbs- future tense, kitchen appliances, winter clothes etc...also write down where you are taking the information from, i.e Talk- German chapter 4; or YouTube- speak-Fast-Languages French words etc…

Note-taking section

In the note-taking section write the information that you wish to recall. If you are using a book, use their headings for your notebook. You might want to colour-code the information to make it more accessible later.

Cue section

The cue section can be used as the vocabulary list for this lesson, and again you can colour code them if the language you are studying have masculine, feminine or neutral like in German, for example. This visual cue will also be useful for memorisation and recollection. You can also add extra information that you will judge to be useful.

Summary section

This section can be for additional sample sentences and/or page number where the information was found. You can also reflect on the main learning points.

You can be as creative as you wish as long as the process helps you in improving in your daily language learning.

The Study

There is a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Studies in Education trying to establish the relationship between Cornell note-taking method and improved grammar learning in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) learners’ grammar learning.

They studied 70 Iranian EFL intermediate learners. 35 constituted the experimental group, and the rest (35) were the control group. They all underwent a grammar pre-test at the beginning to assess their current knowledge of grammar.

The experimental group was given Cornell note-taking instruction prior to the grammar lessons. The control group did not receive any instruction and were told to take notes in their usual way.

Both groups underwent a post-test and, in both groups, - experimental an control - there was a clear improvement in test performance due to note-taking.

The students in the experimental group (Cornell note-taking) achieved higher than the control group. The researchers attributed this result to the fact that students reviewed their note at the end of each grammar lesson to ensure their accuracy.

They concluded that making students aware of note-taking as a learning strategy can have a positive effect on learning. It encourages critical thinking.

To sum up, note-taking has its place in language learning due to its multiple advantages. Try to use the Cornell note-taking system and I would be delighted if you let me know whether you notice any improvement.