As language learners we need all the tools to help us succeed and one that has been overlooked is the notebook.
Why should you start a language notebook?
1- The most important reason is this one: it helps you keep all the information about your target language in one place. It avoids the clutter we - language learners - have with notes and pieces of paper everywhere preventing us from retrieving the information when needed. I know it has happened to you too.
2- You learn faster.
It seems that taking handwritten notes leads to a higher quality of learning because handwriting strengthen the learning process, " It leaves a motor memory in the sensory motor of the brain" which helps the person recognise letters, and establish a connection between reading and writing. Handwriting boosts memory and the ability to understand concepts and facts; hence the importance of writing words and phrases when learning a foreign language.
Through writing the human brain forms memory codes which allow the information to be accessed by the brain more easily.
What would be the practical implications of these findings?
Writing in your second language helps you learn faster because it boosts your retention.
Writing a notebook compels you to write consistently, and it keeps you organised at the same time.
3- Write down the goals that motivate you.
The tracking process helps you with accountability. You stay motivated when seeing your progress.
Make sure that your goals are relevant to your plans, and that they add value to your life. The outcome must be so important to you that you truly care. This is the force that will drive you to achieve them.
You should be highly motivated. Motivation will drive you to completion.
Your goals should be related to the high priorities in your life. For example, the reason why you want to learn Italian is because you plan to move to the country.
To achieve your goals, you need to be committed and if there’s a deadline, the sense of urgency will keep you on track.
“I must learn Italian within six months because I’m moving to the country at the end of June.”
It is important to write down your goals, and most importantly the reasons why they are important to you. Imagine you want to convince a friend or your partner about the validity of your goal, what would you tell them? Write this statement down, and once you’re happy with it, copy it and hang it in a place where you can see it, and write it down in your notebook as well. It will help you when the journey becomes difficult and you feel like throwing the towel.
4- You can use your notebook to create a language study tailored to your needs. You only study what is relevant to you. Only write down vocabulary and phrases that you will use. You can add any specialist words that you wish to learn.
Your notebook will reflect your personality. Be creative because it is your own space to use as you wish.
5- It is easy to start. You just need a notebook: big, small, lined, white or coloured paper, take your pick. Highlighters will also be helpful, as well as pens and coloured markers. If you are the creative types, you will need glue-stick and scissors to add magazine clippings and pictures if required. For the tech savvy, you can create a digital journal instead.
What will you include in your notebook?
There is no general rule, and I insist you can be as creative as you wish, but you can follow these guidelines if you prefer.
Add a contents page to make it easier to find items in your notebook.
Create monthly, weekly, and daily schedule to organise your tasks.
Create pages to write down your monthly, weekly and daily goals .
Make S-M-A-R-T goals
I’m sure you’ve heard about this, but have you applied it in your language learning? SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.
It is important that your goals are specific. They must be clear and must define precisely where you want to end up. Example:” I want to study ten new Italian words and phrases a day.”
Your goals should be measurable. You should have loads of mini deadlines in your plans.
Examples: 10 new words a day,
finish 4 lessons at the end of the week,
write a letter to a friend in Italian by Friday,
post a video with me talking for 10 minutes in Italian on Sunday.
You can then measure your degree of success and be able to celebrate them when ticking off your accomplishment.
Set attainable goals
Don’t set goals that are too easy or too hard. Both ways you’ll be discouraged and will be more prone to abandon. Instead set yourself goals that are challenging but still reachable.
Set relevant goals
Your goals should be relevant to the outcome you are pursuing.
Example: having a conversation via Skype in English every Wednesday won’t help you reach fluency in Italian within six months so that you can move to Italy. By keeping your goals aligned with your plans, you’ll become laser-focused to get what you want.
Set time-bound goals
We’ve talked about it already. When a goal has a deadline, it produces two effects:
It helps you carry on and avoid procrastination.
It helps you measure your success.
This helps you keep track of your daily language activities.
Log in your notebook the new vocabulary words with the corresponding sentences. Some people add a review counter which can be useful if you are not using a spaced-repetition App.
You can also add pages for antonyms and synonyms to help you grow your vocabulary faster, or word-clusters or mind minds to group the new vocabulary by category, let’s say kitchen appliances for example.
Write down the difficult grammar concepts that are hard to understand along with corresponding example sentences.
It is a useful way to ensure you write daily and practice the new vocabulary you've come across during your study. It allows you to translate words and expressions you often use in your mother tongue to your second language, thus increasing your vocabulary list not only in numbers but in quality. It is also the best way to help you create your own sentences in the foreign language.
You can write using the free-flow approach whereby you do not look up for words in a dictionary and you only use the words that you already know. This is an excellent way to find out where the gaps in your vocabulary knowledge are and prompt you to research in this area.
The second way is by brainstorming. You choose a topic and do some research and collect the vocabulary that you think you might need for the exercise.
The third technique is to look-up in the dictionary for the words you do not know as you are writing.
It would be great if someone like a teacher or native speaker or a more advanced student could check your writing. The alternative is to submit your writing on Lang-8 where the members will certainly help.
Knowing what to write can be tricky, especially if you are a beginner. Here are some suggestions. You can introduce yourself, talk about your family, your morning routine, your hobbies, give directions, write a simple recipe, talk about a trip you’ve been to. Etc
It is easier to learn when the vocabulary you're studying belongs to a theme, for example: "At a restaurant". Write down all the vocabulary associated with situations and objects you might find at a restaurant. it would be highly beneficial if you can add example sentences.
Also have a section for writing quick notes or reminders that you can always come back to and organise as you see fit.
Also write in this section cultural information and advice.
Allocate a few pages to write down the resources that you use and especially the new ones that people recommend like Apps, useful websites, or books. Make a note before the information gets forgotten. You can always go back when you’re ready.
Now that you have these suggestions, the ball is in your court and let the magic begin.
To help you DOWNLOAD TheHow To Create A Language Learning Notebook Cheat Sheet.