We’ve Got the Magic Bullet! How to Learn a Language with a Bullet Journal
I’ve got a secret.
It’s a good one, too.
Curious? Of course you are, so I’m going to spill it.
There’s a new BFF for language learners—a method to intensify, organize and customize language learning.
Anyone can do it, it’s beneficial right from the very first page and the only things you need to bring to the table are a pen and notebook.
So what is it, this method of ramping up any language program?
Two words: Bullet journal.
Blow the Lid Off Your Language Learning Program with a Bullet Journal
A bullet journal, often called “BuJo” for short, is a customizable notebook. Ryder Carroll, the creator of the bullet journal technique, calls it a method to “track the past, organize the present and plan for the future.”
But how do you start?
How to Set Up a Bullet Journal
A bullet journal can be as minimal or fancy as its owner. Some are bare-bones, with the four main parts and little else. Others are artistic playgrounds, filled with drawings and detailed lists.
Let’s start with the primary components every journal will need first.
Main parts you’ll need
A basic bullet journal has four main parts:
- Index — This is a listing, by page numbers, of what’s in the journal. The index makes it a breeze to locate a particular section without any fuss.
- “Future planner” section — This portion helps you organize and plan upcoming tasks or events, such as language lessons or cultural activities.
- A monthly calendar (for obvious reasons)
- Daily task list — A task list keeps the focus on what’s happening on a given day. It’s basically a daily to-do list.
You’re probably having an “aha! moment,” aren’t you? You’re realizing that this is a brilliant addition to any language learning program!
But wait—there’s more!
Don’t forget the progress trackers
Most BuJos have goal lists—both short-and long-term (and we’ll discuss those later on).
But how do you keep track of your progress?
That’s when a tracker comes in handy. It’s a page set up as a graph, with the dates of a month written down the edge of the page and the daily items you want to focus on written as the other axis of the graph.
The point is to mark every day that you accomplish a particular task. Ideally, the end of the month will show that most days, most items were addressed. It’s the perfect place for language learners to see their progress. Many BuJo keepers use colored pens to make this portion of a journal an attractive spot!
Items to put on your tracker page can include writing practice, vocabulary list-making, time with flashcards, watching videos or reading. Checking off coursework or study time shows not only the “big picture” but the smaller steps—the ones that will get you from beginner to advanced.
Tracking progress is a good motivator!
As I said before, the complexity of a bullet journal depends on the learner.
Me? I go somewhere in the middle with my bullet journal. In addition to the four must-haves, I added a section to up the journal’s efficiency as a learning tool.
A “weekly spread” is typically a two-page deal that breaks the week up into sections for the seven days. I just count the lines on the page, divide it into sections with a ruler and write the day and date at the top of each section.
Then I note what language learning I’m doing on each day. And at the end of every day I mark items that I’ve accomplished. It’s an excellent way to see that tasks are being completed!
How to Apply a Bullet Journal to Language Learning
Journal completely in the target language
The most obvious way to empower your language program with a bullet journal is to journal in the target language. As in, keep the entire journal in the language you’re studying. Write the daily, weekly and yearly spreads in the language. Fill in all the journal pages in the target language.
Sound challenging? That’s not a bad thing—part of learning a new skill is being challenged. Don’t back down. You might surprise yourself with how much you learn by keeping an account of your activities and goals in your new language.
And a bonus? Bullet journaling in another language forces you to think in that language! That’s a hard-core language learner’s goal, isn’t it? We all yearn to think in our newly-acquired language!
Write specific topics in only the target language
It would be ideal to keep the entire bullet journal in your target language, as mentioned above. But for most people that just isn’t possible. Let’s face it, not everyone is at that stage in their language journey.
Language is a step-by-step endeavor. Sometimes, bullet journaling is, too.
Maybe you’re beyond just writing the headings in your target language, but you’re not up for writing the whole journal in the target language. So why not BuJo on just specific topics using your target language. No English allowed!
Maybe add a couple of “how to” sections and jot notes in those areas using only your target language. Do you write, draw, sing or cook? Keep a journal of your special interest—using your language skills.
Eventually, you may find that these special sections become larger. Or that you’re not only keeping these parts in the target language, but others, as well.
Headers in the target language work, too
If you’re not proficient enough to even partially journal in the language you’re learning, then just focus on writing the headers in the target language. Working on writing the days of the week, all the calendar months, to-do lists, exercise and language trackers will provide tons of writing practice.
And, repetition makes those words and phrases you use on each page part of your core vocabulary.
Organize, organize, organize!
It goes without saying—but I’ll say it anyway—all of your learning program components should be a prominent part of the journal. Your goals for your language journey, the tasks you complete (and even the ones you don’t) and certainly your language trackers all help customize your language plan. They should be part of your journal.
Organizing everything in one place streamlines a program. You’ll see just what you’re doing well and what you need to work on. If you don’t consistently hit all of the tasks on your language to-do lists, you’ll see that at a glance. You’ll be able to adjust your schedule to accommodate those items.
Or maybe you’re trying to do too many things, and that’s why they’re not getting checked off. A bullet journal will show you that—and again, you’ll be able to restructure your program to suit your needs.
One part of bullet journaling that’s especially helpful is the idea of “migrating” tasks. If you’ve got something on this week’s list that doesn’t get accomplished—for whatever reason—it’s possible to migrate that to the next week. You’ll see (because it’s not marked as completed) what needs to be migrated.
How to Set Goals with a Bullet Journal
Goal-setting is a big component of language learning.
Some thought on goals might be:
- Where do you want to be on your language learning journey?
- What do you want to know and which skills do you plan to master?
- And dates for these tasks?
That all goes on the goal lists. You’ll just need to decide whether they’re long-term or short-term goals. Let’s flush this out a little bit.
Goals vary from learner to learner because language learning is a personal journey, but most of us have some idea of where we’d like to be speaking in, say, a year. With that in mind, your yearly goal might be based on the CEFR (Common European Framework Reference for Languages) language scale.
A B2 proficiency in a year will take commitment, but it’s doable. Maybe you’re not as motivated, so a different level on the scale might be what you write in your bullet journal on the “Yearly Goals” page. It’s all up to you! The point is to decide, then commit to paper.
Monthly goals are short term and those kinds of goals typically feel pretty concrete. They’re the ones you’ll be ticking off your monthly trackers. Doing that, filling in the daily spreads so you see what you’re doing language-wise, is an exercise that not only encourages consistency but is also a great motivator.
Reading two books in your target language, attending two language lectures, watching one film, practicing grammar daily and adding a pre-determined number of words to a vocabulary journal are good examples of monthly goals.
A weekly spread for a language learning bullet journal is even more customized than either the monthly goal or yearly goal section. The weekly spread breaks down the week into days and provides a spot for each component of a language learning program.
An example of a weekly spread might look like this:
- Monday — FluentU videos and grammar exercises in textbook.
- Tuesday — Watch foreign film and read two chapters in a foreign language book.
- Wednesday — Attend language lecture.
- Thursday — Listen to two podcasts in target language and read two chapters in the foreign language book.
- Friday — Work on vocabulary list and do coursework from textbook.
- Saturday and Sunday — Review, plan new week and migrate items not accomplished.
Consistency is key with a bullet journal. Set goals. Crush them. Set new goals.
Language learning by the book can work for everyone—if the book is a bullet journal. Good luck!