Without tangible evidence that what you’re doing is working, motivation is hard.
When you start to lose weight, you’re motivated to continue when your clothes fit a little looser and the numbers on the scale go down.
And you know exactly what to do to continue the trend—eat well and exercise.
Learning a language is decidedly more difficult.
The evidence isn’t as easy to come by, and there’s so much to do to make progress.
That’s where a foreign language notebook comes in handy.
Why Should You Keep a Foreign Language Notebook?
You may be asking yourself: “Why would I want to take the time to set up a notebook? I could use other resources to practice and learn?”
Here are some of the most important reasons why this particular learning resource is so handy:
Keep up with your progress
This is the main idea behind a language notebook. The notebook will allow you to see the progress you’ve made. Let’s say you want to be able to write a letter in French. This is the perfect place to do it. So, you write the best letter you can. During the process, questions arise and you look at some of the aspects of letter writing that give you the most trouble.
You focus on improving by writing more letters, emails or other correspondence. At the end of the month, you’ve written 15 letters. Now go back and look at that first letter. Where have you improved? What do you know now that gave you such a hard time at the beginning? This can be just as motivating as seeing the scale go down!
Create a single space dedicated to the new language
When you’re trying to reach fluency in another language, learning can sometimes be sporadic. New words might pop up throughout the day or a question may arise during your commute. Put all the information on those scraps of paper or Post-its in one place—your notebook. Rewriting this information and reorganizing your notes is a great way to move information into your long-term memory.
It’s also important to mention that if you’re learning multiple languages (good for you!), then you need multiple notebooks. This will help with compartmentalization—so when your Portuguese notebook is out, you’re only focused on it!
It’s a place to practice new vocabulary, grammar and writing
Although the work you do in your foreign language notebook will positively affect all areas of language learning, it’s a great place to specifically target essential writing skills. Written communication is just as important as oral communication, and to truly master a language you need to be able to write it.
Have places in your notebook where you can address tricky grammar rules and where you can draft longer paragraphs utilizing new vocabulary and grammar. When you need to reference that rule again, it’s easily accessible!
It’s tailored to you
Unlike an app or online course where someone else has set up the lessons, you get to be your own teacher. By no means do you have to set up elaborate lesson plans, but you do get to set up the notebook in a way that works best for you.
Are you an educator learning Spanish? You can have a place in your notebook dedicated to that vocabulary. Going to China for business? Think about what you’ll need to be successful. You might find that having a space for cultural and social norms is just as valuable as having an area for vocabulary.
We’ll discuss this in more detail later on in the post, but the content of the notebook is completely up to you! Whatever you’re lacking, you can design a notebook to meet those needs.
No one else has to see your notebook. It’s the equivalent of your teenage diary—you can record your mistakes and your progress, then look back on previous pages without judgement.
We’ve already discussed the importance of motivation while learning. Along with allowing us to measure our progress, a foreign language notebook can also encourage us to keep going by providing a creative outlet.
Your notebook can be as colorful and fun as you want it to be. Feel free to add pictures, positive quotes or color-coding to your heart’s content. Many of us have little tchotchkes on our desks to keep us going, like a favorite pen or a souvenir from that trip to Italy. Your notebook can serve that same purpose.
Anyone can do it
Anyone at any level can start a foreign language notebook. If you’re at the beginning of your language-learning journey, a notebook will help you lay the foundation of your new skills.
The more advanced learner might find their notebook with only a couple of sections dedicated to new vocabulary, grammar structures or more nuanced components of the target language. That’s the beauty of it! No matter where you are in your studies, you can use a notebook to your advantage.
Using it to your advantage not only helps you improve and make progress, but even learn languages for free. Think about it—you don’t have to pay money to listen to foreign music, but if you write down and translate the lyrics in your notebook, it’s quickly turned into a learning resource.
5 Tips to Tackle the Foreign Language Notebook and Keep Yourself Motivated
1. Find the right notebook for you
As we talked about before, the beauty of keeping a foreign language notebook is how customizable it is. You choose what kind of notebook you want to use and set it up however you’d like. Your language notebook can be as simple or complex as it needs to be. You can create it to have a strict design with lists or have a loose structure.
Now you may be wondering, where do I find the time to set up and use a notebook for my foreign language? You’re not alone! If the idea of setting up a notebook is overwhelming, you could order a foreign language notebook online.
If you already have some ideas in mind but would like to see more examples, check out YouTube to see how others have organized their notebooks to give you some ideas.
Planning is an important part of choosing the right notebook. So once you have an idea of how big or small you’ll need it to be, you can better decide what you need. You can use a plain, lined notebook or repurpose an old binder and fill it with notebook paper. Or, if you just want to give a language notebook a try but need a place to begin, you can find language worksheets on the internet and use your notebook as a place to house those.
2. Divide your notebook into sections: vocabulary lists, grammar practice, writing
By dividing up your notebook into sections, you’re designating spaces to focus on different goals and concepts. Having a space for vocabulary, grammar and writing practice is a good place to begin because they’re the fundamentals of language fluency.
Keeping a list of vocabulary helps you track which words you struggle with and words you’ve memorized. You can create an alphabetical list or segment words by categories, such as food or telling time.
Similarly, keeping a section for grammar concepts gives you something to refer to when you forget a specific structure, and a writing section is a great place to practice those vocabulary and grammar skills.
How many pages you’ll want per section is up to you, but dividing a notebook into three equal sections is a good place to start. Use sticky tabs to divvy up the pages into these three main sections. Experiment with color coding—differentiating topics with color can be especially helpful to visual learners.
After a while, or if you think you need room for more sections, you could add a space for more complex vocabulary lists or a thesaurus-like section where you list words with similar meanings, which can be helpful when writing.
3. Find creative writing ideas
Struggling to come up with what to write?
Here are some ideas to jump-start your practice:
- Write letters or emails to friends and family.
- Write a few diary entries.
- Review your favorite books, movies, shows, recipes or restaurants.
- Create dialogues using new vocabulary or grammar structures with different scenarios.
- Plan a dinner menu.
- Write a magazine article.
- Create a make-believe travel journal.
Use the writing section of your notebook to write whatever you want, but it’s a good idea to keep it varied. It’s like using different equipment at the gym, working different muscles makes you stronger overall. Writing creatively makes your language skills stronger, allowing you to use new vocabulary words and grammar.
4. Write down goals
Use the notebook to write down goals for yourself in the target language. You might even create a section dedicated to goals and check the goals off once they’ve been reached.
Think about what you want to achieve. How many sentences do you want to be able to write? What kind of writing do you want to do? What new words do you want to be able to use? Which grammar concepts do you need to master?
Set up a series of goals, each one getting bigger or harder as you go along. For example, challenge yourself every couple of weeks to write for a longer period of time without using a dictionary. This way, you’re forcing yourself to focus and challenging yourself to be imaginative with the language.
5. Create a system to reward yourself when you reach a goal
Set up a reward system for yourself. Since you’re recording your goals, you’ll know when you’ve achieved them. It’s important for you to recognize how far you’ve come!
A reward could be something as simple and childish as fun stickers or new stationary. Maybe you’re keeping a list of foreign movies to watch in your notebook, so now would be a good time to reward yourself by watching one!
Completing a goal and moving onto the next one means you’re moving forward with using the language. It may not be as fun as seeing the scale go down, but it’s just as motivating!
To sum it all up: Your individual language journey should be customized to you.
A foreign language notebook is a practical and useful tool for the serious language learner to personalize their learning experience.
So, go get one!
And One More Thing...
If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.
With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You get a truly personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.