Studying a new language? You could learn a thing or two from Harriet.
She’s the titular character in “Harriet the Spy,” an award-winning kid’s book written by Louise Fitzhugh. The book was published in the sixties, made into a movie thirty years later and still has a strong following. Why? Because Harriet is a kid “spy” who aspires to be a writer.
What does this have to do with language learning? Well, Harriet fastidiously kept a secret log about everything—and I mean everything!
Harriet’s log book went everywhere she went. In it, she noted all the important stuff and—here’s how we can learn from the kid spy—she remembered it all. Really, all of it.
Logging is a great way to note and remember important facts, ideas and thoughts.
Logging consistently worked for Harriet. It can work for language learners, too!
Let’s check out why logs work and learn how to compile one that’ll give your language program a boost!
What Are Language Logs and Why Are They Useful for Language Learners?
A language log is an abbreviated version of a standard diary or journal. It’s a record of your language-learning journey.
Language logs are used to track progress. As milestones are reached—moving from basic learner to intermediate, for example—they’re noted in the log. It’s a snap to see where you’ve been and how far you’ve come if you keep a good record!
Logs are also used to keep track of what materials you’re currently studying as well as what you’ve completed. Some reasons to keep a language log include:
- It keeps you on track. Sometimes it feels like you’re spending less time studying than you actually are, and if that’s the case, your log will show it immediately. Also, you may want to devote a certain amount of time to different resources: videos, reading, vocabulary, etc. Logging allows you to count and allocate that sort of time, as well.
- It helps set goals. You can see where you are and make your way to where you want to be!
- It sends a message to your brain. Studies suggest that writing something down tells the brain we’ve actually done that thing. Kind of like crossing it off our mental checklist! It’s pretty interesting if we consider that when we’re logging our learning, the brain assumes logged material is “done”—or learned.
- It makes you feel good. Another study shows that learners who keep logs feel positively impacted by the experience. And learning a language should be a positive experience!
- It helps you remember things better. Logging your studies increases the probability that what you’ve learned will be remembered! A total win-win as far as our brains are concerned.
A language log is portable, customizable and personal. Whichever method you adopt—paper or screen—is entirely your call because both are beneficial to a language learning program.
If you’d like to take a peek at other language learners’ logs—for inspiration or just out of curiosity—A Language Learner’s Forum is a great spot to do that. There are logs written by learners about countless languages.
What to Include in Your Language Log
First, decide what’s important. We all have different language learning goals: Some want to be fluent while others strive to acquire a massive vocabulary. It’s your choice what to include in your log but try to focus on the items that are most vital to your personal program.
When you fill in your work in the log, jot down how long you studied or even some impressions about the activity you worked on. Was it easy? Do you need to find the next level study guide? Or maybe you struggled with the vocabulary. The log is the spot to keep track of these issues.
Try to be consistent.
Get into the habit of keeping your language log. Note your work daily so you don’t fall behind.
You can use your learning log to record vocabulary lists or keep track of exercises you’ve done or videos you’ve watched. Use it in conjunction with FluentU‘s language learning program and you’ll expand your language skills even more. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. Whether you record how long you spent studying or how many videos you watched, adding FluentU to your daily language learning regimen is a step towards fluency!
How to Organize Your Language Log
How you organize your log is equally important and should also be personal to you. There are two common ways to organize a language log, but you can do whatever works for you!
Divide and conquer.
Many learners divide their logs into sections. Splitting things up makes it easier to see what you’re doing with any particular facet of the program. Coursework, vocabulary, reading, pronunciation and cultural events are common headings for this type of log.
Alternatively, section your language log by days of the week. Log specific work on particular days—say, Monday, Wednesday and Friday for vocabulary and reading; Tuesday and Thursday for coursework and writing; weekends for cultural events.
This style is my personal choice for keeping a language log. I know that if it’s Monday, I’m going heavy on vocabulary and reading. Simple, but effective.
4 Convenient Ways to Keep a Language Learning Log
Now that you’ve decided what to include in you language learning log, you have one more decision to make.
Digital? Or paper? Both methods have value and work equally well. It’s just a matter of personal taste, so choose whatever appeals more to you.
Technophiles, we’ll begin with three digital methods, then move on to the paper option.
1. Plug ‘n Play with Pre-Made Log Templates
A pre-made log template makes organizing your log a breeze.
Use it to add folders for skills, track progress, share progress if you’re working with a language partner, voice record (helpful for logging progress!) and more.
Google apps offers another option that makes it easy to create your own log. Simply download the template, customize it (keeping your personal program and goals in mind) and you’re ready to begin logging.
2. Graph It with an Excel Spreadsheet
Excel spreadsheets are great for keeping track of just about anything and that includes language learning. The good thing is that many of us are familiar with them and might have used some in the workplace. Even if you’re unfamiliar with spreadsheets, creating one is an uncomplicated task.
To build a spreadsheet, launch Excel or create a new sheet in Google Drive. The grid will show on your screen—don’t be overwhelmed! Just fill in the top cells according to what your program goals are (vocabulary, reading, writing and all the rest). Then determine when you’ll accomplish those items and assign cells down the left side of the page as time markers (a monthly grid works well so numbering the vertical cells from 1-30 is a quick method).
Tekhnologic has a great downloadable spreadsheet that’s perfect for building a huge vocabulary list.
If you’re studying more than one language, you can make one sheet for several languages. Additionally, you could make several sheets to track various facets (activity or length of time studied).
3. Tell the World with a Blog
Lots of learners are going public with their language journey by keeping blogs.
Turn your log into a blog and share your experiences with others!
Blogs are updated regularly, which is consistent with the idea of a language log. Also, they’re generally written in a conversational tone, so sharing with other language learners can almost become a social event!
Allow comments on your blog and you can also enjoy chatting with other learners. Who knows? While you’re busy logging your learning you might inspire someone else to do the same thing. Or you could trade tips with others and learn some new ways to increase your program’s productivity.
4. Go Retro with Paper
If you’re down with a no-fuss, low-investment option, grab a notebook and pen. It worked for Harriet the Spy and it works for language learners, too!
There are even notebooks made specifically for this endeavor—but of course, you can use whatever paper you prefer.
Honestly, this is my method of choice. It’s uncomplicated, takes only a few minutes each day to update and gives me an at-a-glance method to see what I’ve done and what I need to work on.
Head the first page with the current month, add the date and log in your language work for that day. If you want to get fancy, use different colored pens to separate vocabulary time from reading time, for example—but honestly, that’s not even necessary.
Wondering what a paper language learning log looks like? Take a peek at this one written by Stefanie Zweig for some super ideas! Also, Lemonade, Languages, and Occasionally Cabbages has an interesting blog post on keeping a paper language log.
As I said, Harriet did the job with a notebook and pencil. It works!
Tracking your learning progress is beneficial for many reasons from goal setting to monitoring fluency, but let’s face it—keeping a log keeps us honest. When we’re accountable for entering our hours and activities it’s less tempting to skip them.
Harriet’s log was a witness to the activity in her neighborhood.
Our language logs are witnesses to our language acquisition.
We’re lucky, though. Unlike Harriet, we don’t need to crawl through shrubbery or hang out of trees. We know where we’re going—and our logs tell that story.
Log your way to fluency, one entry at a time!
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