10 Creative Ways to Use Your Language Learning Notebook

Learning a language has a lot of fun and exciting aspects to it: listening to new music, watching new movies and TV shows, reading books, and connecting with native speakers from around the world.  However, what would you say if I asked you what the most boring part about learning a foreign language is?

Most of you would say learning vocabulary, I guarantee it.

How do you learn foreign language vocabulary? Most people will use a course, start a new lesson, take notes and make flashcards.  While this might seem like it’s the only way to learn vocabulary, it’s not, and it’s the most boring.

So, what’s the most fun way to learn vocabulary, grammar points, and taking notes?

Keeping a notebook!

Wait…that’s a bit obvious.  You probably already do that.

But what if I told you there’s a better, more exciting, more effective, and more fun way to do it? Personally, I absolutely love using my language learning notebook.  Now, I want to share with you how.

ALSO! These photos are pictures of my actual language learning notebooks that I took specifically for this post.  The notes themselves are about 4 months old, and one is almost 2 years!

What Goes into a Language Notebook?


This is a fair question.  What goes into a language notebook?

I typically put the following information in my notebook:

  1. New vocabulary words
  2. Grammar points
  3. Answers to textbook exercises
  4. New rules and concepts

When you learn anything new, it should go in a notebook.  However, it doesn’t do much good if you don’t revisit it.

That’s why I’m here today to tell you how to effectively use your notebook creatively, and how you can make it one of the more interesting parts of learning a language.

Idea #1: Color Code Your Notes

This is something I do and it’s really fun, efficient, and effective, especially for visual learners.  Maybe you can keep vocabulary in red pen, grammar in green and additional notes or explanations in blue.

My notebook typically looks like a rainbow.  When I’m adding a page, it has every color I can possibly use on it.

Color coding allows for a more visual and organizational page of information.  When you color code things, it’s easier to find a certain word or concept when you go back for review.

Idea #2: Use Your Notebook to Take Dictation of Songs

If you’ve used my listening comprehension practice drills before, you’d know that taking dictation of what you hear in songs in your target language is the main activity of the drill.  I also told you to keep a notebook specifically for listening practice, and that’s exactly what I do.

Use your language notebook to help improve your listening skills.  I typically follow these steps:

  1. Listen to a song in your target language.
  2. Write down, line by line, what you hear.
  3. Look up the actual lyrics online (not English translation).
  4. Correct yourself, marking where you went wrong in your notebook with another colored pen (color coding).
  5. Use another page to write down the actual lyrics.

I’ll make another post on listening skills and things you can do to practice them.  However, this is one way you can creatively use your notebook.


Idea #3: Turn Your Notebook into a Journal


I do this all the time.  Don’t just write down new words, use them.  I try to journal in Chinese and Spanish at least twice a week.  I write about how my day went, what my dreams for the future are, something I learned but might not necessarily agree with, etc.

After I finish the journal entry, I upload it as a notebook entry on Italki, and within several minutes native speakers correct me and make comments.

I then go back to my original notebook entry and correct myself.

Needless to say, turning your notebook into a journal is a way to keep yourself actively engaging and using the language as well as having fun.

Idea #4: Keep an Interactive Journal


I like to call this specific exercise or method an “interactive journal,” and you’re about to see why.

Look up some idioms, proverbs, or poems in your target language.  Then, in your notebook, first write down what you found.

Then, think about what you just read.  In your notebook, react to it.  Do you agree? What is it saying? What’s happening? How has this influenced the country’s culture today?

The trick is, though, you’re going to react in your target language.

For example, I did an interactive journal to a famous ancient Chinese poet Li Bai’s poem “Thoughts on a Silent Night.”  I copied the poem down in my notebook, and then wrote about what was going on, what the poet was trying to say, what might have inspired it, and more in Chinese.

Idea #5: Make Note of Your Mistakes


We’ve all heard that we’re supposed to learn from our mistakes.  What would happen if we took that saying literally?

We would learn a new language, that’s what would happen.

If you’re having a conversation with a native speaker and you make a mistake, write it down with the correction they gave you.  Or if you noticed you’ve been doing or saying something wrong, make note of it.

It’s easy to learn new grammar points, but it’s hard to break old habits.  However, purposely trying to break them is the best way to successfully do it.

Idea #6: Cut out Magazine Pictures and Tape Them to Your Notebook


Especially if you’re a visual learner like me, subscribing to foreign magazines or even taking ones you read in your native language is a great way to learn a new one.  Cut out pictures of something you want to know how to say or that you just learned how to say, tape it to a page in your notebook, and start practicing with it.

You can write a story about the picture, you can make a new mnemonic with the picture, or you can simply make a creative flashcard.

Idea #7: Keep Several Pages Specifically for Motivation


You can also cut out magazine pictures of places you’d like to go, see, or do.  Perhaps that’s why you’re learning a foreign language: to experience new places and cultures.

I also like to keep inspirational quotes applicable to language learning in my notebook.

If you follow me on Instagram, you will see that I post daily motivational and inspirational language learning quotes. (Follow me @min_jia.li)

Idea #8: Explain Things to Yourself

If you read my post “10 Best Study Tips for Learning a Language in School,” you would’ve read that one of my tips was to explain things to yourself in your textbook and the margins of your notebook.

When taking notes on new grammar rules or vocabulary that’s difficult to literally translate, use a different colored pen to explain this thing to yourself in the margins of your notebook.

Also, keep a page where you explain something difficult to yourself as if you were teaching someone else.  I’ve found that this really works wonders for me.

Idea #9: Quiz Yourself

Most of you probably know that I’m a huge advocate for quizzing yourself on anything new you learn.  Using your notebook to do it works miracles!

Write down the list of vocabulary or phrases that you want to test yourself on, one side in your target language and the other in English.

Then, cover up the English side with another sheet and on the next page translate the word from the target language to English.  Remove the blank sheet and grade how well you did.

Afterwards, cover up the target language side and on the other sheet translate from English to your target language.

This is a great way to not only put what you’ve learned to practice and see how well you’re doing, but also to track your progress.

Idea #10: Draw Pictures in Your Notebook


Illustrations is one of the absolute best ways I learn, and you can too, especially if you are a visual learner.

Drawing graphs, charts, storyline pictures, and more are great ways to teach yourself and explain to yourself new words and concepts.

For example, when learning Spanish verb conjugations, you can draw a tree.  At the root of the tree, write the verb in infinitive form, such as comer (to eat).

Then, on the branches, you have the verb in all its conjugation forms (como, comes, comemos, come, comen), each having its own specific branch.

Keeping a Notebook Can Be Fun!


It’s time to make vocabulary learning one of the most exciting parts about learning a foreign language.  By making your notebook visual, colorful, and organized, you can do just that.

If you want more tips on how to learn a language from home, you can see my last blog post.

Thanks for reading, and happy learning!
Jia Li

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