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Notebooks? Organising learning

Do people keep notebooks to help them learn? Maybe I'm just old and everyone keeps things online?

Here's my little grubby Portuguese notebook, it's actually been to Portugal with me! It's getting kinda full now...has many messy bits, corners torn out to make bookmarks, corrections and big crossed out bits that I just got wrong!


I started Alphabetically at the front....then added verbs at the back....then prepositions and phrases in the middle!...now the whole thing is held together with elastic bands.

Just today I realized that a good way to order it would have been lesson by lesson!

How do you do it?

September 11, 2013



I use a Word document, always open when I work on Duo, that I complement every time something worth noting comes up (comments, examples, grammar explanations, idioms, useful links...). All items are titled and numbered. So it was chronological in the beginning (lesson by lesson) but after some time, I have regrouped topics to be able to easily find my way to what I look for.


I might be daft, but for European languages I never write anything down. I just try and keep it all in my head, and if I forget something, I just spend time phrasing it and rephrasing it aloud with my mouth. I always find a dozen words I don't know in every article I read, but I find it easier just to chase those words into other articles by surfing the net, so that I can at least recognise them again, even if not use them in conversation. This works for me, because I never end up boring myself, so I could keep it up for hours.

For learning Chinese glyphs though, I use post it notes and waiter-type throwaway notepads, which are handy because they give you a set of instant flashcards. If you can look at the random scribblings you wrote a week ago and know what they are, you can tear the page out and move on! I know some people like to keep these things for posterity or revision purposes, but I'm just more concerned about what I am keeping in my grey matter at any given point :)

Incidentally, I came up with a novel exercise for Chinese glyphs - pick any 9 that you want to memorise, find a sudoku generator somewhere, and copy it down onto paper replacing the numbers 1-9 with those 9 glyphs. The game still works because you still have to have 9 unique glyphs in every row, but it actually enables you to think in terms of 'I need a cat there, the tree can't go there, the cart could go there or there....',


That sudoku thing is awsome!


Well, I have no long term experience on how well it works. I don't actually live anywhere near China or have need to understand Hanzi, and I seem to have about a 50% retention rate of the ones I study. But for me, that's already 150% more than my original expectations of success. The sudoku thing gives you a diversion for focusing on and writing the glyphs from memory at random intervals though, which my gut tells me is more effective than just writing one out 9 times and then moving to the next. The other trick is to keep the paper for a week, and then blank out all of the glyphs you can still actually remember. If you can't remember some of them after a week, wash, rinse, repeat :)


Hmm, that's interesting, I actually developed a Sudoku game a long time ago. This would be a cinch to input into it. Though I'm not too sure if it supports glyph (unicode) characters. You've just given me some nice ideas to implement if I ever lose my laziness.

Thanks :).


I haven't been learning any non-european languages so far, but i'm planning to, and your ideas are really good, so thank you :). That sudoku thing is really an amazing idea for learning foreign alphabets, not only glyphs, in my opinion - too bad I didn't come up with something like that when I was learning cyrillic :).

For european ones, I also don't write things down, I find it faster to just peek/use dictionary for unknown words, and I found out that learn more effectively from seeing words in context than trying to learn from my own notes.


Different people are different learning types. Some learn best by writing, some by hearing, some by talking. That's why I think the duolingo method is great, you not only have the game motivation, you also get imput for nearly all possible learning channels: hearing, writing, speaking and discussing the language, whatever gets it in your head.


I stole this from Tiago Moita on another thread on here:

"As Kató Lomb said (I'm reading her book "Polyglot"): "The building of language has four large halls. Only those who have acquired listening, speaking, reading, and writing can declare themselves to be its dwellers".


Well put, of course everyone should find out the most effective way for him, I was just talking about myself - I usually remember words very fast, the biggest problem I have is when I have to start expressing myself, especially if I try to talk, because I don't have time to form sentences word by word in my head, and I've discovered that the easiest way to overcome that is to learn words from context, because that way I begin forming sentences much sooner, and some phrases remain in my head :).

I also agree that duolingo is a great tool because it trains all aspects of a language, and also because anyone can basically form his own way of learning and study at his own pace.


I honestly found the best way to learn foreign alphabets is to give them some personal meaning to you - my phone is full of names written in hangul, arabic, devanagari, cyrillic etc, and if I want to call somebody, I actually have to use my recollection of those letters. It's sort of the same principal as you can't set a big log on fire without some little kindling. Of course that is the method that you use if you aren't in any rush though, so Your Mileage May Vary.

99% of the writing systems in the world are no more difficult to pick up than the one we use every day; I've read that Hangul was originally the target of mockery by literate Chinese scribes because it could be learned in the space of a morning. You just have to find some way to slowly become familiar and comfortable with them.

If you want my last piece of advice about learning non European languages though, is worry first about your listening and speaking comprehension, get a basic grasp of that first before stressing about how to read and write it. That foundation gives an important and subtle context to the written component. I did it the other way round, and long after I have forgotten any of my spoken arabic, I can still read the writing. Ask me how useful that is :)


I use an online list called Workflowy. It's like a normal list, except that you can collapse, drill-down, share, tag, and share each point. It's great for organizing a ton of information into a manageable presentation. https://workflowy.com/?ref=d4b506e


I put everything on spread sheets (organized by skill) and then input them into a flashcard app


Hey JCMcGee, I do this too! I useually get a coursebook for the languages I want to learn. I LOVE the Teach Yourself and Colloquial series since they have a wide range of languages, and in my notebook I useally write down the dialouges and vocabulary from the book. I also do the exercises in my notebook too. Since I'm using duolingo for French I useually write down the sentances and vocabulary with the english translation next to it and go over it throughout the day. I also try to go in order and write it out lesson by lesson and gradually progress :P And I like your Portugusse notebook! It looks very well used :D


I have a few bookmarks to grammar sites, but mostly to give the links to people seeking help. For myself, I didn't feel the need to write much down yet; I only do it with vocables that just don't want to stick in my head, the process of writing them down helps me to memorize them and I also can add the German translation instead of the English one.


jcmcgee and sakasiru may well be right - there is some modest evidence around that the physical act of writing helps to improve learning (even as compared with typing).


Might as well hijack this thread for a related question:

Is anyone here using emac's org mode for learning languages and is willing to say something about his setup?


I write everything down too. Seems to make it stick in my mind better even than typing but I like pinkduckling's spreadsheet idea. I think I'll be trying that.


I use a notebook for French since I am only 12 and there aren't language classes at my school. I organize it by the skill as the heading and then the lessons as the sub-topics. I write the new vocabulary in the lessons I have just learned and I keep the notebook if I forget anything and for reference.


I use a moleskine notebook to document any interesting/culturally relevant phrases that have specific inotations that don't go hand in hand with their individual words, at least in German. For example, I have an entire page on the rules for plurals, a page for formal vs informal conjugations, and a page for culture-specific phrases (cups in your cupboard and other idioms). I also use it to practice difficult to spell words/irregular vocabulary (re: Zeitung).

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