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If you hadn’t noticed already, visual note-taking is dominating the self-study game. Anything that’ll make notes look less like your traditional black-and-white document is all the rage in 2020.
If you’re not taking pretty notes, then what are you even doing? (Seriously, I want to know.) I get it if you’re all about information over visualization. Minimization over ideation. Organization over association. Or interpretation over presentation.
And when it comes to mind mapping, you may even be guilty of floccinaucinihilipilification (The act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant, of having no value or being worthless.) But mind maps are game-changers.
According to Mind Maps Unleased, mind mapping increases your creativity and productivity as it lets you generate more ideas, identify relationships among different data and information, and effectively improve your memory and retention.
Mind maps are way more intuitive than linear note-taking. They literally mimic the way in which our brains think. They allow us to draw connections and prepare for real situations in which an understanding of related vocabulary will be essential.
Through the inclusion of words, colors, branches, and images, the mind map helps the map-maker to place information into memory.
What is a Mind Map?
A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. A mind map is hierarchical and shows relationships among pieces of the whole. (Wikipedia)
All Mind Maps have a natural organizational structure that radiates from the center and uses lines, symbols, words, color, and images according to simple, brain-friendly concepts.
Mind mapping converts a long list of monotonous information into a colorful, memorable, and highly organized diagram that works in line with your brain’s natural way of doing things.
With those definitions alone, I’m sure you can already see the immersive benefits this method of note-taking could bring to foreign language study. Just instead of mapping out ideas or using mind maps as a means of brainstorming, you’ll be using them as a means to map out vocabulary and their respective connections.
You’ll be bringing context into your vocab notes, in a way that feels totally natural. Even enjoyable. So other than the few reasons I’ve provided already, let’s get into the list of 10 reasons you need to include mind maps in your language study journal.
They encourage “diffuse thinking”
Have you ever been in the middle of a language study session where you were straight-up grinding? No pauses, no breaks, no playing around. It was just you and your target language against the rest of the world.
Maybe you were flying through Anki, or on your 6th Duolingo session and you felt unstoppable. You were slaying the whole game and your brain had officially transformed into a sponge. You were literally soaking in new words.
While you may have felt like a literal boss in the moment, chances are that later, you were only able to recall about 25% of the terms you learned. At best.
As much as we may not want to admit it– our brain fatigues rather easily. It is a muscle after all. We can’t expect it to hold but so much new information at any given point. It’s not practical or even reasonable to expect from yourself.
So where does diffuse thinking come into this equation? What even is diffuse thinking?
Diffuse thinking happens when you let your mind wander freely, making connections at random. This mode of thinking does not happen in any one area of the brain, but rather all over.
A mind-mapping exercise is colorful and engaging. They give you time for “diffuse thinking” as you pause to change colors and reflect on keywords and images.
Taking just those few extra seconds to ponder over the word you just learned and figure out what color or image best reflects its meaning works magic when it comes to memory. You force yourself to slow down, and as result, you’re able to analyze more information– even if it is at a slightly less in-depth level.
They engage the full range of cortical skills
The Tony Buzan Learning Center defines their Mind Map® as “a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain.
It harnesses the full range of cortical skills – word, image, number, logic, rhythm, color, and spatial awareness – in a single, uniquely powerful manner.”
Goconqr even goes as far as to include speech, imagination, and lists in this set of skills. Now it isn’t rocket science to be able to clearly see that most note-taking methods would not be able to engage such an extensive range of skills.
But mind mapping proves just how powerful our brains truly are. Our brains’ ability to process multiple inputs simultaneously is what makes mind maps so thoroughly engaging.
“Word”– otherwise known as your newest vocabulary term is just one of your cortical skills. So if your notes look anything like a page out of a literary textbook… you’re not maximizing the power of your notes.
These notes are a no when it comes to language learning.
These notes are definitely warmer, but even they don’t acknowledge spatial awareness, imagination, number, or image.
But this mind map?
Now that’s what I call effective note-taking. The only cortical skill you could argue isn’t being engaged here is speech. Which is a skill that’s nearly impossible to engage through any form of note-taking.
They help with memory retention
Anytime you add color, images, or any kind of visual aspect to your notes, you increase your attention level. Our brains automatically respond more strongly to things we like to look at it. It’s just human nature.
Ayoa expands on this claim, stating that mind maps promote associations and connections. Association has always been an important means of enhancing memory.
If you can’t remember one of the more narrow terms on your mind map, chances are you’ll still remember the more broad term that word was connected to. And maybe in this way, you’ll be able to trace your path to the word you’re trying to think of.
Our brains are already used to thinking in this fashion– that of the general to the specific. Which again proves that mind maps mimic our natural way of thinking.
They help organize tons of new vocabulary
Let’s be real, most note-taking methods for new vocabulary are nearly entirely ineffective. I don’t know any language learner who retains newly learned terms through solely jotting them down.
I and many others typically store new vocabulary in flashcard systems; or more specifically, spaced repetition flashcard systems. This form of ROTE learning has always felt like a necessity because traditional note-taking has always been ineffective in retaining information.
Rote learning refers to things that can be, or are memorized, usually by continued repetition, and does not require/involve understanding. Meaningful or conceptual learning refers to learning with understanding attached; it is the ability to relate new information to prior knowledge.
Now, where do you think mind maps fall? Conceptual learning, of course. They’re physical manifestations of relations between new information and prior knowledge.
Once you’re able to draw these connections yourself as a language learner, you’ll be able to organize new vocabulary so much more efficiently. Your brain won’t just feel like a jumble of words that have found abstract locations in some bottomless abyss.
The words you learn will have homes. Relationships. Families. Friends. Children. Grandchildren. And ultimately a more fulfilling life than mine. (Just kidding! Writing for you guys alone makes my life totally fulfilling!)
They prepare you for real conversations
I’m sure you’ve noticed yourself that conversations typically go from the general to the specific. If you skip the “hi, how are you” and go straight to “what are your political views” you’re quite literally setting yourself up for a fight.
So you can totally map out the way in which you’d envision a typical conversation going. “Hello” could be your central term, and then you just branch out from there. In most cultures, “how are you” would follow “hello” and then you could create different paths depending on the response.
Like “that’s great” if the other speaker answers good, or “what happened” if they answered bad. Again, it’s totally up to you to use your imagination and prior research as to what conversation etiquette looks like in your target language.
If you push yourself to develop connections now, you’ll be more than ready later to expand “small talk” into more meaningful conversations. A goal I think most of us language learners have.
They can be used to assess learning
Mind maps are great at proving whether you’re overconfident or underconfident in your knowledge of a language. Specifically, a certain topic of discussion in that language.
Because the number of words you know at this point in your journey could be quite massive, you may benefit from splitting up your vocabulary into different curriculums. Something that’s totally possible if you’re learning a language in a classroom setting.
Then you take your curriculum of choice and create a mind map containing all the words you remember learning. Mind maps can be as compact or spacious as you want, making them a perfect means for displaying large numbers of vocabulary.
If you don’t have a curriculum you’ve been following, then you can totally organize vocabulary by topic or just a broad general term. Take the word “read” for example. You can expand to hundreds of words if your heart so desires.
“Read” encompasses books, genres, knowledge, academic subjects, publications, laws, rules, and more. Or a word like “food” can help you assess your proficiency in restaurant terminology.
Once you’ve chosen your broad word, branch out, and write down as many words as you possibly can that are related. You can even write down the English words for words you ‘d like to go back later and add in.
They enhance your reading skills
If you’re someone who tends to focus more on listening and speaking, you may not be as familiar with the sounds certain letter combinations make as you think you are. By writing these words, you’ll start seeing patterns and re-used terminology you’d never noticed through sound.
Whenever you’re expanding your knowledge of the written vocabulary in any given language, your reading skills are bound to improve. It’s literally not possible for you to learn new words and understand less in reading.
In language learning, there’s nowhere to go but up. So no matter how minute these new vocabulary terms or new understandings of old vocabulary terms may seem, they’ll all add up in the long run.
Why else do you think kindergarteners spend so much time simply writing out letters and basic words? Because teachers know you’ve got to start somewhere so why not master the basics?
Even if you can’t remember a term you wrote down on your mind map, when you see it in written text, it’ll probably come back to you. It was just stored somewhere in your subconscious memory.
And mind maps are pretty good at squeezing new information into your subconscious memory.
They (can) save time
A mind map has a clear and simple structure. Words/phrases are stored in branches. All the terms in a branch are related to one another. The result?
You can quickly find out what something means, what the implication of the information is, etc. You’re able to save time and energy. Plus creating a mind map is fun. And I’m sure all of us have heard the expression “time flies when you’re having fun.” (Mind Maps Unleased)
Also later down the road, when it comes to recalling learned information, mind maps provide you with an easily navigable storage space. You won’t have to flip through heaps of pages, because all the information is in one area.
If you color-coded and used images correctly, then it should be beyond easy to quickly locate the word you’re looking for. Traditional note-taking involves written information looking relatively uniform. Not at all distinguishable beyond different page lines.
And even “pretty notes” often involve line-by-line searching to locate a term and it’s meaning. With a mind map that’s engaging, colorful, and organized, you’ll never have to waste time searching.
This means you’ll have more time for learning, and you’ll ultimately reach fluency faster.
You’ll actually want to look at them later
Not to sound like a buzzkill or anything, but conventional notes look so boring. Even adding in some highlighter here and there can’t hide the underlying intimidation of even nicely written words.
I don’t care what anyone says something that reminds me of a textbook page is something I’ll never want to read. I’m a student who wants to succeed, so of course, I’ll force myself to, but I won’t want to.
And when I don’t want to do something, I typically rush through it. I do just the bare minimum to ensure a surface understanding of the material. But I’m someone who prides myself on any form of artistic endeavor.
And though mind maps may not initially seem like it– they are totally productions of your inner creativity and artistic potential. So you’ll actually want to re-open your journal a few days down the line just to gaze at your work.
Because if you make a mind map right, that thing should be borderline beautiful (at least to you.) It’ll hopefully look something like the most organized rainbow-esque web-like visualization you’ve ever seen.
You may even want to take it out to subtly show off just how unique your study methods are compared to your friends. Whatever the reason is, anytime you revisit your mind map, you’re re-ingraining that vocabulary.
And that, my friend, is fantastic.
Think about this. Some of the most effective mind maps have more doodles and symbols than words. And a mind map can hardly even be called a mind map if it doesn’t’ have color.
Now if that doesn’t scream fun to you, then I don’t know what will.
And the magic of mind maps is that no 2 have to look the same. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty hard for 2 to even look similar.
Visuals should always look different. Typography will vary. Branches will be an infinite number of different sizes. And the number of connections you’re able to draw all come down to the word, your imagination, and how far you’re willing to stretch what you know.
If I haven’t already impressed this in your mind, mind maps are the most artistic form of note-taking you’ll ever experience. They’re the only style of notes that are just as much visual-based as text-based.
Now if this just comes across to you as “a lot of work,” then feel free to stick with your original means of note-taking. If you’re okay with consciously denying yourself the ability to speed up your language proficiency, then go ahead. But keep in mind that anything we enjoy doing is something we’ll be more willing to spend more time on.
And if you find mind maps to be as enjoyable to create as I do, then I’m sure the amount of time you spend studying will naturally increase.
To my fellow Journalista
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Before you head off on your language journey– I want us to stay in contact with one another. Us language learners have to stick together right?
My language craziness expands to multiple platforms so you can also find me cranking out polyglot inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t hesitate to direct message me or comment on one of my posts! I’d love to get to know you beyond this blog.
Keep learning languages my friend! And I look forward to seeing you again real soon.
Don’t forget to pin for later and share with your gal-friends!
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