Hey fellow language notes lover! Since you’re here, I’ve taken you asked yourself more than a few times, “how can I organize my language notes?” What is the most efficient way to organize your language notebook?
Because lord knows this is no easy task. As with everything else when it comes to language learning, note-taking is a process you have to personalize to yourself.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to organizing your language journal or notebook. In fact, notes organization can differ a lot between in-class students and language learners who self-study. And with different languages, different study layouts may be necessary.
Languages that use the Latin alphabet most likely won’t need pronunciation notes (after you familiarize yourself a bit with unique sounds), but others probably will. Regardless of your target language, note-taking is supposed to be enjoyable; contrary to popular belief.
Pretty notes are revolutionizing the whole study game. And with good reason! They’re more engaging, visually appealing, and fun to both look at and make.
It’s only when you don’t actually know how to create efficient layouts, that the process becomes frustrating.
That’s why I’m here. Because I know just how unique each and every one of my readers is, I scraped the Internet and my mind for 10 different efficient ways to organize your language notes.
Just to prove that you don’t have to be limited by the notes you’ve always taken or the notes you’ve seen online. I’m hoping that with these note layouts, you’ll be able to combine both aesthetics and practicality.
I genuinely believe each of these spreads has different benefits for different styles of language learners. They’re each quite different, but they each ultimately get their job done of bringing you closer to your language learning goals.
To write down anything though, first you’ll need a quality notebook or journal.
A language journal is a great way to hold yourself accountable for reaching your language goals. Speaking from personal experience! I consider it to be the ultimate upgrade to any language study routine.
So be sure to check out my self-designed language journals with multilingual covers and strong boss babes depicted. Latin languages, European languages, African languages, and more represented.
You can also grab some matching stickers to really make your language study sessions fun.
All those designs plus more are also available as printables on Etsy! So get excited. Now on to the list.
So let’s get into the list shall we?
I just love an attractive minimalist spread. This layout is literally so neat, and ensures 0 confusion when looking back over your notes later. Thanks to it’s simple color scheme pallette, it’s 100% organized and easy on the eyes.
So what exactly is going on in these notes? Well at the top, there’s a large heading that represents the subject of all the info below. In this case, it’s “Daily Routine.”
Directly underneath we have “keywords,” as in the vocabulary included in discussing that subject. If you don’t like writing down each and every term directly in your notes, then you could literally choose to just write down “keywords.”
We can see that one of the keywords included under “Daily Routine” is “eat breakfast”– definitely something one would consider key to a daily routine. Notice how she makes it very obvious that all her keywords are verbs, not nouns. She doesn’t write “breakfast,” but “eat breakfast,” not “bed”, but “go to bed.” It’s important that you make these distinctions as well, as notes should never be ambiguous.
Again though, notice how organized even simple color coding can make your notes look. The pink mildliner lines are clearly dividers between each subcategory. Her subtopics are slightly more right-aligned than the rest of her notes; allowing for clearer distinction from the rest of the notes.
Each vocabulary term is written in dark pink. Instead of using a delimiter like a colon or hyphen to lead to her definitions, she moves to the next line. All definitions/ meanings are written in black.
She has two columns for key words that are each evenly aligned, and there’s even space for a third if she so wishes. For your notes, consider how many terms you’ll be including, and allow that to guide how many columns you incorporate.
Underneath key terms, you would write down any grammar rules that have to do with constructing sentences that include your key terms. Her grammar “equations” are written in dark pink, while examples of the grammar rule in action are written in black.
At the bottom, you would write down sentence examples of the key terms in use. Ideally these sentences would relate back to the main topic.
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 that definition alone, I’m sure you can already see the immense 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.
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.
Check out this list of 10 reasons you need to include mind maps in your language study journal if you’re interested in learning more.
Again, the color scheme here is quite simple and doesn’t distract you from the material. The heading in this image is simply “French Notes” but could easily be changed to represent a specific topic.
Her subtopics are written in blue, and long black lines are used to distinguish between each section. By organizing your vocabulary by the kind of word they are (noun, adjective, verb, or adverb) you take away the added responsibility of figuring out ways to indicate them.
Instead of having to add a “(v)” or “to_____” next to each verb, you simply place the term underneath the verb section. This form of organization would be efficient for any topic.
Just be sure to include a section for adverbs and nouns as well, even though they’re not displayed in the image. Each term is indicated by a diamond– a fancy alternative to simple bullet points. Nonetheless, the outline layout is totally present and effective.
And then we see the inclusion of a third color, yellow, to indicate ‘Important’ information. Notice how important info isn’t only placed on a sticky note but is also written larger than the other terms.
This spread is entirely vocabulary-specific. You’ll be able to use as much as one page as possible without it turning into a confusing mess. Of course, the inclusion of color can be thanked for that.
Just make every other line a different color, and you won’t have to worry about your terms becoming indistinguishable.
This layout is super simple if you can’t tell by the image alone. On the far right, you write down the word in your target language. In the middle, you write down the English translation. And on the far left, you choose whether to write a sentence using the word or draw an image representing the word.
This spread is perfect for language learners either trying to save space in their language notebook, or learn as much vocabulary in the shortest time possible.
Personally, I set up this spread in my language journal every single week. And at the end of each week, it’s completely filled with new terms.
But if you’re more of a “one word per day” kind of person, then you could even use this one spread for the duration of an entire month. Saves paper and time.
If you’re pretty good at remembering the meanings of verbs after the first few times you see them, then you’ll benefit from this layout. Everything is very easily distinguished using color, lines, alignments, and shapes.
Of course, this spread is really only practical if you’re studying a language that includes conjugations. Personally, my target language of Vietnamese doesn’t– but I know alot of mainstream languages do.
This spread is especially beneficial when you’re first familiarizing yourself with these different conjugational forms. You’ll learn tenses and plural forms way quicker if you actively convert each verb into these forms.
When you write the verb in all it’s possible forms, you make sure to catch any irregularities and you anticipate seeing/hearing the word in everyday settings. Chances are you’ll hear the word’s different conjugations way more than the infinitive itself, and this spread makes it easy for you to pick up all 6 forms of each verb.
And as the image demonstrates, you could even choose to organize verbs but those that are regular and those that are irregular. Each conjugation is written in a different color from the rest of the material which will allow for quick scanning in the future.
Each verb is boxed in the same color as the conjugations– which will also allow for easy navigation. Underneath conjugations, we have the uses of the verbs, followed by additional information related to their use in context.
This spread is great for language learners who either don’t write down much vocabulary or enjoy focusing a lot of attention on certain terms. While it does use up quite a bit of paper, it definitely get’s its job done of familiarizing the writer with new vocabulary.
It’s a 4-square layout for each term and kind of resembles windows one would draw on a basic home. On the top right square, you write the word in your target language.
In the top left square, you write the meaning/ English translation of the word. In the bottom right square, you draw a visual of the word. You’ll probably have to get quite imaginative with certain words.
And in the bottom left square, you write a sentence using the word. This can be any example phrase, as long as you’re 100% positive that it’s right. I’d suggest pulling the sentence from a reliable source if you’re not super confident in your abilities to form a legitimate one.
Then all the way on the right-hand side of the page, you leave a long section just for writing in grammar tidbits and questions.
Write grammar rules at the top, and questions at the bottom. Ideally, you would go back and find the answers to these questions later. Or if you’re just crushing the whole game and you don’t have any questions– then you could create some questions using the words you wrote down on the left-hand side of the page.
Your choice, as with everything in your language notebook.
For my readers who self-study, I fully understand that Memrise is a very popular learning resource. So this layout was specifically made for that application but literally works with any teaching platform.
Throw Duolingo or Italki at the top, and the layout would work just as well. This spread is extremely simple. Perfect for any minimalist note-takers reading this.
No colors, no shapes, no numbers– just pure information. This journaler makes it work but bear in mind that it would be extremely easy for this layout become indistinguisable and/or disorganized.
The key to it’s neatness is how spaced out everything is. Each line of text is spaced out by at least a centimeter. In a bullet journal or lined journal, just skip every other horizontal space.
Farthest to the right, write down the translation of the word into your target language. Add a sizely space, and then write down the English pronunciation of that word. For Chinese, this would be Pinyin, but for other languages,you could either write down IPA or the English sound equivalents to each syllable.
Farthest to the left, write down the English translation / meaning of the word. Definitely one of the simplest spreads on this list.
Visual dictionaries are some of my favorite language journal spreads ever. They allow you to flex your artistic abilities while simultaneously engaging with your target language.
The real fun comes when you have to really stretch your imagination to draw images for words that aren’t typically “visual.” Abstract nouns specifically.
This layout is best for language learners who self study, as you likely won’t be able to draw a page of doodles in a classroom. When you look back at visual dictionaries, you really have to work your brainpower to connect the word with the image.
Forcing yourself to work a little harder is essential to ultimately retaining the words. So yes, drawings are effective when learning a language.
Don’t skip out on them just because you think they’re “childish.” Seriously. Check out The right way to use visuals and doodles for language learning memory retention, and you’ll be surprised to learn their immense benefits.
If you plan to organize the majority of your vocabulary like this, then I’d encourage you alphabetize your list. You could even convert your whole language notebook into a visual dictionary if you want.
Then you’ll have multiple pages dedicated to single letters, and you’ll have way more room for fitting in lots of vocabulary. If that sounds like too much of a commitment, then you could totally just alphabetize the vocabulary terms from the specific topic you’re currently studying.
Then you just draw in an image for each term and move on with your life. I find that this note-taking layout makes language study feel a bit less like actual study.
Don’t you just love visual-based layouts? Seriously if you’re even somewhat of an artist, then this spread will probably be one of the more effective at actually retaining the words.
This image specifically displays Idioms but any topic could work. This spread writes down sentences instead of singular words and their definitions. So you really get the context associated with a word.
Then within each group of sentences, you underline key terms or words you don’t know. Using another color, of course, to ensure optimum contrast. In that same color, you point to that word’s definition, written in a slightly smaller font than the rest of the material.
Then you draw a picture representing each sentence. If the typical layouts of word, translation, and sentence are boring to you, then give this layout a try. It’s unconventional and allows for you to exercise your creative abilities.
This note-taking method is not specific to language learning but I knew I had to include it. The Cornell method has long been considered one of the most effective forms of note-taking– and for good reason.
It’s engaging and is designed for you to interact with the learned material both during and after class. So if you’re currently studying at an educational institution, then this just may be the note-taking method for you.
It’s totally lecture-friendly and not overly structured as to what you can and can’t write in a certain location.
Many successful students have found that the Cornell note taking system is very effective for lectures or reading that is organized around clearly defined topics, subtopics, and supporting details. The Cornell System is both a note taking and a study system.
Remember that the “5 R’s of Cornell note-taking” need to be followed for maximum benefit:
- Record: During the lecture, write all meaningful information legibly.
- Reduce: After the lecture, write a summary of the ideas and facts using key words as cue words.
- Recite: To study properly, you must recite all the information in your own words without looking at our notes.
- Reflect: Think about your own opinions and ideas as you read over your notes. Raise questions, then try to answer them creatively.
- Review: Before reading or studying new material, take ten minutes to quickly review your older notes.
Before you’re off on your creative journey
You won’t even have to create your own note layouts if you snag my 51-page printables bundle for all things language learning— including planning, tracking, vocabulary, grammar, and guided study. You can view some of the pages you’ll score in the image below.
I totally understand that the student hustle is a struggle bus though! Giving up 1 hour of minimum wage just might not fit into your budget. So I also created a free mini language tracking printable bundle exclusively for my email subscribers! You ladies mean the world to me, and you all deserve to take full control over your language learning journeys.
Sign up here for your pages or by clicking the image below!
And as one last resource for your language note-taking journey, I created a free video course demonstrating 10+ spreads needed to set up an effective language journal! 100% free with Skillshare’s 2-month free trial (plus you’ll gain exclusive access to 10,000+ creative courses!) Click here or the image below to start learning.
If you benefited from this article, then you’ll love 5 Super Efficient Ways to Color Code your Language Notebook.
For some help getting started with a language journal, check out:
- The Smart way to bullet journal to speed up language learning
- 10 ways to NEVER run out of ideas for your language learning bullet journal
- 10 things you NEED to include in your Language Journal (for maximum memory!)
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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.
Make sure to snag your copy of the Masterguide to color coding for maximum foreign language memory retention!
A full guide to efficiently color-coding your foreign language notes and language journal. Guides you in how to color code different kinds of adjectives, nouns, phrases, and more. The guide addresses both ink colors and highlighter colors and provides science-backed research on which colors are most effective for memory retention. These color-based memory hacks will translate over into all kinds of note-taking. You’ll never go into blindly highlighting your notes again and you’ll be the smartest note-taker in your class. Impress your friends and upgrade your whole self-study routine with just one guide. Priced at less than 1 cup of coffee for a lifetime of colorful knowledge. The questions this guide answers include:
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- How can you ensure optimum contrast in your notes?
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- Black vs. Colored Ink. Which is more effective?
- What are the benefits of different colors?
- Green vs. Red vs. Blue
- How to properly integrate color into your language journal/note-taking routine?
- The SMART way to label adjectives
- The SMART way to label nouns
Keep learning languages my friend! And I look forward to seeing you again real soon.