Language Notebook


In my latest attempt to learn Russian, I have tasked myself to keep an organized notebook as a learning aid. Note that the system described here simply serves as an additional tool to a comprehensive suite- not a substitute for full-spectrum language instruction.

In fact, prerequisites for use of this system include the use of a proper grammar book, as well as the ability to have a native speaker review written entries.

What You’ll Need

Any notebook will do, divided into four sections:

Topics / Index - 2 pages

Reference Section - 5-10%

Written Entries - 60-75%

Scratchpad / Notes - 20-30%

For example, I’ll be keeping a monthly notebook with 80 pages:

2 pages for topics/index

4 pages of reference material

60 pages of vocab/writing pages, with 30 pages actually dedicated to written entries

14 pages for notes

Topics / Index

The first two facing pages should be left blank as an index/table of contents for all the sections. These pages are to be filled out as the notebook grows. Groups of ideas, similar vocabulary tracks can be categorized in this section.

Reference Section

This section is pre-planned and may be penned in ink, or contain notes glued/stapled to the pages. It should also be as short as possible, as it serves solely as a quick reference with the least amount of information that is needed to write whole sentences in the target language.

Suggestions for reference content:

  • Conjugation charts
  • Numbers, number rules
  • Irregular spelling/grammar rules
  • Pronunciation rules
  • Short phrases, connective words
  • General rules of thumb
  • Key Vocabulary

To come up with the reference pages, simply write a composition or conversation from scratch, and record down what information you reference while doing so.

Reference material can even consist of temporary topics that you are trying to learn. By the time you have finished with the notebook and moved on to a new one, you will have become quite familiar with those topics.

On the other hand, if the notebook is large and will last for a while, then it is prudent to have the section contain reference material that is as general as possible.

Written Entries

Each journal entry will take up two pages, which make up a spread, or a pair of facing pages.

Left Page: Vocab and Phrases Section

This section contains a list of vocabulary, rules, or phrases that you are trying to learn/become acquainted with

  • General vocabulary: Verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, subjects, etc.
  • Phrases, idioms
  • Grammar patterns Such entries can come with:
  • Usage examples
  • Definitions
  • Mnemonics, memory aids
  • Pronunciation markers/aids

Right Page: Writing Entry

  • Writing practice in pencil: The goal is to utilize the vocabulary from the left page.

The entries could consist of short stories, essays, poems, conversations, or continuation of entries from before.

It’s always good to switch between different writing styles- from a formal letter to a mock conversation. It certainly helps to build on previous vocabulary from earlier pages.

Some sources of ideas include:

  • Cues from the environment
  • write about everyday, mundane things. Expand on that using imagination, write a story.
  • If you’re traveling, it could serve as a travel journal, documenting life abroad in the target language
  • Tap into your imagination and write a story

Now what?

Now that the entry is written to the best of your ability, the next thing to do is to post the journal entries on language exchange/penpals sites to get multiple opinions. This also provides the opportunity to practice typing skills. Then, collate all the feedback, go back, review, and fix the entry by making corrections or re-writing it altogether.

Scratchpad / Notes

You may choose to fill this section backwards, from the end of the notebook to the front, to guarantee the greatest possible space for journal entries. Anything goes here, from penmanship practice to a temporary place to organize thoughts and observations.

What to take notes of:

If you’re traveling the country, keep the scratchpad section as large as possible to keep track of conversations, signage, and cultural observations. Notebooks with pockets on the back cover are especially useful in keeping small items. The receipt or train ticket that you just picked up could be fitted it in the pocket for later perusal. Look up the vocabulary and incorporate it into your writing entries

  • Slang you see and hear in movies, TV-shows, literature, radio
  • Notes from conversations with tutors, everyday conversation, penpals, etc.

Final Thoughts

  • Remember to index related content-notes, writing entries for future reference.
  • Include dates in entries keep track of progress.
  • Practice reading aloud, type, etc.
  • On the size of the journal: This system is flexible in that the notebook works for both the short term and long term. It is not timed, you can do an entry a day, an entry a week, and so on.

© 2020 Robert J. Chen