Podcast Episode 24: European Day of Languages Live!

Welcome to our first ever LIVE episode of the Creative Language Learning Podcast! In episode 24, we treat you to a piece of the European Day of Languages broadcast which was the first time ever that Lindsay and I tried something like this.

There was so much going on:

  • Music!
  • Live comments!
  • A Revival of the Languages vs. Dialects Debate!
  • Reports on Log Sawing in Germany!
  • Chat about our Grandparents!

European Language Charts!

Instead of the Creative Language Learning Podcast tips, this episode featured a collection of as many European artists and European language songs as we could find. Here is our Spotify playlist for hours of Euro music fun.

Links and Resources from this Podcast

You can also read the list and find out more about genre and languages on our huge Evernote list.

Did you enjoy the live episode? Were you there? Let us know what you thought in the comments below!

Achieve More With a Language Test (No Matter If You Need It Or Not)

Ahh, welcome to autumn! It’s the season of rain and leaves and Hallowe’en. We’re entering the final stretch of the year.

If you feel a little caught out by how quickly 2015 is disappearing then you may need to bring the focus back to your study routine. Have you ever considered prepping for a language test?

Language tests can add to your routines and make you a much better language learner. At the end of this article, you'll find a handy list of popular tests and exams in a whole bunch of languages.

Why Take a Language Exam or Language Test?

You may find yourself wondering why a language test would be useful for you at all, especially if you’re not studying for work or school. But there are a few excellent reasons to dive into the idea of test prep.

1) Gain a Solid Framework Instantly

Self-guided language study is a bit haphazard at times. You may lack the support network of a group class, and you may not have found the right tutor yet. You may even find yourself changing resources a lot of the time. One day you spend half an hour on Memrise, the next day it’s back to podcasts. If you find that your entire language learning system is not as good as it could be, working towards will help you grow from solid ground. Language exams are built on the four core skills principle of listening, reading, speaking and writing. This makes them not just

2) Achieve More, Faster

Believe it or not, putting a smaller goal such as a specific language test at the next level in front of you will make you feel better. It’s a bit like going on marathon training. You could try and run the whole 26 miles all in one go, and then you’ll feel frustrated when you haven’t got there after 1 hour. Or you could practice little and often, and aim for a level that’s the next sensible goal. As you approach the 5 mile marker for the first time you’ll feel pretty proud and you’ll know you can build onto this foundation. The same mindset will work for you when you aim to pass the right exam instead of spending all your days wondering “how long until I’m fluent?”.

3) Get the Benefit Without The Fees

Language tests are created for applicants to universities, aspiring immigrants or job applicants who need to prove that they can function at the required level in a language. This has two big advantages for you as an independent learner:

First of all, the tests are not about rote learning and recalling 1000 words. They are about how well you can function in your target language. Can you read the paper, can you understand your boss, can you convince a friend to see your movie choice? For anyone dreaming of true functional fluency in another country, language tests are perfect.

But secondly, if you’re not actually planning to move to your target language’s country, you have got a fab deal. Buy a test prep manual, join a test prep class, research a test…but don’t go and take it because you don’t need to do this. You can mock test yourself in ways that are cheaper than some of the registration fees charged by test providers. For example, work with a tutor just to check your answers or become a study buddy for a learner at your level.

The Most Popular Framework for Languages

These days, most accredited language tests are designed in line with the Common European Framework for Language Proficiency (CEFR), which is split into levels A1 to C2. This graphic from Test DAF explains the levels that we are talking about. You may also see websites that refer to the amount of study hours a student has put in to achieve this level, but it’s a lot more helpful to think about it as the answer to the question “What can you do with your language skills at this level?"

The aspect that I like best about this framework is that it does not focus on numbers. Instead of checking which vocabulary words you know (like the scary/horrible American GED), these tests are about interaction. They are exactly what language learning is about in the 21st century. If you’re hoping to speak to a real person soon, then this system is exactly right for you.

The Most Popular Language Tests


  • TOEFL, most popular in the USA
  • IELTS, the most common exam in Britain and Australia

Both exams are accepted widely throughout the English speaking world. With both of these, you don't study towards a specific level exam. Instead, you're tested and your result will indicate which level the testers found you are at.


  • Goethe Certificates from A1 to C2
  • ÖSD, the Austrian language diploma which assesses the Austrian dialect of German


  • DELF and DAF are the official French government language exams and offer tests ranging from A1 to B2 and the DAF as the higher option
  • TCF, the Test de Connaissance du Français also has a Québec option if you're looking at Canadian French in particular


  • DELE is the official Spanish government language exam and awards diplomas from A1 to C2


  • CILS, the Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera is particularly useful for people aiming to study at Italian universities, and also available from A1 to C2. It's offered by the University of Siena.
  • The popular CELI is available at levels UNO, DUE and TRE. View all options at the University of Perugia website.


  • The JLPT is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test or Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken. It doesn't follow the usual framework to the letter but instead runs from level N1 to N5.

If you haven't found a language exam that interests you on this page or want to find even more options, read further on Wikipedia.

Do You Think a Test is Right For You?

In my own experience, I have prepared students for Goethe Exams at levels B1 to C1 and found that it really focused our lessons. And I'm not a stranger to language exams myself, having taken the IELTS before moving to the UK many moons ago.

Have you ever taken a language proficiency test or prepared for one? Would you do this in your language learning?

Share your opinion about formal language exams in the comments!

Episode 23: Teach (Yourself) a Language with Tammy Bjelland from Language in Bloom

It's episode 23 and I'm back with another lovely and inspiring interview. Tammy Bjelland sparkles with all the energy she brings to language learning and teaching. She teaches, trains, offers curriculum design and runs her own podcast, the Business of Language Podcast. Let her enthusiasm pull you along in this interview!


You'll hear about:

  • What you're going to do with that language later
  • The many secret benefits of languages in your career
  • The 7 superhero skills of language learners: Empathy, Independence, Curiosity, Versatility, Creativity, Autonomy and Self-Discipline
  • How group learning can be a HUGE advantage for you
  • How to develop your custom curriculum
  • Tammy's truly impressive looking course Language Learning Formula

"You have to learn to teach yourself a language. It's a skill in itself"

Tips of the Week

Tammy was by far the most decisive guest I've ever had on this podcast. She went straight for tip number one as your Tip of the Week!

1) Practice your pronunciation with Soundcloud

2) Practice your pronunciation and get instant feedback by talking to Siri in a foreign language

3) Make a food log in a foreign language (thanks for the tip to Ron Gullekson

Tips and Links from this Podcast

New Podcast - Episode 22: Travel and Tutor Hunting Tips

This episode features two core themes of discussion: travel and tutor tips.

"I buy everyone a little lollipop in my lessons"

(Lindsay's Teaching Secret)

Creative Language Learning Podcast

Firstly, we talked about all the ways language learning works when you travel. We also deviated to talk about historic language learning books!±

  • Should you study pronunciation first or just go all in with vocabulary? (hint: whatever you like)
  • When is it too late to learn? (hint: never)
  • What do you need to buy before you set off? (hint: nothing)

In the article discussion of this episode, we took apart the step-by-step process of finding a language tutor.

  • What do you have to look for?
  • Why are some of them expensive?
  • What kind of tutor should you try to work with?

Articles of the Week

Tips on working with a tutor from Judith Meyer

How much do you pay your language tutor? here on Fluent

Tips of the Week

This time, Lindsay chose her favourite tip and in line with her own productivity skills she chose Tip 3. Get organized, folks!

1) Download Quiz Up! and play the language sections

2) Read LOCAL lit, not just "Harry Potter in my target language"

3) Get organized with Evernote

Links and Resources from this Podcast

Great sites for you to find a tutor:

Learning German With TV Shows: The Most Effective Strategies and Resources for Your Study Routine

Here's a dream scenario: Watch an hour of German TV every day. Within two months, you will understand everything.

German with tv shows

Think that's impossible? Well, you're kind of right. No passive activity is going to give you a huge result if that's all you do.

But working with TV, podcasts and radio shows does deliver excellent results. It's not just a great addition to language learning routines that lack interaction. Using content like this also saves your lessons and study time from terrible dullness.

Just remember to do your work and think about where these fit into your study routine.

In today's article, I'm sharing recommendations for German shows that fit into your study plan and help you get big results.

So How Difficult Should A Show Be?

Opinions vary on how much of your input you should understand in depth for it to count as helpful for your language learning.

Intensive Listening

Intensive listening and watching helps learners develop better listening comprehension. You should want to work more in-depth with your materials, and aim for shows that you understand well. Make sure you are happy to spend an hour or two on the subject. The key expression here is comprehensible input, meaning you work with language that you actually understand.

There is no embarrassment in going for the "this is right for me" label, let’s not be over-ambitious. Slower speeds and easier vocabulary are helpful and mean that you can get the full effect out of the time you put in. Understanding more words is going to help you absorb German grammar naturally.

Extensive Listening

Got no patience for feeling like a learner? Then watch and listen a little above your level. No need to go straight for the intellectual talk rounds, keep it realistic and find a show about what you love.

This approach is best if you’re all gung ho about your learning and want to approach it with zest, speed, and intense practice sessions. You’ll be pushing your boundaries and get a fast sense of progression. The cost? Rapid learning loses thoroughness. The benefits of working with natural input are fast vocabulary expansion. And as Ron Gullekson described on the Creative Language Learning Podcast recently, it helps him to feel good being out of his depth.

So pick your level of challenge first. Now, let’s think about the topics and materials that are likely to work for you.

How To Find a Show That Works For You

Millions of language learners have bought translated versoins of the Harry Potter books. Materials for lower reading ages help you enjoy a good story while learning a language. And what's more motivating than wanting to know what happens next? I think it’s brilliant, and encourage you to look for the kinds of things you enjoy in a foreign language.

Books have a huge advantage: They move at your speed and allow you to pick your own level of engagement. You can skim or speed-read for that immersion effect ("extensive reading"). For "intensive reading", give your text the full study treatment. Olly Richards covers more infomation about reading in this recent IWTYAL article.

Reading and listening are both important, of course. They are two of the four core language skills (listening, reading, speaking and writing). If you want to learn more about core language skills and get tips on how to focus on them, check out my book Fluency Made Achievable.

Right now of course, you're not looking for a book. We're ready to listen! Here are my favourite shows to add to your learning routine:

Designed for German Learners:

  • Learn Out Live Audiobooks

André Klein is awesome, you already know that if you’ve checked out his written materials in the Dino lernt Deutsch and Aschkalon Fantasy book series. Over the last year, André has also worked on adding audio versions of his popular stories. If you like an engaging story, these audiobooks are perfect practice material and the right choice for learners at A2 or higher. The books are read by the author himself and put you right into the middle of the story. The background sounds bring the story to life. André focuses on practice and pronunciation to help you learn German. Here’s a sample so you can try it for yourself:

With this telenovela, Deutsche Welle has produced something incredible for language learners. The show is a professionally produced telenovela. Its story focuses on the adventures of Brazilian student Jojo as she moves to Germany and starts her new life in Cologne. There’s romance, music, and grocery shopping. It’s great for speakers upwards of B1 level. The website offers worksheets and exercises to make each episode into a full learning experience. If you’re working with a tutor, this is a great one to share. The addictive Jojo effect is good for extensive learning, because every short episode will make you want to watch the next one. German teachers, check out this page for guidance on how to teach with Jojo.

Slow German with Annik Rubens is a culture and language podcast narrated by a native German speaker. Annik tells stories about what Germans get up to in everyday life. She talks about current affairs and offers transcripts and exercises in the paid premium edition.

Ready to engage with German at a higher level? Then this podcast from Deutsche Welle is a great resource. This slow news show comes out every day and offers German learners an insight into current affairs. It's recorded at slow speeds to help you focus on understanding as much as possible. The language is not simplified, so this podcast is suitable for learning levels C1/C2. And if you’re not finding this enough of a challenge, you can check out the same broadcast at the original speed.

Logo is a kids’ news show that has been going since 1988 and enjoys huge popularity in Germany. The show’s web version features written articles, videos and images to help explain what's going on in the world. I like using Logo’s written articles because they have a great way of explaining current affairs and offering background insights and straightforward answers. If read things like Reddit’s “ELI5” (Explain like I’m Five), this news show is perfect for you.

When listening to radio shows or watching TV in German, remember materials for children are not designed for learners. The speakers will be talking quickly, and sentence structures are not be simplified. These materials don't offer transcripts or exercises, either.

Logo is made for native speakers, but its clear explanations make it a fab choice for German learners.

I reviewed Yabla here on Fluent Language a little while ago and I'm still ever impressed with their language learning content. The Yabla player offers one of the best multi-media experiences for learning that I've seen so far. Slower speed, multilingual subtitles and regular reports from all walks of life make this more than just one show.

Yabla is the kind of thing you should check out if you wish there was a whole TV channel just for language learners.

How To Use Your Time Wisely

No matter which of these programmes you choose to check out, remember the purpose of your activity.

  • Are you taking a serious study approach to your material?
  • Or is this something you're adding onto basic study to give yourself more motivation?

Each approach is valid. Still, you can't expect great results from minimal input. An hour of watching German TV with English subtitles is fun and keeps you interested. An hour of watching Jojo sucht das Glück while reading the transcript, adding new words to your notebook or flashcard deck, and then working through every exercise? Yep, that's going to deliver a BIG result. It's also going to make you more tired.

The key is for you to think about what you really want. If you want to understand more spoken German, it's pointless to work with materials above your level. That is just not how immersion works.

Ultimately language learning isn't down to genius or age or talent. You do the work and you get the results. There could be nothing simpler in the world, and still it's tough to consider.

What are your views about studying with TV shows and radio?

Which do you use for your own language lessons? And what are YOUR real results from building these into your learning routine?

I'd love to hear from you in the comments, especially if you're using materials in other languages!

How to Learn a Language with Thousands of Helpers on Tumblr

Today's post comes from a language learner I've known for about a year. Maria is based in Newcastle and first talked to me during the 50 Calls Project. I love her enthusiasm and her awesome perspectives on language learning. Recently she contacted me to offer a guest post on language learning on Tumblr - I'm not a Tumblr user myself so I jumped at the chance.

Enjoy Maria's post!


Never heard of Tumblr?

The magical world of Tumblr might be new to you. In this case, here's a definition I saw on Yahoo Answers, where they describe Tumblr like this:

A place to "effortlessly share anything. Post text, photos, quotes, links, music, and videos from your browser, phone, desktop, email, or wherever you happen to be. You can customize everything, from colors to your theme's HTML.

So in essence, Tumblr another social media platform. But what separates this one from other social networks is that once you have an account, you can create numerous blogs and join a multitude of intriguing communities, from Doctor Who to interior design.

It's also different because in general on the website, people don't tend to know each other. You don't add your friends or family, but create a family of the people who share your interests! The example I'm going to talk about is, of course, the language learning community on Tumblr!

Start with a Tag


Sound confusing? It's really not. Anyone, any age, anywhere can join a community they like or search for whatever they like. My favourite tag is the 'polyglot' tag but I wouldn't dare call myself a polyglot at all! You don't even need to be fluent in another language. It's just a good bit of fun for people who are interested, while acting as a serious study aid - it certainly helped me get through my Spanish GCSE!

You don't even have to have an account to see the grand world of Tumblr. The website is easy to navigate and you learn more as you go on, building your page and gaining followers. Like Twitter, you can reblog (retweet) and like (favourite) different posts, adding your own comments too! You can directly 'ask' people questions and follow blogs. You can search for a tag to see all the posts under that tag, and that's where the community you want to join will be found!

For languages, you want to be looking at tags like #polyglot, #foreignlanguage, #langblr or of the language you want to see, for example #esperanto.

Tags Give You Everything

From playful jokes to help with confusing grammar from native speakers, the sky is the limit over on Tumblr. There are videos, text posts, photos, and links to other websites. You'll find a lot of relatable posts made by other people in the same position as you, which are bound make you laugh. I can't count the times I've read a post and in my head I'm thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this person is me!'.

Here are a few good examples:

Supportive Community at the Touch of a Button

But Tumblr is not just for jokes. It can be a serious resource. Users post important grammar points, language tips and expert knowledge on any language.

On one occasion, I looked at a post that finally helped me grasp how to use the cases in Latin, and the next post along I picked up some Argentinian slang. You can directly message people and ask them about your own challenges too and they're more than happy to share their expertise. They might come asking you too.

The people in Tumblr's communities offer support if, for instance, you post about having a tricky patch in a language. Everyone is super friendly! And if you've hit a bit of a barrier recently with your learning, there is motivation left, right and centre on Tumblr. All it takes is a quick scroll down a tag and you see something new and it sparks off the relationship between you and your language again! You can find weekly challenges and search for a language exchange partner, creating global friendships while learning and teaching a language.

But what if I'm learning a really obscure language?

If there's a language, there's a tag. Someone somewhere is learning that language and is posting about it on Tumblr! You might find tips about your target language or resources you've never seen before. They come in heaps, seriously. I've seen list after list of free websites to help you learn French, or specific YouTube accounts for Portuguese. These people have spent their time searching so you don't have to! And it's all at the click of a button!

You can post in foreign languages yourself and ask for corrections, or communicate with people in the community in their language. The ways to stimulate learning are endless, and a lot of the time you're doing it subconsciously as you scroll down the page. There are thousands of people in the community from all corners of the world, and to think so few people know about this language learning gold mine!

If you want to have a peek at the magical language learning world on Tumblr, start with the #langblr tag and enjoy your journey down the rabbit hole..

Okay, as I was editing this post I got pumped up. Maria, I'm on Tumblr too now! Joining the masses! Getting into the community! Are you on Tumblr too? Leave your opinion in the comments and share your favourite Blogs and Tags with us!

My Language Bucket List: Shannon Kennedy from Eurolinguiste

There is little in life that can motivate you better than a good bucket list. Write down your aspirations, imagine those situations that get you excited and share if you dare!

In today's guest post, Shannon Kennedy from Eurolinguiste has taken the challenge of sharing her own language learning dreams.

A short while back, Kerstin shared a “language bucket list” post from Angel Armstead. I thought it was a fun idea (plus I’m a huge fan of lists), so I started planning something similar in the back of mind. As fate would have it, Kerstin got in touch with me and kindly asked me if I’d be willing to share my language wish list on Fluent. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to share my long-term language learning goals and I’m incredibly grateful to Kerstin for providing me with a platform for which to do just that!

My Background in Language Learning + My #1 Goal

In the grand scheme of things, I only have a few years of serious language learning under my belt. Like many, I dabbled with studying various languages in school, but it really wasn’t until I arrived at university that it became a passion for me. Now, I can’t imagine spending the bulk of my free time any other way.

In part, I feel as though I have to make up for lost time, because of my late start. At the same time, however, I also realize that language learning is a life-long venture. So why rush it? I have many years of study to look forward to over the years.

My late entrance into the game doesn’t imply that I haven’t always loved learning languages (I even recently found a paper from when I was about 14 years old that listed “linguist” as a possible career option). They’ve always played a part in my life, so much so, in fact, that I’ve always had this one particular language goal in mind.

As far back as I can remember, my primary language aspiration was to speak eight languages fluently (I’ll define what I mean by fluent below). When this idea first occurred to me, I had my eight languages picked out, but over time, this list has slowly started to change. There were languages that I studied in the past that I no longer find any interest in, while there are others that I started studying that I originally had no intention to learn.

It took me a while to get used to the possibility of changing my list (I’m stubborn like that), but now that it has, I’ve grown more interested in other options in terms of how and why I learn languages. There is so much more out there for me linguistically beyond my list of eight languages.

My Language Learning Wish List

I’ve had a general sort of bucket list or wish list tucked away on my site for some time, but I thought it would be pretty fun to create a language specific list. And Angel’s post on Fluent Language inspired me to do just that.

So here we go.

1. Pass the HSK Exam at a minimum of Level 4

I have both personal and professional goals surrounding the Mandarin language. To successfully achieve those goals, the HSK 4 is the minimum level I’d like to obtain. If I succeed in continuing past that, I’ll be absolutely elated. I really love learning Mandarin.

For those of you unfamiliar with the HSK Exam, it is a Chinese Proficiency Test issued by Hanban, an organization affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. It became the official national standardized test in 1992 and it serves as a certificate for language proficiency for higher education and professional purposes. Like CEFR, there are six HSK levels, and so, the two are often compared. There is some debate over whether or not the comparison is accurate, and I haven’t yet taken the HSK exam to have an opinion of my own. But, if the two are reasonably comparable, HSK 4 is said to be the equivalent of B2.

2. Travel to Croatia and not speak a word of English during the entire trip

I really, really want to go to Croatia but I haven’t yet had the opportunity. Between you and me, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this next year. My heart is really set on visiting Dubrovnik.

I’m often asked why I decided to learn Croatian, and in case you haven’t yet stumbled across my answer elsewhere, my grandfather (whom I’ve never had the opportunity to meet) was Croatian and I have other family who speak the same (or mutually intelligible) language(s). It has always been close to my heart and I’d love to travel there to reconnect with my roots.

I look forward to having a glass of vina (wine) while gazing out at the okean (ocean) after a day of exploring the old grad (city).

3. Read one of my favorite book series in every language that I speak

I’m really up for any of a couple different book series I enjoy (yes, I’m a huge science fiction and fantasy nerd) and I’ve already started to collect three of them in the different languages I speak. While I would normally read the series a second time in their original language, I want to challenge myself to re-read them in different languages. This means that I need to get my reading skills up to a high level in each of the languages that I speak (the books are rather dense).

4. Get up to a good enough level to read a ton of fantasy and science fiction books in their original languages

I read science fiction and fantasy in their original languages in both French and English, but I’d like to read books by Russian, Croatian, Italian, Chinese or Taiwanese, and German authors too. If you have any suggestions for me, feel free to leave me a note in the comments below! As of today, I’m only familiar with English, American, and French science fiction and fantasy authors.

5. Speak eight languages at a high level. Minimum of B2, preferably C1 if possible

These languages are English, French, Croatian, Russian, and Mandarin, so far. I thought that German and Italian were going to be on the list because I already spent a decent amount of time learning them, but for the moment, I’ve kind of lost interest in both. I really hate to give up languages that I’ve already learnt, but I want to remain open to the possibility that there are two languages that I might just love more that deserve to be in that group of eight. Or, who knows, maybe I’ll fall back in love!

6. Go to China and study martial arts in Mandarin

For the past fifteen years I’ve studied a variety of martial arts on and off (mostly off). I’ve spent the most time with kickboxing and kung fu and it’s my favorite form of exercise. My current school makes a trip to the Shaolin Monastery every few years and I’d love to go along on one of the future trips.

7. Learn enough Japanese to play video games

This would be a reading only goal (most of the games I play don’t have spoken dialogue).

I am a fan of the Super Mario and the Zelda game series. I’d love to be able to play the games in their original languages (and I already own a few of them). I also think it would be fun to read Pocket Monsters and other Japanese comics.

I know that there are a lot of people that feel as though video games are a waste of time, but I’ve watched the English of the kids on the French side of my family flourish over the past few years just because they play games in English (both online as part of communities and standalone on their tablets/handhelds). Games are engaging enough that they (in my opinion) have proven themselves to be excellent language learning tools. I’m ready to try it out myself.

About the Author

My name is Shannon and I am the blogger/language lover/adventurer behind Eurolinguiste. I am a musician first, but an avid language learner at heart. I speak French and English fluently and I am currently working towards fluency in Mandarin and Croatian. You can learn more about me and my language learning strategies of at Eurolinguiste.

If you have a language wish list, feel free to share it in the comments below! You can either link back to a post of yours where you already wrote about it, or you can just write your wish list in the comments. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Find Shannon on FacebookInstagram or Youtube.

The Miraculous Benefits of Keeping a Language Notebook

Are you an electric language fiend, armed with Flashcard apps and podcasts? Or going it old-school with pen and paper?

In today’s article, I want to introduce you to some of the tricks I use to get the most out of my language learning routine without adding to my screen time.

language notebook

My absolute language learning essential is a notebook. Flashcards are great for vocabulary lists, but notebooks are for everything. The first thing I do with a new word is write it down in a notebook, maybe with an example and pronunciation note.

Why write on paper?

Working with a paper notebook can bring many excellent benefits to your language learning routine. It provides a refreshing break if you spend most of your time chained to a computer screen or mobile phone. Here are a few reasons that writing on paper can help you add vocabulary, improve your memory and create a better learning experience:

  • Filling a book is visible progress, a huge psychological benefit which is going to keep you motivated and coming back to your language time and time again.

  • As you add notes, you are filling pages of paper with clear signs of your work. It is unmistakably yours as it’s written in your personal style and handwriting. No matter if you are 5 or 50 pages into the adventure, there is nothing like the proud feeling of looking back over what you have already done. Popular apps take the same approach of course by adding skill trees and points scores, so the core message here is to work in a way that shows your progress.

  • Your thoughts become clearer in your own mind. The UK Handwriting Association features this great quote from a 17-year-old student on its website, illustrating the way in which a screen can actually make it harder to focus on what you are learning. He says:

The process of handwriting promotes clear thought and natural structure. Being so close to the page means that translation of thought has less opportunity for deviation.

When typing I find I compulsively re-read my work on the screen and the ability to edit is sometimes paralysing, Although computer work can allow for more complex structure, it is often too complex and has many complications for timed conditions.

  • The act of writing notes down by hand has been scientifically proven to aid memory many times over. When you write your notes by hand, you become better at remembering them. The conclusion of this study was that typing can help you score highly on tests very early (just think Duolingo), but hand writing retains the upper hand when it comes to adding new items to your long-term memory.
  • You are in charge of your learning experience. Writing allows you to start from zero and design your page in the way that aligns best with how your mind works.

Some note takers prefer mind maps and doodles, while others jot down information in a linear way. The pages you create will reflect your state of mind, and allow you to make your motions through the learning progress visible.

How to work with the notebook?

When you start learning languages, the notebook becomes more than just the place to note down the bare facts. You can use it for two core purposes:

1. Language Learning

Noting new vocabulary as and when you hear it, drawing memory aids, mapping out your memory palace even. Notebooks are also the right space to write down grammar rules and example sentences. On the pages of my own notebook, I see pronunciation notes and alphabet practice. Basically, anything.

For reviewing and testing yourself, there can be pages dedicated to vocabulary learning. My technique for such pages is the classic language learning approach of writing two vocabulary columns with a line down the middle. As I review the new words, I cover up one column and work through the list.

Here is an example of what this looks like in my current book:

The fabulous "draw a line in the middle" technique in action.

The fabulous "draw a line in the middle" technique in action.

It is easy to highlight words that I tend to forget, and even easier to add them to another list at a later stage so that my revision materials always stay fresh.

At the start of every new session, try looking through previous pages to review what you have learnt before. There is no need to memorize it word for word, but it will jog your memory and set up the ground today’s session can grow from.

2. Goal Setting and Productivity

Language learning is a big journey. For some learners it’s about growth and development, for others it’s a hobby or an aspiration. No matter what your goals and motivations are, you can gain a lot from journaling and noting them down in the notebook.

Consider adding interesting facts about places, drawing maps or pasting in tickets and mementos from your trips.

Again, writing by hand and focusing on the book in front of you aids clarity and minimises distraction. In a busy world full of overachievers, this is more important than ever.

How can you navigate the notebook?

One of the downsides of paper is that it doesn't have a search bar.

To aid yourself with a bookmark system, consider colour-coding areas like "grammar", "vocab" or "situations". Again, the beauty of your notebook is that this is your personal space. You’re no language learning robot, so work with what feels good to you.

The great thing about building your personal language learning system is that these categories can be unique to you and help you build the exact language course that you need (remember that this is one of the core principles in independent language learning).

My favourite bookmarks are sticky notes such as this very cute set from Busy B, but this isn't the only way. You can experiment with a notebook in sections, with highlighter pens or beautiful bookmarks.

Good Notebook Options

You can get paper from anywhere of course, but the best language learning notebooks are durable and built to handle a bit of use.

You will leaf through the pages a lot, so forget about spine or refill pads straight away. Go for a notebook that is bound like a real book and lasts you all year. Next, discard any paper that is too thin or delicate to take scribbles, highlighters and different kinds of pen. You never know when you'll want to write something down and all you'll have to reach for is your auntie's fountain pen.

The style of paper does not matter - go for squared, lined or blank and pick a paper size that gives you a little space to work with. The language learning notebook works best it doesn't fill up too quickly. My favourite options are the Moleskine A5 Lined Notebooks and the custom booklets from Bound.

Love the Freedom

The key to using notebooks in your language learning is that they allow for an amazing range of creative activities. In paper choice, organisation and pens, and even the content: This is YOUR space. I cannot tell you what to do, but only tell you what works for me.

If you want to become more effective and enjoy vocabulary learning, check out my book The Vocab Cookbook. This book will guide you through the process in detail and give you a step-by-step approach to learning vocab in an organised way.

Do you use a paper notebook? Is it part of your regular learning activities?

If yes, then I would be very interested to hear more about it (maybe even with a photo?) in the comments or over on Facebook.