A language learning journal is a study tool that is helpful in developing habits and keeping record of your achievements while studying a new language. It is an addition to the text, notebooks and binder of homework assignments. It serves as a day-to-day reminder of what you have learned, what you should remember, where you were yesterday with the language and where you would like to be tomorrow.
Choosing the journal
Because this will be a day-to-day record, the best type of material would be some kind of date book. The date book should have at least one/half or one full page for each day of the year, with the day and date on each page. Depending on how you like to note things, you can choose either lined or graphed pages; each has its use in making your entries.
Most date books will include, at the end, a few pages for noting names and telephone numbers. This is an important feature to be sure your new journal has, as these are often divided into alphabetical sections.
The best date book for your language journal will be one published in the language you are learning. That is, if you are studying Spanish, find a date book that is published in a Spanish speaking country that will have no English words in it. It is almost counter-productive to buy the date book in your own language.
Remember that this is your language journal, not a notebook. The notes you take in language class will have their place in your regular class notebook. This journal is specifically for recording, on a daily basis, your experiences with the language you are learning, not verb charts or grammar points.
If you carry your journal around with you at all times, you can take a moment and note things you have heard. This applies both if you live in the target language country or if you are still in your native language country. In the target language country you might note down how the lady next to you in the café asked for the bill. In your own country you can note down something you’ve heard that you would possibly like to say in your new language. This will serve as a reminder to find out from your teacher how to say that expression or word when in class.
You could use the journal to sum up the day’s work. For example, after having done your homework for the evening, you can get out your language study journal and, on the correct date page, note down what you have done, studied or learned.
You can also add new vocabulary to the journal, taking advantage of the alphabetical address/phone number section in the back. There you won’t note all the new words you have studied, perhaps only those that will be useful on a frequent basis, or those that are particularly hard to remember or pronounce.
The journal can also be used to set and review goals and objectives. You may note on a Monday that by the end of the week you want to have learned five new words related to your profession. Flipping ahead to Friday of that week, you can make a note to yourself asking if you have actually reached that goal, what those five new words are, if they are really useful.
Using the journal
Besides filling the journal with notes, goals, objectives, thoughts and feelings, your language study journal should serve as a day-to-day record of your progress in the language. When you pick it up to make your day’s notes, take a moment to look back over the previous days. When you see a note that refers to a goal or exercise that you never got around to doing, a question you forgot to ask, note that on the current day, or even a couple of days ahead.
Check on yourself and your goals. If you see that you are expecting too much of yourself, trim back a bit those expectations. Be realistic in your objectives. If you find that you are reaching your goals with ease, you might want to push yourself a bit by adding challenges. You might have noted on Monday “Today I will say good morning to the waiter and ask for a donut with my coffee.” Once you feel comfortable with that exchange, you may note “Tomorrow I will ask the waiter if he saw the game on TV last night.”
By making predictions and following up on them, by looking backwards and forwards in your language study journal, you will begin to attain good study habits as well as have a clear idea of where you stand with the language. In the early stages of language study this journal may be full of more basic ideas such as vocabulary or structures you’d like to learn or practice. As time goes by you should try to include notes about how your feel, and what you think of your progress.
It has not been said up until now, but it should be obvious: make all of your entries in this journal in the target language. If you are a beginner, say the day of the week and the month each time you open the journal to note, it will be right there on the page. Use the journal to plan a trip to a country where the target language is spoken. Keep your accounts of savings for that trip to practice your money language. Make lists of what you want to take with you, what you want to buy and for whom.
Years later, once you speak your target language with fluency, you will pick up your language study journal and smile. You may smile at some silly note you made on how this or that is said, knowing now that it is said quite differently. You may smile at an embarrassing situation that your language proficiency got you into. You will smile, knowing that the language study journal was with you at all times during your first years of learning the language and that, thanks to its company, you now control your new language.