Language Hacks: Keeping A Progress Notebook

how to keep a language progress notebook:  tips to track your progress in studying a foreign language

Progress notebooks are a great tool to keep track of any project that you are working on.  Today’s post will focus on how I use a progress notebook when learning a new language.

I have mentioned progress notebooks in my Dealing with Frustration series.  It’s hard to keep up motivation when you are working on a long-term project.  It can feel like you aren’t making any progress.  Keeping track of how much time you are spending on a project is also difficult.

What is a progress notebook?

A progress notebook is exactly what it sounds like:  a physical or digital notebook that can help you watch your progress on a project.  I use progress notebooks for several of my projects.  I have a Moleskine that I carry with me that serves as a general inbox for several of my personal projects.  I record thoughts, notes, and any upcoming deadlines in my notebook.

My notebook is later transcribed into my various digital notebooks.  I have several digital notebooks.  My German and Japanese notes go into Evernote for easy searching.  My blog editorial calendar and my writing projects are kept in both Evernote and Trello.  For these projects, general notes and rough drafts go into Evernote. Deadlines, progress, and platform building go into Trello.

How do you use a progress notebook for learning a language?

A language progress notebook will help you progress further in fluency in your target language.

1. Note any new vocabulary that you encounter that you need to remember.

Look at the first sentence under the “How do you use a progress notebook for learning a language?” section.  For native English speakers, the sentence is easy to read.  However, a student of English would encounter two vocabulary words that look the same but sound different:

progress (n) (prog-res):  movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage: the progress of a student toward a degree.

Noting these words in your progress notebook as well as the context will help you learn the two new words.

photo of my language progress notebook

The photo above is from my progress notebook.  The entry above shows two words in German.  Anhören  and zuhören both mean “listen to” in English. After consulting with a native speaker, I learned that there is a subtle difference in meaning which the dictionary did not record.

2.  Note interesting grammar points that you have observed in your reading. 

Here is a digital copy of my entry from a New Year’s Day entry from one of my favorite actresses.  In Japanese, the phrase

今年も 宜しくお願い致します。


(kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaiitashimasu)

is a formal New Year’s greeting.  In this context, it means something like “This year also please support me.”


(yoroshiku onegaiitashimasu)

is a more formal version of 


(yoroshiku onegaishimasu) 

which is typically said when you introduce yourself to someone.

3.  Write down any resource that you find in your target language.

To learn a language, you need input from multiple sources.  These sources include visual input, audio input, and conversational input.  Most language learners fail because they limit their language study to just once source.

Even the best textbook or computer program has limitations.  To truly learn a language, you need to experience the language like a native.  Watch movies, read books and blog articles, and find native speakers to talk with.  You’ll have more fun that way!

If you need suggestions, the Resources page is a good start.  Some suggestions:  this page has links to translations of Le Petit Prince in multiple languages.  Several Japanese folktales with bilingual Japanese/English text can be found here.

4.  Keep a record of your study time and your progress.

Logging the time you spend studying will help your perspective on the time that you have actually spent studying.  Most importantly, keep a record of your successes. When you remember a vocabulary word, write that down!  When you write a sentence correctly on Lang-8, write that down too!

5. Use your progress notebook as a tool to further your language study.

If you are a Lang-8 premium member, you have access to downloading corrections for your journal entries in .pdf format.  It’s a great tool.  However, if you don’t want to pay for premium access or if you are a tactile learner like me, writing out your journal entries by hand and then manually correcting them is a great way to analyze the corrections and to see if you understand the mistakes that you made.

Do you keep a progress notebook?  Have you found it helpful?

If you are also learning Japanese, be sure to check out my guide to free and inexpensive resources to learn Japanese.  The general foreign language Resources page also has several sites to help with improving your Japanese reading skills.  Also, be sure to comment with any questions or suggestions that you have or just to say hi!

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How to keep a foreign language study progress notebook:  tips and tricks to track your progress in studying a foreign language



  1. Stephanie
    September 3, 2020 / 11:55 pm

    Thank you for this idea. We are moving to Germany and I am beginning to learn German through an app. I feel the need to write vocabulary down in a notebook but you have great ideas on other things to include.

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