For me, it's the process of writing downwhat I've just heard that's beneficial – not the fact that I've got it written and recorded.
When you write something down, you have to put some degree of thought into what you've just heard.
By hearing a new word and writing it down, you've “primed” your brain to learn that word at some point in the future.
Now, I don't know about you, but I pretty much know that if I write something down in my notebook, I won't ever learn it.
I probably won't even go back and look at it.
I'm just not that kind of learner.
Basically, although you may feel like you're being a good student by diligently writing down everything from your lesson in your vocabulary notebook… that is not the same things as learning it.
The reality is that you haven't even started yet.
How to get it learnt
The challenge for you as a language learner is to have a reliable system you can use to filter through everything you write down in a vocabulary journal, and then know what you can do to actually learn it.
But, the basic problem with a vocabulary notebook is that you end up with far too much stuff in it! Even the best notebooks for language learning end up disorganised and hard to manage.
That's one of the reasons my StoryLearning courses (find a free trial here) are based on stories… you get natural repetition from the stories, instead of having to write everything down in a language notebook.
When I was looking back through an old language learning notebook recently, I realised that of all the words and phrases I'd taken the trouble of learning, I hardly ever used most of them in conversation.
However, there was a small number of words that I realised had become insanely useful for me and that I use all the time!
As a busy person, trying to learn a new language, there was an important lesson in this, and it follows the 80/20 rule.
You don't need to learn all the words in your notebooks for language learning.
Quite the opposite.
While it would of course be nice to learn everything, the smart thing to do is to identify the small number of words in amongst everything else that you think you've got a realistic chance of actually wanting to use in conversation.
And then spend all your time and energy learning them!
It's a classic application of the Pareto principle – a small number of things will give you the majority of your gains.
You might learn less vocabulary overall, but what you do learn will be extremely useful, and will have the biggest impact on your ability to speak your target language.
How to organise a foreign language notebook
How do you choose which vocabulary to learn? This gets easier the more you do it.
You want to choose vocabulary that is “generative”. In other words, choose words that help you express yourself better and that you can use in a variety of situations.
Here are some language notebook ideas for high-value vocabulary:
Common verbs (to choose, to explain)
Common adjectives (interesting, busy)
Adverbs that help you express yourself (regularly, unfortunately)
Discourse markers (Right, OK)
Anything directly related to your life or work that you need to explain often
If you're unsure, the best thing it simply to think to yourself: “Is this a word that I find myself wanting to say regularly in my conversations?”
Once you've chosen what to learn, you can simply use your method of choice to go away and learn it!