When you’re earning a degree abroad and learning in a second language, taking notes can be extremely beneficial—and extremely difficult. Despite this reality, note-taking can provide you with a resource to refer back to while studying, and it can also help you organize both your thoughts and the information you are learning. Here are eight tips for taking notes in your second language:
1. Prepare for class
Preparing for class ahead of time, either by reading ahead in the textbook or researching the lecture subject online, is well worth your time and effort. First of all, this preparation will introduce you to key vocabulary, and it can be much easier to take notes when you already know the terminology. This is especially true when you are taking notes in your second language. Preparation is also helpful in that you will have a general idea of what the professor is talking about before you begin listening.
2. Pay attention
It is important to pay attention when you are taking notes in any language, but it is particularly important in your second language. When you lose focus, it is often more difficult to figure out what your professor was talking about and to re-engage. If you are having trouble focusing, find a method that works for you. Some people find that chewing gum or drinking ice water can help them focus. Others find that movement can help, whether it is tapping their foot or drawing pictures. Just the act of writing notes by hand (rather than typing them) may help you pay attention.
3. Ask questions
If you are able to ask questions in class, do so. Not only will you gain clarification of issues that you don’t understand, you will also have more time to write down the information that the professor is discussing.
4. Write down the key points
Do not try to write down the lecture word for word. Pay attention to what the professor is saying, and then note key points, dates, vocabulary, etc. If you have prepared for class ahead of time, this will be easier. You will be able to write down those bits of information that are new, or that your professor emphasizes as particularly important.
5. Use a note-taking system
You will need to find a system that helps you get the key points on paper. There are a variety of note-taking systems, including outlining, Cornell notes, word webs, and mind-mapping. It can also be helpful to record lectures so that you can listen to them again and fill in the blanks in your notes. Just make sure the professor approves recording of his or her lectures.
6. Learn abbreviations and symbols
A study in 2011 found that English language learners use fewer abbreviations in their notes. This can contribute to students having fewer notes overall. When you are preparing ahead of time, learning common abbreviations and symbols—both for your second language in general, as well as for your subject in particular—can be helpful.
7. Review your notes in a timely manner
Since you won’t be writing down complete sentences, your notes may not make sense to you in a few weeks when you are studying for a test. In order to make sense of your notes, you need to review them as soon as possible, preferably immediately after class. Flesh them out a bit so that they will be easier for you to understand later. Make sure that your notes are complete and accurate by reviewing them with a fellow student. It can also be helpful to summarize what the professor was talking about that day.
8. Get clarification
Once you have taken notes in class and reviewed them, get clarification of the points that you don’t understand. You can do this by asking your professor during office hours, going to a tutor, or doing some more reading in your book and/or online. Sometimes it is helpful to get clarification in your native language, just so you better understand the material. You should make sure, however, to also get clarification in your second language.
Even if you are proficient at taking notes in your native language, taking notes in your second language can pose challenges. By making sure that you prepare for class ahead of time, pay attention, ask questions, write down key points, use note-taking systems, use abbreviations, review your notes soon after taking them, and get clarification of points you don’t understand, you can do a better job at taking notes and will have a better resource for test preparation.
Dana Elmore is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.