Think language learning apps, and all the specialist ones tend to come to mind first: Duolingo, Babbel, Memrise and so on. But there are a couple of general tools I use all the time in my language learning. In particular, Evernote has become an utterly indispensable part of that suite.
So why is this unsung hero is a mainstay of my learning routine?
If you spend a lot of time writing in the target language, whether creating vocabulary lists or translation homeworks, organisation is key. And with the ability to create multiple notebooks and notebook stacks as standard, Evernote is hard to beat in terms of simplicity and ease.
In my Languages stack, for example, I have a separate notebook for each language I study. And that stack keeps my study notes separate from the myriad other things I use Evernote for. That could be anything from work week planning to travel itineraries. It’s out-of-the-box ready for your sprawling, cross-curricular life.
However, Notebooks and notebook stacks are only Evernote’s topmost level of organisation. And it’s true, plenty of note-taking apps work this way.
But what adds granularity to that is the powerful tag functionality. You can add custom tags to any note, adding descriptive – and searchable – terms to help sort and find work later on. The thing is, most people end up with hundreds of documents. This is a given if you study more than one language. Tags add an element of power search that is invaluable.
The whole process of tagging can fine-tune your language study to the nth degree. Amongst other things, I tag my language learning notes with descriptors like grammar, homework, writing practice, vocabulary, lesson notes and so on. As such, notes never disappear into the ether. I can retrieve every note for review with a simple tag search, respecting the time spent creating them.
More than text
Throughout self-taught language courses as well as one-to-one lessons, I’ve amassed a ton of PDF worksheets, sound files and other multimedia educational items. The beauty of Evernote is that these can be attached to notes and filed away with them, always findable. This is so much better than my former, clumsy folder system on the computer.
This extends to webpages too, like news articles or blog posts in the target language. If you’ve worked on a news article as part of a language homework, you can keep the original article along with your notes and vocab lists. You’ll never come across old notes and wonder what text they are referring to again!
Attachments can be more fun than simply worksheets and listening comprehension files, too. I’m a big fan of language scrapbooking – keeping a visual log of your linguistic travels through ephemera like holiday snaps, menus, tickets and other items you pick up on your journeys. For one thing, it makes your connection to the target language culture much more personal – and that can only help with motivation and memory.
However, I’m also very anti-clutter. Keeping hold of countless tram tickets, leaflets and snaps of signposts in foreign languages would just be anathema to me. So, I let Evernote lend a hand! You can scan items straight into a note via the app, or embed multiple pictures into a single document from file. They’re tagged, commented and scrapbooked without any of the mess left hanging around. Excellent for OCD-minded linguists like me.
Language learning is often best as a social activity. Whether it’s a study buddy, fellow classmate or teacher, sharing what you do with someone else makes your learning much more dynamic.
What’s more, you control the permissions granted to the shared party. Keep your vocabulary master lists or curriculum plans as ‘Can view’ only in order to retain complete control over them. Your students / buddies will always see your most up-to-date version when shared. On the other hand, give your teacher ‘Can edit’ privileges in order to mark, correct and annotate your writing homeworks. Fantastically simple!
Incidentally, the Evernote text editor is a rich text editor with ample formatting features for your foreign language writing. The desktop program offers just enough tools without the clutter of a fully-fledged Word Processor.
Plan with tick boxes
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest difference. For me, it’s tick boxes in Evernote. As a list-making obsessive – I plan my language goals using a 12-week year approach with concrete objectives – I can get my list fix within Evernote itself.
Again, I can’t underestimate the value of keeping all of these items – planning as well as the actual learning material and my notes on it – together in one service.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Evernote works cross-platform. This allows for a very flexible study workflow. For example, I like to work actively on my notes in the desktop program. I’ll use the mobile app to review my notes on the go, as well as scanning in visual items as attachments, or recording audio notes. Occasionally, it’s handy to flip this, and use the mobile app directly to do my language homework on the move.
Having all your rich, indexed notes in a phone can be incredibly handy for the travelling linguist. It’s the perfect place to store speaking crib sheets to support your speaking when in the target language country, for example. Likewise, in a Skype lesson, having a list of useful phrases available in the palm of your hand can be a lifesaver.
Two devices with a free account
With the free account, you can install Evernote on two devices. That’s been enough for me, for the most part, with the app on my laptop and on my phone. However, you can upgrade to a premium account for unlimited installs (useful if you often switch between a phone and tablet when on the move). A premium account will also give you a lot more space for data-heavy attachments.
Evernote is star software with a multitude of real-world applications. It’s part and parcel of how I learn languages now, doing a superb job of holding masses of material together for me.
Are you also a fan of the green elephant? How has it helped your learning routine? Let us know in the comments below!