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Taking notes for languages students Note-taking techniques

Writing the language you hear helps you memorise pronunciation and intonation, especially when the content does not sound as you expected, for example, when spoken with different regional accents such as Spanish in Spain or in Argentina.

Listen to and note short examples of the language. Does it follow a particular pattern? Make a note of where the emphasis falls, for example in English - interest, international.

Check your dictionary to see how stress patterns are shown. The international symbols used against each word are explained in the introduction of the dictionary. You could check your understanding by looking up a word in your mother tongue.

You'll find various pointers, guidelines, explanations and examples in your module activities, some of which you could record in your own voice.

Make a note of the following:

  • useful words or phrases, such as cognates, in your own and the target language
  • pairs of different or similar sounds
  • sentences where some sounds are linked aurally such as je suis_anglais - je suis-z-anglais and l'homme est_Italien - est-titalien
  • other examples of pronunciation particularities, such as dropped vowels, or where particular accents affect sound.


Organise your workspace so you have these items to hand as you watch or listen:

  • the module material
  • a notebook, pen and highlighters
  • a language dictionary: bilingual or monolingual in the target language
  • transcripts: as you watch video, you'll see counter numbers in the top right-hand corner of the screen to help you find the sequences you want to go back to.

Listen actively

Have a particular purpose in mind. You could note pairs of sounds that need to be distinguished, or are pronounced the same but with different spelling and meaning, and how they're pronounced in the target language.

Make notes of the way the vocabulary is presented in the target language compared with your own, and especially how it is pronounced and emphasised, as well as what tones are used. Note the idiomatic constructions that are unique to a language, where literal translation isn't possible, but has an 'equivalence' of meaning in your own language.

Grammar and new vocabulary

Note these down as they crop up, using colour coding for aspects such as:

  • different genders
  • regular and irregular verbs
  • tenses
  • adverbs
  • link words.

The book 'Success with Languages', The Open University, 2005, Routledge, expands on all these ideas, especially Chapter 3, p.42, on making and keeping notes, and Chapter 7 on 'The world as a classroom'.

Audio and video resources

All language modules include an audio component and most have a video component as well. Both are linked to a variety of activities for you to complete, including:

  • preparation for other exercises
  • playing extracts or showing sequences where you are asked to make notes about finding certain objects or matching phrases.

Prepare yourself for listening to and watching foreign language audio and video recordings by using and making notes on material that isn't part of the module. This is valuable preparation for when you're faced with an unprepared recorded extract and only a limited listening time, perhaps in an exam.

To develop your language skills, there are a range of activities you could do.

  • Watch a DVD of a film or on a streaming service, first in your own language and then the target language
  • Watch foreign television on a streaming service. You can also listen to audio channels this way: the reception is much better than radio.
  • Tune in to a foreign radio station for the weather forecast, the news, feature programmes, plays, phone-ins and adverts.
  • Listen to audio songs, stories or books, for example while travelling, jogging, or walking.
  • Visit websites: television and radio stations often offer streamed audio and video broadcasts, games and discussion boards. You might even be able to make note of opinions that interest you, perhaps make your own contribution and, importantly, make notes of useful expressions you see or hear.
  • Use adverts as a source. They are short, often fun, sometimes played with a well-known tune, and repeated so that you can eventually learn the sounds and the words.

Making your own recordings

You need a way of recording language so that you can remember how to say it. Making your own audio notes can help with memory and specific issues of pronunciation.

Ask your tutor whether you can record some sessions during the tutorial so you have an oral record of pronunciation, corrections and explanations, and make sure that you make full use of it afterwards.

Try to record any programme or films you find, so you can replay them when you wish. You could hide the English subtitles, then watch again with the subtitles visible to check your understanding - or turn off the sound and read the foreign language subtitles out loud.

Resist reading transcripts for audio material before listening to it. Alternatively, read the transcript as you listen, then replay with your eyes shut to help you associate the written and spoken form.

If your hearing is impaired, or you have difficulty listening to audio material, get in touch with your tutor or student support team for advice.

Last updated 4 months ago