Learning Languages with Sticky Notes

stickynote by J_O_I_D

These can be a powerful language learning tool

I’ll be honest, I have a sticky note addiction. Whenever I need to remind myself to do something, or make a note of something for later, I reach for a sticky note. Though they have brought about some changes in my note taking habits even my iPhone and Evernote aren’t enough to quell my brightly colored addiction.

Thankfully there is an outlet which not only lets me plaster the entire house in sticky notes but is highly productive and helpful as well – language learning.

This is hardly a revolutionary idea. I’m sure everyone who’s giving learning a second language a shot has, at some point, written out vocab on sticky notes and plastered them onto the item they describe. It’s a fantastic tool for learning since you get both the positive effects of randomized spaced repetition and the added benefit of a lot of tactile context associated with the word. When you see the word for ‘refrigerator’ in your target language every time you go to have a snack or grab a drink the association forms before you know it.

That makes sticky notes an excellent solution for those who want to learn the names of everything around the house without worrying about a lot tedious memorization. I think we can do a little better though than just slapping nouns on everything.

Maximizing Sticky Note Efficiency

  • Use Multiple Notes – Sure it’s great to tack the word ‘refrigerator’ on your icebox and learn one new word, but why stop there? Instead, put up a handful of sticky notes with not only the name of the item they’re stuck to, but some example sentences using various grammar structures. Underneath ‘refrigerator’ you could have, ‘I open the refrigerator’, ‘He closed the refrigerator’, ‘Is there any bacon in the refrigerator?’ or whatever else. That way you don’t just reinforce the word every time you see the note, you reinforce a bunch of words and grammatical structures.
  • Actively Engage the Notes – I know for most of you this is going to sound stupid and obvious but it needs to be said. You cannot learn via osmosis. It’s not enough to just tack notes up everywhere if you never really engage with them. Every time you use that object or see that note you should read it and the example sentences that come along with it and think about them for a second or two. When you open the door read ‘I am opening the door’ off the note aloud in your head. This active association of the word or phrase with the action will go a long way toward solidifying these terms and sentences in your memory.
  • Include Adjectives – Is that just a door, or is it the large, brown, squeaky bedroom door? Language isn’t just about nouns, so make sure to include some adjectives in there too. You don’t have to go overboard, but this will add a lot more flavor to the sentences you should already be including.
  • Continue to Expand – As you learn new words and sentence structures add more sticky notes to things you’ve already labeled. Did you just learn how to form a question? Start adding questions to all of your sticky notes. Did you learn a new verb like ‘pound’? Go through and label all the items you can ‘pound’ on – the door, the desk, the keyboard etc. – with new sentences incorporating the word. If you find you have too many sticky notes, remove the old ones you have memorized but keep trying to repeat the sentences in your head. Your learning materials should grow along with you.

Now making these sticky notes can be a process that spreads out over weeks, it doesn’t have to be all done at once. Once your house is covered you’ll quickly find you’re picking up more and more each day and, more importantly, starting to think more in the target language – a crucial part of speaking fluently.

Have any other suggestions for how to make the use of sticky notes more efficient fot language learning? Share them in the comments!

Photo Credit: J_O_I_D

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