Tips for Taking Effective Classroom Notes in Your Second Language

It’s no secret that good notes are one of the keys to good grades. Effective note-taking – especially when taking classes taught in a language other than your own – can be critical to your academic success. Doing this requires great focus and discipline, but there are some ways to make note-taking just a bit easier. Here are five suggested note-taking tips.

Complete the reading before class

Although challenging, reading in advance of class can be incredibly beneficial for all, especially for international students. Completing the reading in advance enables you to gather context during the class, as well as learn new vocabulary. You’ll approach the class with a familiarity of the subject matter, allowing you to focus on note-taking without getting tripped-up by the details. You can also gather questions from the reading that you can ask during class.

Avoid writing down every word

It’s nearly impossible to transcribe a lesson word-for-word, even more so when the lesson is taught in another language. Attempting to capture every word can also impede your in-the-moment analysis and comprehension. So don’t do it! Focus instead on listening for the main points and key themes of the lecture, making sure you get these down on paper.

Listen for key phrases

Most professors are fairly deliberate in indicating which information is most important. Listen for repeated phrases and key transition statements including, “in other words,” and “for example.” Information that is repeated or reiterated several times throughout a lecture is most likely to appear on a quiz or exam. Listen closely and highlight these key statements in your notes.

Create a template

Create a template to serve as the standard way you depict the information presented in each class. A template can help you take notes in organized, uniform fashion. It can also streamline the way you take notes and help you focus on the key points. Items to consider for your template include headings, sub-headings, definitions, and examples that can help you record key themes. A template will also make studying for quizzes and exams more productive.

Pay attention!

If you zone-out or lose focus for even a few minutes, you are likely to miss key points that may appear on quizzes and exams. Stay engaged for the entire lecture. If you find yourself losing focus, use devices that may help you re-focus. For some, this may involve breathing more deeply. For others, it may include chewing a piece of gum or candy. Or try to stay engaged by reorganizing your notes or making predictions about the questions that your educator may ask.

In summary

It’s not guaranteed, but it’s highly likely that you will be successful at note-taking in another language if you apply these five methods. Also, consider taking full advantage of one-on-one time opportunities with professors, open office hours, and group discussions outside of the classroom. These opportunities can help you obtain answers to questions you have, or explanations to complex concepts. And it never hurts to bond with your fellow students as well as your professors!

Sasa Afredi is a contributing writer for, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.

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