Learning a language with a pen in hand

23 January 2018
door Regina Coeli

Why would you still use a pen and paper to make notes or write text? Nowadays, you can use the most advanced apps and programs to take notes, edit text, share documents—you name it—on a smartphone, tablet or computer. At Language Institute Regina Coeli, we are also naturally at home in the digital world, and e-learning is a part of every language course. And yet it pays to regularly write the old-fashioned way. We even encourage it in our language courses!

The physical act of writing fires up all sorts of processes in the brain. Writing requires an active mind, and that is of paramount importance when learning a foreign language.

What happens in your head when you put pen to paper?

  • Multiple senses are involved in writing. Not only do you see the letters appear on the paper, but you also feel the paper and the pressure of the pen. You therefore remember everything you write down better.
  • When writing, you summarise and reformulate things in your own words. You are directly involved in processing the information.
  • Graphically-speaking, you have a lot of freedom on paper. You can draw lines, write in the margins and circle things. As a result, you can see connections faster and it makes you more creative.

You learn more from your own mistakes. After all, your corrections remain visible, unless of course you work with a pencil and eraser.

Taking notes: laptop vs. paper

A few years ago, two American scientists researched the difference between taking notes using a laptop or a pen and paper. They discovered that people who used laptops to take notes often wrote literal transcripts. They remembered less immediately after taking the notes and saw fewer connections than the people who took notes on paper. In contrast, the notes on paper were generally in the students’ own words. They could also answer questions immediately afterwards, a sign that they had processed the information.

The tools of a language trainer

At Regina Coeli, we still work a lot with pens and paper. In almost every lesson, you will see sheets of paper on the desk between the language trainer and student. As soon as a new word or grammar rule comes up, it gets written down. But a language trainer has even more tools: markers in all kinds of colours. These are often used to show links in texts or, for example, to indicate verb tenses.

Cheat sheet

A pen and a simple sheet of paper are also indispensable when working on your personal vocabulary. Our students frequently work with word webs, which are a sort of mind map of words around a certain theme. There are digital tools for this, but most word webs start on paper because that fits better in the word association and creative thinking process. The next logical step would be that you then work it out digitally in order to have it always on hand. But by that time, the question is: do you still actually need that cheat sheet?

Read more about this topic

The benefits of writing by hand versus typing - Lifehacker

Handwriting vs typing - The Guardian

Some notes on note-taking - Association for Psychologic Science

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