One application which I’ve used for a long time is Evernote, though I’ve mostly been collecting and organizing recipes… until now. Just today, as I was scrolling through the Asahi Shinbun, I had an epiphany. I should be saving articles, sentences, vocabulary, and what-have-you in Evernote so that I can easily search for them later if I ever need to come up with examples on how grammar, vocab, etc., is used in a sentence. Doing this with Japanese blogs would be splendid too. More importantly, I’m going to deconstruct how to use Evernote for language learning (specifically Japanese in this article). It’s a very powerful tool with a lot of potential – I’m sure you’ll even find some interesting uses that I won’t even think of too.

What Is Evernote?

First off, you should probably learn more about how Evernote works, on a whole, before I dive into how you can use it to study Japanese. Evernote is a tool that helps you capture and remember everything. Because it syncs with your phone, computer, and so on, no matter how or where you gather the information, it will appear on all of your devices. These can be things like grocery lists (I write down my grocery list in Evernote on my computer, and it syncs with my iPhone, which I use in the store), remembering your favorite vintage of wine (take a picture of the bottle in the restaurant), or even saving entire articles with the click of a button (if you have a plugin installed in your browser). Because the organization and search features (you can separate your notes into notebooks, and then further break them up with tags) it’s easy to find your notes later. I use Evernote to take pictures of books I want to buy, movies I want to watch, to copy and paste articles I’ll read on my phone later, backups of newsletters / important information, shortcut keys for different applications, instructions on pieces of paper I don’t want to physically keep, my license plate number (in case I need to remember it), and more. Really, it’s good for almost any type of information you could ever want to store and have easy access to later. It’s not the prettiest UI in the world, but it does its job really well (that job being storing information and allowing me to retrieve it easily later). Best part is that it’s free unless you want to upgrade to a bigger plan, which I may actually have to do pretty soon.

So how about using it to learn Japanese, or perhaps some other language? I haven’t started doing this yet personally (I told you, I just had my epiphany today!), but I’ve thought about it, and here are some great ways to use Evernote to practice your Japanese. After I’m done, I’d love to hear from Evernote users out there on how you would use it for Japanese practice as well. I feel like there’s a lot of untapped potential in this simple little app!

Copying Articles To Practice Later

A lot of times when I’m scrolling through Japanese content, I find something I want to read and use as study material, but don’t have the time to study it right then. There are a couple of problems with this. 1. A lot of newspaper sites pull their content after a little while, which means bookmarking it won’t work. 2. I’m not going to remember it if I just bookmark it anyways.

With Evernote, you can install their browser plugin, highlight the text you want, and then click the Evernote button. From there, a popup will appear allowing you to add it to a particular notebook (I’d create a “Japanese” notebook) and then add tags (highly recommend you tag everything! In this case, I might tag it as “asahi,” “readlater,” and “Japanese.”

By using Evernote, it’s easy to gather a lot of content (and only the content you want, i.e. the article) and store it away for later in a place that’s easily searchable. Other options besides newspapers are Japanese blogs, Japanese Tweets, and any other sites that have regularly updated Japanese content.

Studying Vocabulary

Vocabulary study on it’s own probably shouldn’t be done on Evernote (use or Anki if you want to do that). There is, however, a lot of potential for compiling sentences that use the vocabulary that you’re learning. There’s probably a couple of ways you could do it.

1. Create a new note for every vocabulary word that you’re studying. As you come across sentences (either through dictionary searches, or example sentences) that use the word you’re studying, add them to that vocab’s note. That way, whenever you search for that vocab word, you’ll be able to find sentences that go along with it, and you can use that to study.

2. Just create one big note that has all your practice sentences in it. Using the search feature, you can find sentences that use the word you’re looking for and just scroll through looking at those. Not quite as organized, but less time-intensive as well.

Another thing you could try is using the tag feature to tag notes with the vocab you are learning. This, I imagine, could get kind of overwhelming, though, so try it at your own risk.

Keeping Track Of Grammar

One really neat thing you could do with Evernote is use it to keep track of grammar you’ve learned. All you would need to do is create a “Grammar” notebook (or even a note) and put all the grammar you’ve learned in one place. This way, if you’re having trouble with a particular grammar point (or just learned something new about a grammar point), you can open up Evernote no matter where you are, get the information you need, and move on with your life. No more searching your textbook or searching the Internet. It’s all there at your fingertips and you can always add more info whenever you need to, and it’s written in your own style, which means you’ll understand it.

Personally, I think this would be a great way to study for the JLPT, since a lot of the learning is pretty grammar-centric. As you’re going through other study material, this could be a great reference and help you study faster and more effectively.

Keeping A Language Log

Keeping track of the things you’ve done, the things you had trouble with, and then everything in between is pretty important, I think. Normally, I’d recommend using a blog platform (like WordPress) to do this, since being “public” with your log should help motivate you more, but this article is about Evernote, so let’s stick to that. Keeping a log with Evernote is fairly easy, and it’s a good way to keep track of what you had trouble with and what you should study more of. Here is a list of things you could log in Evernote in regards to your Japanese learning:

  • What you did today / What you studied today
  • What was giving you trouble? Can you write more about it and figure out the root cause of the problem?
  • Breakthroughs
  • Vocabulary words you learned / studied / need to study more
  • What you’ll be studying next (so you don’t forget the next day)
  • Sentences, paragraphs, etc., that you wrote today
  • Ideas for studying better based on what happened earlier
  • etc.

There’s a lot to keep track of when you’re learning a new language, and Evernote is a great platform to help you do it. By keeping a language log, you’re deconstructing a lot of what you’re doing, which is actually really helpful and will assist you in understanding what you’ve done and what you need to do. I’d recommend trying it out for a week or two if you haven’t before. It does a lot more than you might think!

Collecting Inspiration

Staying inspired and motivated is one of the most difficult things when learning a new language (especially on your own). This is something that TextFugu does a pretty good job tackling and taking care of – but you can find and compile the things that inspire you personally, right in Evernote! By collecting articles, quotes, notes, etc., into an “inspiration” notebook or tag, anytime you’re feeling down, or feeling like you can’t do it anymore, you can go straight to that section of Evernote and get a boost of energy.

Although I haven’t done this with Evernote myself, I do have a stack of books with chapters marked off anytime I need an inspirational “you can do it” lift. If those books were in Evernote, it would be that much easier. You’d be surprised at how much of a pick-me-up something like this can do, especially with something that really does need a lot of motivation, like language learning (especially if you study on your own).

Taking Plain Ol’ Notes

I wish I had Evernote when I was in school. I would have used it to take notes in class (well, actually, I’d probably have used Google Wave, and just collaborated on notes with 3-4 other people). If you’re in a class, though, Evernote is a pretty sweet way to do it, especially since you can sync your notes between computers and study no matter where you are (of course, there are things like Google Docs, Dropbox, and others which can do this part pretty well too). Still, it’s a pretty good way to do things. At the end of class (or during class, if you sit in the front), you can even take a picture of the whiteboard and save it to your note (it will even make the words in the image searchable!), that way you have the teacher’s scrobbles, your own scrobbles, and all the scrobbles in between right in one place. It certainly beats pen and paper, at least in terms of searching for things later. If anything, the tagging system makes Evernote a really worthwhile option for taking notes in class.

Sharing And Collaborating

One cool little feature that Evernote has is the ability to share your notes with others. If you want to allow people to modify your notes, you do have to be a premium member (which may or may not be worth it to you). I could see this being useful for people who are studying Japanese with others and want to share notes and ideas. I can also see this being useful for those of you who are learning in a class and taking class notes (and want to share those as well). There are any number of ways to use the share / collaborate feature of Evernote to your advantage. Other alternatives which also let you collaborate include Google Docs and Google Wave, which I would probably recommend more for the collaboration angle of things.

What Are Your Ideas?

Contribute to the Evernote-Japanese-Studying Idea-Pool by commenting below. I’m curious how you use or would use Evernote to your advantage when it comes to language learning. Like I’ve said a couple times already, I think there’s a ton of untapped Japanese-studying potential hidden away in Evernote, and it’s only a matter of figuring out the different uses. So, how would you use the big green elephant? [Evernote]

P.S. If you like elephants, you should follow me on Twitter

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  • Doc Rock

    Awesome post I never thought of Evernote for this. As a Japanese Teacher I will pass this along to my students!

  • ryanthewired

    I've been using Evernote to attempt to keep track of every word I know in Japanese; essentially a personal dictionary.

    Granted I've only been studying seriously for a year, I thought it would be best to start now, when I could actually track it.

    It's nice to have a pool of vocabulary to pull from that I am able to gradually work into daily lexicon. Also, the act of entering a new word or phrase helps to solidify the words into my vocabulary.

    Perhaps I could port them into lists, as well.

  • Nick Kemp

    WOW! I didn't know about Evernote. What an awesome online tool! I need to learn French fast. Your idea of a language log sounds great. I will give it a try.

    Many thanks! Great looking blog by the way.

  • GoddessCarlie

    Damn! You beat me to it! I was going to write a post on this very topic. But I think you did it better than what I would of. Awesome post :)

  • Derek Kent

    Thanks, very interesting. Sounds like just the thing that will help. I would be interested if you could also expound your views on your comment in the article
    “I’d recommend using a blog platform (like WordPress) to [log your progress]”
    Thanks again for the blog and the facebook link.

  • Locohama

    Coincidentally, this very evening a student of mine told me about evernote and I said what a great little tool, when I go home I will look into it. I go home and bam! here7s your article expaining not only what it is (she was Japanese, my student, so I was still a little shaky) exactly and its many pratical uses and I run smack into your very informative article. thanks Tofugu! Excellent Post!

  • imparatus

    Great post! Signed right up, and also found a similar service called Springpad. Have you ever evaluated that one? I was reading a comparative review at:

    No, I'm not affiliated with them, but just thought it might be something to check out…..

  • JapanGaku

    I have been using evernote for about a year. It is a giant information dump for me. If it is interesting it goes in evernote.

  • KellyDoll

    This is a great idea, I'm excited to try it out!

  • Alex Fong

    Nice post.
    I've used OneNote and Zoho Notebook to do this in the past.



  • haitham

    The dog with the ice cream is absolutely adorable!

    I'll give Evernote a try. I've been searching far and wide for a no-nonsense way to easily store vocab from articles in my browser.

    Fantastic site!

  • haitham

    The dog with the ice cream is absolutely adorable!

    I'll give Evernote a try. I've been searching far and wide for a no-nonsense way to easily store vocab from articles in my browser.

    Fantastic site!

  • Drayomi

    I might consider using Evernote once I start learning words and phrases in Japanese. I am only mastering the Hiragana Alphabet right now, but I will eventually start learning words, hopefully soon.

    Thanks for introducing it. :)

  • Japanese Hiragana

    How cool is this! I am going to sign up to Evernote!


  • Japanese Hiragana

    How cool is this! I am going to sign up to Evernote!


  • Buy Used

    That's great information….!
    Thank you.

  • Zaleon

    Perhaps I could port them into lists, as well.

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  • Zaleon

    Perhaps I could port them into lists, as well.

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    Very cool. Disqus might take a second or two to get used to, but it looks very nice, I think. Also, I would love to see some actual Tofugu merchandise in our Shop!

  • Maic Mong

    i think what he meant is to create a Japanese Learning Blog, so that you can write down your journey of “mastering” this language, from the very first day learning hiragana. By doing that, you could really see how your Japanese’s been improved and get motivated :”)

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  • CK Hicks

    Excellent suggestion – definitely going to use it for languages moving forward!

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  • Keoni M Williams

    Wow. I came here while going through lesson 1. I took an extra hour looking up JLPT, Google Wave, and Evernote. It’s amazing the tangents I can go on from this one post! (in a good way) I must say I learn much more than just Japanese from you Koichi!

  • Samantha Nicola

    I use Evernote for GTD (getting things done), and I totally see how this’d work. I usually put in specific reminders on what to study next, adding more content just makes sense! Thank you for letting me see what I didn’t think of myself! o/

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    Best part is that it’s free unless you want to upgrade to a bigger plan, which I may actually have to do pretty soon.

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