Learning Japanese (or any language) demands a lot of organization. Although your brain does some of that, it’s often good to have a trusted place to put everything else. Preferably, this place will be accessible on all your devices (computer, tablet, phone) so that you can use it no matter where you go. Also, it should have good search and tag features that allow you to study as effectively as possible. The answer to all of your Japanese-learning-and-organizing needs? Obviously, it’s Evernote.
What Is Evernote?
Evernote is an application that you can install on your computer, tablet, or phone, and even access your information via the web. It lets you put information and files into it, tag that information, and then find it later. It’s basically a wonder for anyone who needs to store large amounts of information and find it again later. It’s a brain away from your brain, and once you start using it, it becomes wonderful.
Most people use Evernote to store all sorts of random things. Drink some wine you really liked? Snap a picture of it and create a note. Evernote will even find text on the wine bottle’s label and make that searchable, despite it being a picture. Want to make a shopping list? Create a note in Evernote on your computer with a list of everything you need and then it’ll sync automatically with your phone, which you can whip out when you get to the store. Need to organize the ridiculous amounts of information that Japanese learning requires? Well, you’ve come to the right place, fine reader.
In this guide we’ll be going over several things. First, we’ll look at using Evernote as a way to organize your study. Then, we’ll go into ways that Evernote can be used as a great study tool for learning Japanese and storing Japanese resources. Due to the extremely flexible nature of Evernote, I’m sure you’ll get some ideas as well which you can then turn around to use on yourself and make these strategies better. Let’s get organizing!
Using Evernote To Organize Your Study
I actually already use a fantastic system for keeping track of everything I need to do that uses Evernote. This system can be applied to Japanese study just as easily as well, and here’s how it’s done.
The idea is simple: Most of the time, you don’t know what to do next until you actually do it. This is a bad idea because this is absolutely the most difficult part of studying Japanese. You’ll find that when you spend five minutes planning and deciding the next step, it will be much, much easier to start studying when it’s study time. If you sit down and think “I’m going to study Japanese” but you don’t know what you’re going to study, your brain pushes back. Not knowing what to do is the #1 reason why people procrastinate. It’s just how the brain is wired, and the only way to prevent this is to plan ahead.
Evernote is great for this, though it can do so much more. First, let’s start with the Evernote “Notebooks.” These are big broad subjects you can create that will help you to organize more effectively. Tags (we’ll talk about this in a second) will help you to narrow these things down. In my Evernote, I’ve made a notebook stack called Japanese. Inside this notebook stack are two notebooks, “Action Required” and “Complete.” You can also see that I have another set of notebooks for my regular tasks throughout the day, though I’d like to keep Japanese separate from that (writing this guide is in there, of course!).
These two notebooks are very simple and I bet you can figure out their meanings on your own. One consists of things that need to be done, one consists of things that have already been done. This part isn’t particularly interesting. The best part is the tags, where you get to add context to your studies. Here’s what my tags look like.
There’s a lot here, but lets go through each tag section one by one.
.What – I use a period at the beginning because I want to see this at the top of all my tags (in case I have more beyond what I created for this specific purpose). Within “What” there are various things. I have an ideas tag, a tag for notes to see on a daily basis, a tag for articles I want to read later, a study tag for all my Japanese studies, and a work tag for tasks I’d consider to be work. This gives me a broad idea of the “What” that I’m organizing.
.When – This is one of the most important sets of tags. Whenever possible, you want to add this tag to all of your tasks. The !Daily tag is there to add items I need to do on a daily basis. When I sit down in the morning, I look through my !Daily tagged items to make sure I am doing those things. Then, after that there are multiple levels going from 1-Now (what I need to do now / today) to 6-Waiting (if I can’t take an action until someone else gets something down).
.Where – Adding context is great. For example, if I want to see all the things I need to do outside my home/work, I would check out the @Outside tag to see what all those tasks are. If I want to see what Japanese studies I need to do, I’d use the @Japanese tag. This just makes it so I can click on @Japanese when I’m studying Japanese. I know it’s not technically a location (studying Japanese), but it works pretty well, I think.
Now that you have some idea of what each tag does and means, let’s take a look at how you might add Japanese study items to your list of things to do.
Each note you create is sort of like a to-do, though it’s a lot better than that. You add context to it. You prioritize it. You even define what it is so you can see only what you want to see. Most importantly, it gets these things out of your brain so you no longer have to worry. If you organize well and follow tag law, you’ll feel safe to put what you need into Evernote and then promptly forget about it (until you need to come back to it and remember, at which point it will be right where you left it). This allows you to focus more brain energy on other things. You’ll find that once you get this system down you’ll be less distracted as well.
Let’s take a look at what adding notes may look like. For example, I want to decide what I will study tomorrow morning after I wake up. Instead of leaving that to tomorrow (which will cause me to procrastinate), I decide tonight.
For example, let’s pretend I want to study these kanji tomorrow. I would create a note for “learning these kanji” and then add the kanji i want to learn. The tags I added were 1-Now (because it’s my top priority of to-dos), .Study (because it has to do with studying), .Kanji (because it has to do with kanji), and @Japanese (because it’s something I would do when studying Japanese). If you aren’t totally sure how to study kanji, you’d want to plan that out as well, adding context within the note going over exactly what you’ll be doing. After finishing this task, I’d drag this note over to the “Completed” section in my “Japanese” notebook. Let’s look at another thing. I know that after I learn these kanji, I will need to put them in my Anki deck.
Since this is something I’d do after I learned the kanji, it’s not a 1-Now priority. I can make this one 2-Next, because I do it after I finish what’s in my 1-Now tag list. Once again, if the concept “Add Kanji To Anki” isn’t second nature to you, then you’d want to break down the steps further. Maybe you don’t have Anki yet, so you’d create another item for “Download Anki” and “Read Anki How-To docs” and so on. Just be sure to break down your items into single, actionable tasks – it will prevent you from procrastinating and getting stuck, because your brain will then know exactly what actions it needs to take to get them done.
So, I have an Anki deck apparently. I should be studying this Anki deck. How often? Probably !Daily. I should create an item in the !Daily tag for this.
Now every day, when I look at my !Daily tagged items, I am reminded that one of the things I need to do every day is study my Anki decks. Now we’re getting somewhere.
There are of course way more things you could add to your Evernote besides the examples up above, like writing a journal entry on Lang-8, reading a chapter of your favorite Japanese textbook, and so much else. Really, anything you do can be organized very nicely using this method.
Although it seems like you’re spending more time planning and less time studying, the five minutes per day you do this will pay you dividends ten-fold. You won’t procrastinate as much, you’ll be more excited about studying (and getting things done), and you’ll rarely feel lost about what you need to do next. Once again, I’d highly recommend taking a look at this guide on using Evernote as a Getting Things Done solution. It will really help you to not only study Japanese more effectively, but do everything more effectively.
Like Evernote? Check out our next Japanese langauge Evernote Guide, titled “Practicing Japanese Reading With Evernote.”