How to Take Effective Notes in Your German Course

Hallo, Deutschlerner! If you’re on a journey to master the German language, then you probably understand the importance of effective note-taking. But have you ever struggled with note-taking or found it challenging to retain what you learned in class? If so, you’re not alone. In this blog post, I want to share my personal experience of transitioning from a note-taking novice to an honors graduate and how my note-taking techniques not only helped me succeed academically but also enriched my language-learning journey and detailed guide on How to Take Notes in Your German Course.

The Ultimate Guide to Effective Note-Taking for Language Learning

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My High School Note-Taking Experience

I have a confession to make: I never took notes in high school. Like…ever. From the moment I entered freshman year until the day I graduated, I couldn’t recall writing down a single thing my teachers said during class. Instead, I spent most of my class time doodling, indulging in my own “creative” writing, or sneaking in a quick nap. High school seemed like a breeze, but little did I know that college would be a completely different ball game.

The Shock of College

Upon entering college, I was in for a big shock in two ways. First, I quickly realized that not everything I needed to know for my classes would be spoon-fed to me during lectures. I had to take the initiative to read outside of class to keep up with the coursework. Secondly, I couldn’t simply memorize everything the professor said after hearing it once. This new reality forced me to learn not only how to take effective notes but also how to use those notes to excel academically.

The Importance of Active Listening

Now, let’s dive into the heart of the matter – effective note-taking techniques for German language learners. Regardless of how you take notes in class, the first and foremost step is to become an active listener. This means listening with full intent and engagement. It’s not the kind of listening where you half-heartedly hear your mom tell you to clean your room; it’s more like the intense focus you’d have if someone were explaining how to disarm a bomb right in front of you. Your hands can move to take notes, and you can occasionally glance at your paper, but your ears and mind must remain glued to your professor’s words.

Practicing Active Listening

To become an active listener, here are some recommendations:

No Distractions

The first rule of active listening is eliminating distractions. Put away those headphones – not in one ear, not dangling around your neck, not perched just behind your ears – just put them away. Similarly, keep your cell phone far from reach, preferably in your backpack, making sure it never sees the light of day during class.

Repetition in Your Head

Human speech averages around 125 words per minute, while the human brain can process a staggering 800 words per minute. Use this to your advantage by mentally repeating the words your professor says as they say them. You don’t need to do this verbatim; you can listen, process, and summarize in your head. This mental repetition will help you retain key information.

Watch the Mouth, Not the Eyes

When trying to convince someone you’re paying attention, you might look into their eyes. However, if your goal is to truly understand and remember the information, focus on their mouth. By watching their mouth, you can concentrate on the words being spoken. This technique proved invaluable in language courses, as you can mimic the mouth movements when speaking, thereby improving your pronunciation.

The Two-Notebook System

Contrary to the common practice of having a dedicated notebook for each class, I recommend using two notebooks for each subject: a rough draft notebook and a polished notebook. Here’s why:

Rough Draft Notebook:

During class, take notes as best as you can, keeping them as organized as possible. However, don’t worry if they aren’t neat or complete. Your goal is to create an abridged version of the class content.

Polished Notebook

After class, rewrite your notes from the day. It’s crucial not to merely copy your notes but to rewrite them thoughtfully.

The Rewriting Process:

  • Begin by reading your class notes to refresh your memory and gain a comprehensive overview of the material.
  • Consider how you can organize the information to make it more understandable to your brain. For instance, if the teacher presented a list of verbs alphabetically, you might prefer to group them thematically.
  • Use charts, graphs, tables, or any visual aids that help you understand and organize the information better.
  • Customize your notes using bullet points, different colored pens, and highlighting to create a visual representation of how your brain processes information.

Your notes should not only be informative but also a reflection of how your brain perceives and retains information. When it comes time to take a test or recall information, the visual cues from your notes will enhance your memory recall.

The Importance of Completeness

When you take notes in class, it’s beneficial to develop a kind of shorthand that helps you jot down information quickly. You don’t need to spell out every word, and your abbreviations don’t have to make sense to anyone else but you. For instance, you might abbreviate “with” as “w/” while someone else uses “c/o.” These unique abbreviations are your shorthand.

Your notes in class only need to be as thorough as you’ll require them to be when you rewrite them later that day. For instance, when creating conjugation charts, you might only write the verb stem once and then use abbreviations like -st, -t, and so on.

The key takeaway here is that you revisit the information on the same day you encountered it for the first time, and you rewrite it in a more organized and complete fashion. This approach ensures that your notes are a powerful tool for studying and retaining information.

Enhancing Note-Taking with Symbols and Questions

In our journey towards effective note-taking for language learning, let’s explore some additional techniques and tips to help you succeed. Beyond shorthand and organization, you can increase your note-taking speed and comprehension by incorporating symbols, diagrams, and drawings. Visual aids can be incredibly helpful in making complex language concepts more understandable.

Symbols and Visual Aids

For instance, when learning German, I found it beneficial to use circles and arrows to depict word order or to illustrate how sentence structures change. These simple visual cues can help you visualize the language rules and principles more effectively.

Ask Questions

If you find yourself unsure of what to write during class, it’s likely because the teacher’s explanation didn’t resonate with you. Remember, if it doesn’t make sense in class, it won’t magically make sense when you revisit your notes later that day. Don’t hesitate to ask questions for clarification. Request another example or a different explanation. Don’t leave the classroom with lingering confusion.

Now, let’s summarize the key strategies we’ve discussed so far to ensure clarity:

Active Listening: Maintain your focus in class, free from distractions like headphones and cellphones.

Efficient Note-Taking: Write down the most important information as quickly and thoroughly as possible during class, allowing you to continue capturing additional content.

Rewrite and Organize: Later on, the same day, revisit your notes, organize the information, and rewrite them to create a more coherent and visually appealing representation of your understanding.

Multiple Touch Points for Effective Learning

The effectiveness of these note-taking strategies hinges on creating multiple touchpoints with the information you’re learning. In essence, a touch point is an interaction with the material, reinforcing your memory. Here’s a breakdown of the touch points:

  1. The teacher says something in class.
  2. You actively listen and repeat the information in your head.
  3. You jot down a short version in your notes.
  4. You reread the abbreviated notes later in the day.
  5. You summarize and reorganize the information.
  6. You rewrite the material in your polished notebook.
  7. You revisit the organized version of the information.

This means you engage with the material seven times before you retire for the night. Of course, this assumes your teacher didn’t provide additional examples or in-class practice. These multiple touch points significantly enhance your retention and comprehension of the subject matter.

Consistent Weekly Review

In addition to daily touch points, it’s recommended that you go through your notes on a weekly basis. This not only helps you review what you’ve learned but also reinforces your understanding of the material. Moreover, I recommend revisiting the previous day’s notes as you begin the rewriting process for the current lesson. This creates a continuous review cycle, keeping the information fresh in your mind.


Lastly, let’s address a critical aspect that often goes overlooked in academic success—self-care. All the note-taking techniques in the world won’t be effective if you’re not taking care of yourself. Here are some essential self-care practices to consider:

  • Prioritize a good night’s sleep before each class to ensure you’re mentally alert.
  • Establish a morning routine that sets a positive tone for your day.
  • Eat regular meals to maintain energy and keep your brain functioning optimally.

But, above all, focus on your mental and emotional well-being. Clear your mind of any unresolved issues or distractions. When your head is cluttered with the “bad and the ugly,” it becomes challenging to focus in class and take good notes.

Remember, you are the “good” and the “beautiful.” You are amazing, and your efforts in learning a new language are worth it. Never forget your worth, and continue on your language-learning journey with confidence.

Also, be sure to check out 8 German Learning Tips to Learn on Your Own for additional language-learning insights.

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