Why Journaling is the Key to Active Learning

Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous.


Reading time: 2 minutes

How can keeping a journal help you learn a language?

For one thing, it helps you understand yourself better. Your mind is your primary language learning tool, so keeping tabs on it is important. 

Writing in a journal involves reflection, which is critical to effective learning. This article describes the difference between knowing-in-action and reflecting-in-action: knowing how to do something versus being able to reflect and adjust while doing it.

Reflection-in-action is important because it represents the difference between active and passive learning. You don’t just know how to do something–you’re actively working on honing your skills. Active learners are self-directed, look deeper for answers, form better questions to engage with their mentors, and experience more growth in their language ability. 

So…how do you start?

How to journal

There are lots of different ways to make journaling work for you! As long as you make sure to:

  • Allot time for journaling regularly
  • Write about what interests you
  • Expect that your journaling style will change and some days will be better than others
  • Seek and receive feedback 

Writing your thoughts down can help you know where you need to ask for help! Consider sharing parts of your journal or insights with others.

Potential journaling topics include:

  • Learning goals
  • Topics and skills that you find difficult
  • Your experiences with drills and projects
  • Observations from interactions
  • Questions that you have after interactions
  • Personal goals
  • Your feelings about the process

Hannah’s story

“So, honestly, I am not a big journaler, and probably would not have done it if [my teacher] hadn’t required it but…I am glad I did it because it is fun to look back on and it helped me see my progress.

Journaling helped me set goals…and then reflect at the end of the week on how I did on implementing those goals. I usually liked to write down both my successes and failures, with emphasis on celebrating the successes and learning from the failures. Journaling also helped me track my progress. I could see not only how my linguistic skills were growing, but also see how my personal relationships with people were deepening.  Progress is slow, but when you can look back 8 or 9 weeks and see the accumulated progress, it is encouraging. Also, recording my good/fun experiences helped me to stay positive and recognize all the good things that were happening, even among the hard work and long hours that Arabic requires. While I don’t personally choose writing/journaling as a way to vent my feelings, I know others that do and find it effective. 

In summary, I think the most helpful aspect of journaling was reflecting on my past weekly goals, and committing to new ones. Journaling once a week was enough to consistently remind me of my goals, hold me accountable, and make realistic goals in a realistic timeline, but it wasn’t too often that it took up too much time from my schedule.”

Try it Out!

Time Required: 10 minutes

  1. Find a time that you can regularly devote to journaling, whether it’s five minutes every day at the end of your regular study or fifteen minutes once a week.
  2. To start, just start writing! Choose one of the prompts above and write whatever comes to mind.
  3. Review what you wrote. What sticks out? Is there anything from your writing that you want to focus on more going forward? Is there anything you need to ask for help with?