My English notes are a complete mess!


​When learning a language, your desk​ and shelves quickly fill up with textbooks, notebooks and scraps of paper. This can make it difficult to structure your learning and review what you've learnt​. In this article, ​we look at ways to organise and store new ​vocabulary.


​Here are a few things you could do to try to ​store your new words in a way that is efficient and easy to review:

1. Use an A4 folder and sheets of paper 

The​ main advantage of ​using a folder is that you can add sheets of paper in any order, rather than working from beginning to end in a notebook. So, if you learn some new language related to something you've already learned, you can store ​this language in the same place.

2. Organise your vocabulary by topic

When you come across a new topic (for example, 'animals'), start a new sheet of paper with 'Animals' as the title. File this in the 'A' section of your folder. A few months later, you may discover some new animal names and can add them to the 'Animals' page.

​3. ​Alternatively, go digital

​If you'd like to get rid of paper completely, then there are computer programs or mobile apps that can help you store language too. These ​often ​​allow you to test yourself on the language you've stored, which can be an excellent way to review. However, they ​don't ​usually have the flexibility of a simple blank sheet of paper.

​4. ​For ​each word or phraseinclude other features of language

A new word or phrase is much more than just a word or a phrase.

​Imagine our new word is 'breakfast'. If we want to really understand this word, we need to know​:
a) ​the meaning  - it's a meal that we eat in the morning
​b) the grammatical form - it's a noun (a thing) and it's uncountable (we don't 'have one breakfast')
c) the pronunciation - it's pronounced /​ˈbrekfəst/, not /​ˈbreɪkfɑːst/ and the stress (the louder sound) is on the first sound /brek/ (which we show by adding ​​the ' symbol before it).

So, instead of just writing down 'breakfast' in our notes, we can write:

n.[u.] breakfast /'brekfəst/

​We may also want to add the words that we often see before and after the word. For example, it's more common to use the verb 'have' with breakfast rather than 'eat'. We can also 'make' breakfast if ​we spend time preparing it. We call words that often go together like this 'collocations'. We might even use symbols like '>' to show which action happens first and second.

In addition, it's useful to include some example sentences that use the word.

So, our new notes might look something like this​:

v. make > have

n.[u.] breakfast /'brekfəst/

Did you have breakfast this morning?

​5. Try using other ​methods instead of ​translation

The simplest and probably most common method used to write down vocabulary is to write the list of words in English on the left and the translations in your own language on the right. Students find this method easy to review, as they can simply cover one side with their hand and try to remember the other side.

However, translation has its limits and there are other ways to note down language that can be more memorable, provide more information (as with point 2 above) or be more suited to your learning style. For example:

  • a drawing can be useful to help remember many nouns and verbs
  • a word web can help show the relationships between many words


​It's important to store language that you learn in a way that you can easily go back and review later.

  • ​Use a folder ​or a digital app to take notes
  • check
    ​Store your language by topic
  • ​Include the meaning, grammatical form and pronunciation of the language in your notes
  • ​Try using images or word webs instead of translation

​Let us know if you've used any of these or other methods to organise language ​by leaving a comment below.