Pen or Stylus? How to Take My Japanese Notes

I was always that girl in school with organized hand-written notes taken from my lectures – color-coded, organized, and neat. While it’s been years since I’ve had to take notes in a class, I naturally fell back into physical pen and paper note taking once again while studying Japanese. I have several notebooks laying around that I take notes from my main sources – NihongoMaster, Japanese From Zero and now Genki I.

Last night I started writing down the grammar lessons I’ve learned in Genki I. I used a soothing highlighter to highlight important passages in the book and wrote down in my notebook vocab words I don’t have memorized yet.

Using a notebook and pen for Genki I

Using a notebook, pen, and highlighter for Genki I

But I am really more of a techie geek and gnawing away at me was the fear that I’m missing out on all the technical features that digitized notes offer! For someone who has been databasing info from her games for the past decade, how could I fall behind on such amazing tools?

After slowly hand-scrawling one page of notes, I fired up one of my electronic note programs and tried taking notes. Below is a screenshot of Microsoft OneNote from my tablet.

Screenshot on OneNote

Screenshot on OneNote

It took me some time to figure out how to include tables on my tablet (very easy), and most importantly, how to include kana and kanji! That’s a future blog post in itself, heh… But look! I did it, and I can write in Japanese on my keyboard! I can use my stylus to handwrite as well! I can be organized and neater than ever! I can share my screenshots easily here!

There’s a lot to get excited about when using a program like OneNote, Evernote, or Google Keep. It took me more time to do the above page on my tablet than on physical paper, but I’m sure with time, it would become faster. For those of you who are “fluent” in such a program, it makes life so much easier!

Benefits of Digitized Notes

  • Searching – instantly find anything
  • Categorizing with notebooks, pages, tags, categories
  • Easier to share (cut/paste and post to blog or email)
  • Integration with pictures, web clips, links
  • Synchronization across multiple devices (pc, laptop, tablet, and phone) – Take Notes Everywhere!
  • Backups – Never Lose the notes you worked so hard on
  • Looks good!
Using OneNote for Japanese notes

Using OneNote for Japanese notes

But I gotta admit, it took me a long time to make that electronic note page. And it’s buried inside my apps, so I can’t see myself picking it up and re-reading it much, I can see forgetting it easily.

I looked back upon my hand-written notes. It’s so easy to make little drawings, oh the freedom to draw/write whatever I want! So I reflected upon some of the advantages I enjoyed while using physical pen and paper.

Japanese From Zero Notes

Japanese From Zero Notes

Benefits of Pen and Paper

  • Ease of use – just pick up a pad of paper and a pen!
  • I find it easy to read when my notes are laying around my desk
  • Freedom to add kana/kanji, drawings… (you can do this digitally too, if you have it setup)
  • Silly, but I find it gratifying to write and fill up a notebook with notes!
  • I’m more focused and less likely to “tab out” to one of Internet’s many distractions
  • Studies have proven retention is best with good ole pen and paper

That last point though! Is it true? I fired up google to see which note-taking method is best, and while digital note-taking these days is more prevalent, according to this study, writing by hand is superior in terms of better understanding the material and retention.

Here’s a few links summarizing that study if you want to learn the details:

TLDR: Laptop note-taking seems great since you can type faster than you hand-write, so students can copy a professor’s lecture verbatim. Recording the lecture is even possible with a laptop. But transcribing word for word means less thought is given while taking notes, and thus, less conceptual understanding of the topic. Slowly writing by hand forces you to listen and comprehend the material so you can write concise notes. Even the act of writing things down by hand helps solidify the topic.

You might think, well those laptop users who have basically recorded the entire lecture word for word will fare better a week later after reading their notes? Nope, then, the physical note-takers performed better.

Notetaking for Meetings

I asked my husband, who works in a large corporation, how people take notes in their meetings. He says all kinds – pen and paper, OneNote, you name it. These are mostly older people, so not people who grew up with cellphones and ipads or even laptops.

He personally prefers pen and paper, he loves his Moleskin notebooks and his cheap hotel pens.  He seemed very excited about his notebook and how he loved his expensive, quality notebook, but he can justify spending $10 every ten months on a new one. And free pens from conventions and hotels are, of course, free! Upon hearing that, I slowly backed out of his room, thinking about how much I spent on pens and paper…

As an example, with his permission, I snapped a quick pic of his notes he took while on a conference call (I blurred the notes for privacy reasons). As I was looking on his desk, I did notice all his free pens…

Result after Researching the topic

That sold it for me – knowing I’ll have better retention! Deep down I wanted to keep using my notebooks anyway. I’ll keep using my awesome pens and notebooks!  I still sometimes use OneNote/Evernote for planning things, but I don’t use it enough to make the most optimal use out of it.

Ironically, I admit I hardly have time to take notes yet from grammar books. Too much time spent researching “how to take notes best”, selecting and shopping for the most inspiring notebooks and pens, and then blogging about it all… but that’s just me, and I’m a weird perfectionist. But with all that out of the way, I can proceed with no qualms on learning Japanese grammar with hand-written notes!

Fun notebooks and pens for note-taking

Fun notebooks and pens for note-taking

How about you? Do you take notes on the things you’re learning about Japanese? If so, what do you use – pen, keyboard, or stylus?