Play Video

How to Take Notes In English

You’re sitting in class.
The teacher is speaking. Fast.
You’re trying to take notes.
“What was she saying?” you’re thinking
You spend two seconds trying to figure out what the second word in the last sentence was,
and it’s a matter of seconds before you fall way behind.
She’s already talking about something else.
You’re lost again.

Or maybe you’re in a meeting, and your boss is speaking.
You have to take notes, but you can’t do it all at once: listen, understand, respond, show that you’re interested and take notes so you can write a meeting summary at the end.

And then you walk out, thinking…
I need to improve my listening comprehension.
Vocabulary. Fluency. English. Grammar. Writing speed.
And lose 3 pounds.
(cuz if you’re already hard on yourself why not beat yourself up completely?)

But, you know,
You really don’t have to do all that to be the best note-taker in class.
To take notes and still stay engaged in class.
To understand that dry, sarcastic joke because your head is not buried in your notes.

Because there’s a way to…
how should I say it..
(You know I love cheating)

And.. I’m going to share that with you in today’s episode.

So here’s what’s waiting for you once you hit the play button:

1. Why is taking notes in English so freaking challenging? (00:40)
2. What you should never do when taking notes (02:15)
3. A new approach to note-taking and how understanding intonation can help (04:10)
4. Note-taking strategy #1: Messy & immediate (13:12)
5. Note-taking strategy #2: Organized & long-term (17:45)


Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar, and this is episode number 22. And today we’re going to talk about how to take notes in English.

Hey, hey, friends, how are you doing? Thank you so much for being here and today we have a really special episode for you and an important one. So make sure you take notes, because this episode is all about taking notes in English.

Now, actually, taking notes in and of itself is quite challenging sometimes. You go to school, you go to the university, you go into work, and then you have these massive meetings where you need to take notes, but you never really learned how to take notes. It’s not a class that you take in school, unfortunately.

I think this should be like something that you take in sixth grade, right? Like ‘how to take notes efficiently in class’. And this should be done in your native language because, you know, trying to understand one thing and then translating it into a written form is challenging enough. But when you have to do it in English, oh my God! This can be extremely challenging.

In fact, one of my students, my Accent Makeover students… By the way, I am opening registration to Accent Makeover really soon, so I’m going to put a link in the show notes to the waitlist in case you’re interested. Because Accent Makeover is my signature program and it’s a lot of fun. And it’ll help you speak English confidently and clearly.

We’re going to tackle everything there, everything that is related to spoken English. Um, so if you like the stuff that I’m sharing with you here and on my YouTube channel, then you should definitely sign up to find out when I open doors for Accent Makeover. And that’s going to be really soon in March.

Anyway, so one of my students that have come such a long way in her confidence and English, she said that writing notes or taking notes in class is still one of the most challenging things for her. So I gave her a few tips, and then I started noticing people sharing that with me more and more. And I even mentioned it in one of my previous episodes and I’ve gotten a bunch of DM’s from people asking me to actually create an episode about how to take notes in English.

So here we are. Here we are. So make sure you take notes, and this is the audio version of the video lesson about how to take notes in English. It’s really great because I’m going to talk about the challenges, and two different strategies that I use, the mindset that you need to have, and I use some metaphors there, which is always a lot of fun.

And also the things that you should never, never, never, ever, ever, ever do when taking notes. And for that alone, you should listen to the full episode. Okay? So let’s play it. And after that, come on over to Instagram and DM me, and tell me what you think, and if you liked it. And if you want more of these types of episodes and lessons.

Okay, so let’s listen to how to take notes in class when English is not your first language.

Hey, it’s Hadar. Welcome to my channel. Today we’re going to talk about how to take notes in a class, a lecture, or a meeting. And this is especially relevant for you if you’re a non-native speaker of English trying to take notes in English.

What we’re going to cover today is one: what are the biggest challenges in taking notes when you’re a non-native speaker? Two: the things that you should never ever ever do when you take notes in a language that is not your native language. Three: the approach that you need to take when taking notes. And four: the two types of note taking that has worked for me and ways to improve each one of them.

The reason why it is so incredibly challenging to take notes in English is one: sometimes speaker in front of you just speaks way too fast and it’s hard for you to just understand what the person is saying. Everything is blurred together and mumbled, and sometimes they reduce a lot of words.

And it’s hard enough to try to make sense of what they’re saying, it’s even harder to take notes as you’re doing it. It’s like, “Hey, I only have one brain. What am I supposed to do here?” Right?

The second reason why it’s so incredibly challenging is because English has a lot of words, a lot of words in a sentence. And sometimes you try to write down whatever it is that you’re hearing, and it makes it pretty much impossible cause your hand cannot write that fast or your fingers cannot type all of these words while you’re hearing them.

Another reason why it’s challenging is because sometimes you need to translate in your head what it is that you’re hearing. So, not only that you hear the teacher, you need to decipher what they’re saying. You also need to translate it into your native language. And then you need to write notes, whether it’s bullet points or a summary of what you’re hearing.

That’s an extra step that native speakers don’t need to take. And that makes it more challenging. So, by the time you’re done writing the first sentence of the first subject the teacher is already talking about the third subject, and you always feel behind. So no more. I’m going to give you some tips on how to improve that, and how to be a master in taking notes.

Here are the things that you should never, ever, ever, ever do when taking notes. One: do not write it word by word. Don’t take a summary, always think of bullet points, ideas, and sentence fragments. Do not try to write a summary. Do not try to make full sense of it, and you don’t always have to be grammatically correct.

When taking notes, you need to take whatever it is that you’re hearing and put it in a system that works for you. Writing, whatever you’re hearing, word by word, by word will not work for you. It doesn’t matter how fast you write or how fast you type.

Another thing you shouldn’t do is write the notes in your native language if the lecture or the class is in English. I know you think it’s faster. Maybe for the short run it is, but for the long run, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.

So, train yourself to take notes in English. Believe me, it will be faster if you take my suggestions here and in the long run, you will master English quicker and faster.

The last thing you should never do is come across a word that you don’t know and then go look it up on Google. Listen, you don’t have to know every single word to understand the meaning of the sentence or the idea. And if you come across a word that you don’t know, and then you go to the dictionary to look it up, you’re just distracting yourself from what is really important right now, which is understanding what the person in front of you is saying.

Okay, so don’t go look it up. You can understand the flow, you can understand the sentence and write it down on the side and come back to it later. Because when you go to Google, then you will look it up the dictionary and then you will go and see if there is a video of that, how to pronounce it, and then you’re on Facebook and then Instagram, and then the lesson’s over and you have no idea what the teacher has just said. Am I right?

Now I want to talk to you about how to approach note-taking. And I’m going to talk about the mindset of note-taking, and I’m going to use a metaphor for that. So, when I ride my bike, I ride on the road, right, along with the cars. And usually the, the streets are really busy. So there are a lot of people going in and out, like crossing the street, and a lot of cars and other bike riders.

And when I ride my bike, I don’t look all over. And I don’t try to focus on all the details because there’s a lot going on. So I’m super focused on where I’m going and I allow my peripheral vision to capture everything that is going on.

So I’m hyper concentrated and I also have a podcast in my ear buds, so I’m listening to that as well. So I’m listening to the podcast and I’m trying to absorb everything that is happening around me. Um, and I see things in my peripheral vision and I try to kinda like, anticipate what’s going to happen.

And, um, I, I see them walking down the street, so I change my course and then I see the car coming from here. So I may slow down or go a little faster. Either way, I’m focused on where I’m going and I’m not paying attention to every little detail.

Because if I were to move my head and look at the person crossing the street, then maybe I won’t notice that car. And if I look at the car, I may fall off my bike because I may lose my balance. Right? I cannot focus on every small detail around me. I need to know the direction and allow everything around me to go into my mind, but part of it goes into my subconscious mind. And some of it I kind of like analyze and try to make sense of it.

When you take notes, when you’re in a lecture, I think this should be the experience. So it’s not about every single sentence that you understand or you get it right, or every word that you understand, going back to ‘don’t translate every word’. It’s okay if you don’t understand every single word here.

You need to know the idea, you need to know the direction. People repeat themselves over and over and over. So even if you miss out one thing, you’ll hear it one way or another later on. Okay? Trust that.

So, try to get the main idea and that idea needs to be translated into the paper. But don’t focus on every small detail, every word, every phrasing, right? “No, but the teacher said that perfectly, and I need to get it just right. And what was it that he said?”

And then you talk to your friend and then you lose, you know, a third of the class. It doesn’t matter. Get the main idea and translate that into your notes. Okay. Cause if you focus on the small details, you will stay behind. And you don’t want that.

Also, and this is all about English, you have to listen to the clues to know what’s more important and what’s less important. Not everything is equally important. Now, I know, when you speak English as a second language, you feel like everything is important and you need to really pay close attention to everything.

Because you are, you don’t have the privilege of understanding in English and sorting it out on the go, right? Like you need to understand it and then come back to it and look at it again and read it again, and then it makes sense to you because you weren’t born into English.

But let me tell you this, and I’ll save you a lot of time, if you will listen to what I have to say right now. Not everything is equally important. What’s really important is going to show up again and again and again in the talk cause people repeat themselves, especially good speakers.

And when something is really important, there is an indication, rhythmic indication or melodic indication, that it’s important. So what are the clues that you need to look for when listening to a talk or a lecture in English?

One – pauses. Like I just did now. When you feel a slight silence or a pause or change in rhythm, you automatically tune back in. And this is what good speakers do when they want to draw back the listener’s attention. They slow down… and they take a pause… before they say something really important.

So as you’re taking notes, if you recognize that there is a pause, stop what you’re writing and pay attention. Because what’s going to come up after that pause is going to be very important for you, and you want to pay attention there. Okay? So this is one clue for you to know: hey, that’s important, everything before that is not equally important. So that’s one thing.

Another thing is, as I said, changes in rhythm. So when people slow down and start saying things really slowly – that’s also important. So if you’re stuck writing the beginning of the idea or the sentence, stop it and come here.

Be present, listen and take notes using the two strategies that I’m going to share with you in just a sec, and write the notes for, for what the teacher is saying right now, or the lecturer, or your colleague if you’re in a meeting. Okay.

So when they start slowing down, even if they don’t take pauses, it means that we have reached a really important point. Did you notice what I just did now? So that’s what I meant by slowing down.

The next thing you want to pay attention to, another clue for you if it’s something important is being said, is changes in pitch. Here’s the thing. When native English speakers stress words, they do two things. One, they change the rhythm, so all of a sudden the word is going to be really long; and they change the pitch. So either it’s going to be higher in pitch or lower pitch – from whatever happened just before.

“Hey, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my class. Today we’re going to talk about the history of humankind”. “Hey, <flat gibberish> history of humankind”. So your brain need to have this radar, this pitch radar, that detects a change in pitch: taaa-DAAA, right? Something important.

Pay attention to the changes. When you hear the pitch going up or pitch going down, you know that’s an important word, that’s the word you should write. Okay? Now you need to pay attention a bit more. And even if you’re not sure how this relates to what you’ve just written, write it down anyway, right?

So, whatever is different in pitch should be on your paper. Okay? And if before that, everything was kind of monotone, it’s probably not that important. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be in your notes. And if you are ahead of yourself and you can take notes for everything, good for you.

But if you feel like you’re constantly behind, then stop paying attention to everything. Look for those clues and write down only the places that start changing in pitch. These are your key words in the sentence, and in the lecture.

The last thing – sometimes people won’t change the pitch, but they’ll totally change the rhythm. So all of a sudden there, it’s part of slowing down, but sometimes it’s just like prolonging the words. Like I just didn’t know, right.

So when you hear someone speaking and then all of a sudden they prolong the word, right, it automatically slows down the speech. But sometimes you won’t pay attention to it if it’s just one word within a long phrase, you won’t feel like it’s slowing down.

And then, it’s enough to detect words that are just stretched out, like I just did now. Notice, I did not change my pitch whatsoever, but I did stretch out some of the words.

And it’s kind of like: okay, stretched word – I’m going to write it down. A word that is higher in pitch or a phrase that is higher in pitch – I’m going to write it down, too. You can make sense of it later. Okay. The most important thing is that you kind of like absorb the important stuff and you put it on the paper.

The last thing I’m going to share with you today is two note-taking strategies that I use depending on what my goals are. The first one is the messy & immediate. And the second one is the Organized & long-term. And I associate the Messy & immediate with handwriting, and the Organized & long-term with typing my notes. So here goes.

I find that a lot of times I don’t revisit notes. I only take notes to have a better understanding of what is said to me in the lecture. So I take notes just for me to kind of like wire my brain and to, to connect everything. Cause when I write down the words, it’s a lot more powerful for me and it really helps me remember, and really understand what it is that I’m listening to.

And this is why I do it as I’m writing the notes, right, handwriting. I don’t, it doesn’t work for me as well if I type those notes. Now, when I take notes, my handwriting is really, really messy. So I’m not trying to make sense for myself for later, although that might be a good idea, but I am trying to just write down the important parts, the parts that I talked about before: when you hear the pitch change or when you hear that the person is slowing down, the person who’s speaking, or when there are pauses, and then that’s the important part.

So these parts are the ones that I take or things that register with me as I listen. I don’t write everything that I’m hearing. For me, it is impossible and it won’t be interesting. I can just record the lecture and take notes after or just listen to it again, but that’s not the purpose. Right?

I want to have a better learning experience by taking those notes. And also to look at the bullet points, so I don’t have to listen to the talk again. I don’t have a lot of time, spare time, and I’m sure you don’t either.

So, I just write words, phrases, fragments of sentences. This helps me understand the materials better. So, messy – I don’t focus so much on having a beautiful handwriting. I really don’t care. Um, I am not focused on making the sentence grammatically correct.

So if I noticed that I made a mistake and I don’t have a lot of time to remember it, like riding a bike, I don’t have a lot of time to, um, to fix it – I don’t pay attention to it. I might come back to it, I might not. Again, I’m doing it just for my own personal experience. I’m not writing a paper right now. No one’s gonna see it.

And if you’re concerned about what your peers or your colleagues are going to think about it if you shared it with them, then just don’t share your notes. I mean, if you’re constantly thinking about how other people might read the notes, you are serving them, and not you. So take notes the way it is easier for you to learn.

Another thing that helps me and can improve your note-taking skills is using abbreviations. So I don’t write full words. If I need to write the word ‘and’, I will just write either the, the ‘and’ sign [&] or the word ‘an’, right. If I need to write ‘because’, I will just write ‘c-apostrophe-Z’ – c’z.

I write abbreviations. If it’s a long word, I might, instead of ‘international’, I’ll just put ‘int’ and a period [int.]. So again, for me, I use abbreviations because it’s just for me and for me to take notes fast. And it’s not for other people to understand.

Again, think about why you’re taking notes to begin with. Also, it’s silly, but it makes a huge difference for me. I use pens that are smooth and easy to write, so I use gel pens. I find it a lot easier to write than a ballpoint pen. Right. And, um, so I can kind of like write it smoothly and easily, and my handwriting is horrible, but I write fast.

And if you need to improve the speed of your writing. Just write more, right. Use your handwriting more – journal every morning for five minutes, for 10 minutes. You’ll get used to writing faster. And of course, that will improve your note-taking skills if you take notes by hand.

The second note-taking strategy is more organized. And for that I use the computer because I want to save it for me to come and revisit it. So I take notes in order for me to use it in the future. Unlike the first strategy, where it’s just to enhance my learning experience, here I actually want to come back to it or to have someone else read it.

For that, I use my computer. First, because it’s easier to share, it’s easier to save, and it’s easier to write in an organized way. I use Google docs because that’s the easiest way for me to keep my files organized, to keep them safe and to access them from anywhere. This is what I use with my team and we find it super, super productive and helpful.

So, what I do is a start with it fresh page. I’m super concentrated. I don’t write everything that the teacher is saying, but because I’m typing, I have the advantage of doing it a little faster than writing notes because I type faster than I write.

Now, here I do it in the form of bullet points, so usually I’ll write the title and then I’ll write ideas or bullet points or short summaries for each topic. But again, don’t write full sentences. It’s okay if you just start a sentence and then you recognize that something’s important.

Remember – a pause or, all of a sudden, the change in pitch or a change in rhythm, or the teacher is slowing down, and then you want to write that part. So it’s okay if it’s disconnected, you can come back to it later.

So you start writing it. You’re outlining what you’re hearing, you’re translating the ideas into, onto the page, but you can come back to it whenever something else happens that doesn’t need your full attention.

For example, the teacher answers a question that you already know, or there is a short break, or the teacher repeats something. I’m saying the teacher, but of course it could be your colleague talking about something, or the lecturer, whatever, wherever you’re at.

And then something will happen that doesn’t require your full focus and attention, and then you can come back to the places where everything was kind of incomplete, and then you can create it into more complete sentences.

But don’t pay a lot of attention or don’t invest a lot of your time there. It doesn’t need to be perfect and it doesn’t need to be grammatically correct. Don’t get obsessed with, you know, figuring out all your typos and, um, and spelling issues. It’s okay. The red underline is fine. You can come back to it after class and fix it. Don’t let it stress you out. So you can always come back to it and fix all those typos.

And again, if it’s just for yourself, who cares if you wrote ‘attitude’ with a D, instead of a T, at the beginning. Because that’s what I do – I write ‘attitude’ with two D’s because I write words how they sound. Okay. It really doesn’t matter if you have spelling issues or grammar issues, let go of that. Um, cause that slows you down, it slows you down.

Another thing you can do that really helps is to learn how to touch type. Because again, it’s a skill that will benefit you for sure. So there are a lot of softwares, free softwares. I can link to a few of them below, in the description below.

And you can practice it and train your fingers to hit the right letters. And when you know how to touch type, then it makes everything a lot easier for you.

Now, because I use my computer, I use everything my word processor has to offer. Like bold, and different colors, and underlines, and larger fonts for more important things. So I create hierarchy on the page and it resembles the hierarchy that I create from hearing the person speaking.

And I use my intonation radar, right? Like intonation is basically everything that I talked about: changes in pitch, changes in rhythm, changes in length, phrasing, pauses, all of that, right? Like, uh, intonation is the audible punctuation.

So I use that to create the hierarchy and what the person is saying, and I translate it to the page and I use all those features, and I use bolds and underlines and font sizes to reflect the what it is that I’m learning and I’m hearing.

And by the way, there are some really cool features. Like text expander for example, where you write, just a few words and that expands it to a long word. So let’s say you usually hear the word ‘internationalization’ and you need to use it constantly, and you don’t want to use abbreviations because it’s harder for you to understand that.

You can just program it so that every time you write ‘int’, then it writes ‘internationalization’, right. So it kinda like expands the text. It’s super cool. So I use that as well in my day to day life, but definitely when taking notes.

Okay. That’s it. I hope this was helpful. And now I have two questions for you. One: what is the most valuable tip or the most valuable takeaway from this video? And two: what is your recommendation for taking notes?

So, what is it, what have you been using that has served you and worked for you and that can help other people in the community? I can’t wait to read your comments, so start sharing it and also please share this video with your friends and your fellow students if you found it valuable.

By the way, I don’t know if you know this, but I also have a podcast called The InFluency Podcast. So if you’re the type of person who prefers to listen rather than watch, then I’m going to put a link to it in the description below so you can subscribe and start listening to my other podcasts. Obviously, I share things there that I don’t share on my YouTube channel, so you better check it out.

Have a beautiful day, and I’ll see you in the next video. Bye.

The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
22. How To Take Notes When English Is NOT Your Native Language

What’s your favorite method to take notes?
Be a pal and share it with us in the comments!

Liked this video?

Get a weekly bite size pronunciation lesson straight to your inbox
Don’t like it? No problem. You can unsubscribe in one click.

9 Responses

  1. Thank you Hadar! The video “How to take notes” was awesome. I’m always stucking on correct writing and am wasting my time. Now I realised what was that difficulty.:)

  2. My takeaways was, 1. to type in Google docs (I always do handwriting) and 2. To listen for pauses, pitches, rhythm in order to find the main idea and the direction of the speech. I also have a recommendation; read through what you have jotted down, because I always have something I scarcely can read (happens when you write fast).

  3. Hi, Hadar Great! I enjoyed it very much. your approach to the subject is just amazing,Tthank you so much.

  4. Hi Hadar ! Thank you for the interesting and inspiring video. I enjoyed your analogy referring to bicycle riding. That was my most important take away because I see important reference also to the smart listening skill. If the speaker talks too fast I should apply my peripheral understanding.

  5. Hi! Your teaching is awesome as always =) I like to take notes, i usually take notes during any meeting or lecture, this helps me to concentrate on the topic. And i usually… draw my notes. :))))) The other way is to make a audiorecord and mark the nost important time spots on the paper: minute of record and what it is all about. The forst way makes me remember better, but the second way is helpful when i need to record dateiled information (takes more time after though).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.