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Effective colour coding methods for language learning

Ah, colour coding. My personal favourite part of note taking. If you’ve seen my Instagram, you’ll know that I colour code A LOT. And I get a lot of questions about how I colour code and what it all means. Well fear not, this post will explain my favorite ways to organise a colour coding system for language learning, and if you stick around til the end I’ll even share my favourite pens for devising the perfect system (how exciting!) 

Effective colour coding methods for language learning: 

  • Coding by importance

  • Coding by language ‘area’

  • Coding by chapter

  • Coding by topic

  • Coding by familiarity 

  • Coding by subsection

  • Coding by language

Coding by importance

If you have more of a reference book or some sort of frequency list, it may be useful to use a different colour depending on how important each grammar point or word is. For example, using yellow for most important, pink for quite important etc. This is the system I use with my Essential Korean Vocabulary and Grammar books, and it makes it a lot easier for me to see at a glance which words I should be focusing on since I’m going through one level at a time. I can flip to whichever chapter I’m working through and immediately know which words or grammar points I need to be studying. 

Coding by language ‘area’

If you're reading or have lots of example sentences, it may help to use different colours to highlight certain points you're not sure on, for example blue for grammar, green for vocab, yellow for readings (for Japanese kanji or Chinese hanzi) etc. I do this a lot in reading books or textbooks with long dialogues or reading sections. It means I can see immediately what I need to work on and can coordinate the colours with my notes. Generally when I’m studying I’ll use different colours for vocab and grammar, and then when I’m reading the dialogues or passages I can annotate and highlight any of the new words or structures in the corresponding colour. This helps a lot with Japanese and Chinese when I’m reading since I might not know a word's meaning or reading, so having different colours can help distinguish them and clearly let’s me see where I need to study some more!

Coding by chapter

If you tend to highlight the same things, such as if you're reading and highlight new vocabulary, it may help to use a different colour for each chapter in order to break down the book and help you separate chunks of words to remember. I did this with Easy Korean Reading for Beginners, and it helped me when it came to review since I had broken down all the vocab into chapters so they were in more manageable related groups to study. Even just alternating between two different colours will help separate the content in your mind and can give your memory a boost when it comes to studying and revision.

Coding by topic

This can again work for reference type books or within chapters of a textbook. If vocab or grammar points are sorted by topic you can use a different colour for each topic to help break down the information and focus on each topic in turn. This would work with books like Essential Korean Grammar and Vocabulary, since the chapters are organised by grouping similar content together. Alternatively you could colour code based on verbs, adjectives etc to break it down into smaller parts to study. This is good if there are long vocab lists or a lot of grammar to cover in each chapter, or if you’re trying to focus more on one area (like focusing more on learning new verbs specifically)

Coding by familiarity

If you're going through your textbook and you've come across something before but can't remember it, you could highlight it in one colour to review it, and if you come across something you don't know at all you can highlight it in another colour so you know to focus on it and study it in depth. I did this with the Speed Master N5-N4 vocabulary book when I was reviewing, so I wasn’t wasting time on words I already knew. This made it a lot easier to review since I could focus on those words I didn’t know at all, and then revise the words I was vaguely familiar with. This can make long lists and revision a lot less intimidating, since you can see at a glance how much you already know!

Coding by subsection

If your textbook chapters are divided into vocabulary, grammar explanations, exceptions, example sentences and practice questions, you might want to use a different colour for each subsection for easier reference when reviewing. I tend to use this method with my ‘all round’ textbooks, such as the Vitamin Korean series or An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese. When I review I tend to focus on vocabulary and then go through the grammar points, so this method makes it easy when I’m flicking back through my notes to find the section I’m looking for. This method also works with Korean Grammar In Use as it goes through a lot of the exceptions and rules for each grammar point, so I highlight this in a different colour so I can see at a glance that it’s important and needs extra attention.

Coding by language

If you're learning multiple languages it might help to have designated colours for each language to help your brain filter the information. It can also help you get you in the right mindset when you study if your brain associates certain colours with a certain language. When I first started out with Korean and Japanese, I was using the same highlighters and muji pens for everything, which didn’t help with organising my notes. Then I invested in the mildliner packs, and I use one pack for each language (so there’s 5 different colours for each language). I then use those designated colours with the other colour coding methods depending on the recourse I’m using and my note taking style. This means that now I associate those colours with the designated languages, so it helps me get more in the mindset for studying and my notes are a lot more organised.

Now for my favourite part - stationery recommendations!! These are my favourite pens and highlighters that I love to use when studying and taking notes (as an Amazon affiliate I make a small commission on sales through Amazon links at no extra cost to you!)

What colour coding methods do you like to use? Let me know in the comments!



Great post! I'm learning Japanese on my own and have been using different colored pens in my notes, but I'm going to tweak my "system" thanks to you. :)

Have you used the Genki textbook and workbook for Japanese? The chapters are divided into subsections, but the vocab is all over the place (two chapters have country vocab, for example). How would you go about color coding this? One color or two?

Apr 15, 2021
Replying to

Hi! I'm glad you liked the post ^^

Feel free to mix and match the different methods to find what works best for you. I haven't used the Genki books myself, but based on other 'all round' textbooks you could use one colour for grammar, one for kanji and then 2 or 3 for vocab if you need to (either to divide it by topic/chapter or for nouns, verbs etc). Everyone learns differently and some methods may work better for certain resources so have a little experiment and see how things go, if something doesn't quite work you can always change it again and try something new!

Happy studying :)

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