Language learning (well, in my experience) involves a lot of review. A LOT. Pounding that vocabulary into my brain again and again; over and over.

I spend a lot of time on the computer, so, naturally, the computer is my primary language-learning resource. Writing things down generally makes a person remember them better, however, since I learn mostly on the computer, I'm not physically writing things down just a whole lot.

With regards to language learning, which already has a lot of repetition and review to it, does writing things down manually generally strengthen the memory considerably faster than memorizing solely with computer-related tools?

(Note: until this meta question is resolved, answers should (ideally) be citing some sort of study)


2 Answers 2



As seen in this article (though not primarily about linguistics), it promptly states:

Some neuroscientists are not so sure. They think that giving up handwriting will affect how future generations learn to read. “Drawing each letter by hand substantially improves subsequent recognition,” Gentaz explains.

Drawing each letter by hand improves our grasp of the alphabet because we really have a “body memory”, Gentaz adds. “Some people have difficulty reading again after a stroke. To help them remember the alphabet again, we ask them to trace the letters with their finger. Often it works, the gesture restoring the memory.”

To shorten the above, writing can help people read and interpret the text faster, which is important in mastering any language. This also means writing words down will also help store these new words into our brains a lot faster. For those with difficulty, people were told to trace the letters and the memories were immediately restored, proof of the effectiveness of writing.

In this other article, the written summary is:

Writing by hand strengthens the learning process. When typing on a keyboard, this process may be impaired. Neurophysiologists have examined research which goes a long way in confirming the significance of these differences. When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback is significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.

Basically, our actions used to write send feedback back to the brain, which is allows the brain to take in information faster, rather than the poor feedback sent from a keyboard.

When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps us recognise letters. This implies a connection between reading and writing, and suggests that the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading, Mangen explains.

And here, writing can also help with reading letters faster and word recognition speed. Visual recognition is critical in learning (and for reading) and writing helps improve these skills.

  • I would like this answer better without the article from The Guardian. A hand-picked opinion from an expert isn't much better than any other anecdote. Preferably posts should be backed up by peer-reviewed work or articles that directly cite peer-reviewed work. The Science Daily article is better, but still not as good as going all the way to the source.
    – Gwen
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 5:20
  • When I study kanji in Japanese I often write them in my head, instead of just passively reading them. I wonder how this compares with writing by hand. Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 10:17

The Goldlist method is based on this assumption. I haven't found any peer reviewed articles on it, though. This article (citing research by Mueller and Oppenheimer) suggests that we do learn better by physically taking notes. Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-Term Comprehension. It isn't specifically for language learning, though.

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