Learning a language with Obsidian (and the LYT framework), my approach and experience

I tried looking around the forum for posts on language learning and Obsidian and didn’t see many, so I thought I would make one on my thoughts and how I’m going about it so far. I hope someone finds this helpful! My current beginner-level workflow (if I can call it that) is described at the end of the post if you’d like to skip to it.

(Just off that bat, so one is disappointed or misled, I don’t use flashcards/a formal SRS system so I don’t have any advice on that… sorry!)

A brief background on my use case. This is the second language I’m embarking on learning. The first was French, which I learned to B1/B2 level through self-study and I’m currently certified advanced for at an advanced level (DALF C1). I guess that qualifies me as a more experienced learner, since I have a better idea of what works for me, personally. For the language I’m studying now (Portuguese) I’m a bit more organized and intentional with both my materials and my set-up and have a better idea of how to prepare for certification tests. I genuinely believe Obsidian suits learning a language through a more “natural approach” quite well.

My main method for learning at the moment is a course called Assimil. The link summarizes the method nicely, but basically you study short dialogues which increase a bit in difficulty/complexity each time. So the idea is much like a child learns a language, you pick up vocabulary and grammar “naturally” (with the help of some grammatical notes) over time, getting a form of spaced repetition as the most common/useful words and phrases show up repeatedly. I’m sure there are other approaches I’m not familiar with which are similar in that they focus on understanding sentences more than traditional memorization/grammar drills and poring over tables of verb conjugations.

I learned French mainly using the Assimil method too, supplemented with some other resources, and it would have been extremely helpful to have an information management system which:

  1. I could add to with a minimum of friction, as since my path wasn’t very clearly linear I wasted way too much time arranging/rearranging my notes or fussing with where to save/find things I was taking from different sources, and
  2. which could adjust to what I needed and how I needed to see my notes, as I moved through the different levels of mastery.

Needless to say, when I found Obsidian and the LYT framework right before I started on Portuguese, I was delighted to see it addressed both those things!

One of the problems with learning a language using this approach that it’s unexpectedly hard to structure your notes, since you are learning and adding as you go, and even supplementing from other sources as you need. Based on my experience with learning a language, sometimes you see phrases in multiple lessons that fall under the same category for you (like a structure you have a hard time with, or a verb tense, or a pronunciation thing…) and have to compile them together under one concept – in a note you might end up misplacing. Sometimes you find that you’re trying to fit a grammar notes in with more abstract notes you have, on culture and concepts like communication style. Some aspects of the language are harder to grasp for than others, and sometimes regardless of their “traditional” difficulty, and you want to be able to easily refer to certain concepts in relation to your current lessons even though technically you’re more advanced. So far I’m finding a fluid framework to note-taking and the ability to link your notes is going a long way towards making the whole learning process more pleasant, and towards avoiding these situations and others like them.

Another issue I feel is addressed really well by Obsidian, and by the concept of MOCs specifically, is that learners can have different needs at different stages. With French, sometimes I needed to have my notes presented to me based on other categories/groupings than the “usual” ones, like by my intended use/situation rather than traditional difficulty, or by the specific language points I was having a hard time with relevant to the task at hand. For example, I was studying for a test which required me to produce argumentative texts on certain topics, and had to do a lot of flipping back and forth in my notes and pulling from different sources to compile information on pertinent concepts/topics/vocabulary/grammar points/etc.

Lastly, I think Obsidian would also be great for language exam prep in general, especially for intermediate to advanced exams. In higher levels you’re expected to be able to understand “specialized” vocabulary and the texts used will be higher-level ones on topics in the sciences, humanities, social sciences (like global warming, climate change, etc.). You’re also expected to be able to express opinions, usually on things like current events and issues of cultural significance. Having a way to more easily manage all that information, alongside and maybe even integrated with my notes on how to express myself when discussing these topics, would have been really helpful not just for learning the language but to add to my knowledge in general. Not to mention, having conversations and arguments, even if it’s with yourself and your own thoughts and ideas, is great practice for doing the same in an exam settings.

Since I’m a beginner in this language, I don’t have anything too dense or complicated right now. As I mentioned above, I’m building structure as I need it. So far I’m finding it refreshingly easy to adapt as I go!

  • All my stuff for this language is in one folder, without sub folders. This is mostly so I can easily pull this out or share it if I want (I know someone else interested in studying the same language).

  • My home note shows my most recent study session note (tag included in my note template, pulled using Dataview), and links to any specific notes/MOCs I’m focusing on right now, so I can hit the ground running right from when I start up Obsidian.

  • My main MOC for my target language is mostly links to other notes and MOCs, including to some notes which are compiled by query. For example, a note listing all the Assimil lessons I’ve taken so far, another showing all the notes tagged Portuguese that I have, etc.

  • My daily lesson notes also contain sentences I think are important/good examples prefaced by Example:: and words/phrases I have a hard time pronouncing prefaced by Pronunciation::. This lets me compile and sort all those examples using Dataview, so I can easily look over my current list once in a while.

  • I have some notes on specific topics/concepts, like cognates and aspects of pronunciation, this will also include cultural notes to help me understand references. I make these so I can easily link them with my daily Lesson notes as needed, which serves two purposes: I can reference the necessary points if I’m on the Lesson note itself, and I can quickly find examples if I’m on the topic note (through the backlinks).

  • I have a note with media I want to get to eventually, like books and movies in Portuguese I hear are good. As I get to watching/reading/listening the different items I’ll take down my impressions of them and if necessary they’ll have their own notes. (For example, I have some song lyrics linked to their translations, to be linked with the pertinent grammar points.)

If you’ve read this far, thank you! And I hope you’ve managed to pick up an idea or two which is useful to you. :slight_smile:


Looking forward to hearing how this works out / evolves over time for you! Thank you for this write-up.

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