No more “mental translation”

If I’m being honest with myself, I haven’t really touched the Korean language books I bought back in April.  I do occasionally flip through them, but I can’t bring myself to take notes or work on the exercises.  I don’t know if it’s because I prefer the more dangerous route of context learning… that is, not really reading proper grammar explanations, but “inferring” them from reading and/or listening to A LOT of Korean.  The reason I consider this somewhat dangerous is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know how to use a certain phrase or grammar point, but in reality you’ve failed to grasp its subtleties and proper usage.  Until recently, I felt like my Korean progress stagnated because I haven’t touched my grammar books.

But something has clearly changed in the past couple months.

I find that my brain is starting to comprehend Korean better.  I’m not sure if I’m expressing this the right way but… well, before, when I was watching a drama, whenever I came across a phrase I would understand, I would pause the video, mentally translate the Korean phrase into English, and then move on.  The same thing would happen when I read.   I’d come across a sentence in Korean, pause, translate and rearrange the phrases so it made sense in English, comprehend, and then continue onto the next sentence.

Now when I watch a drama, I can understand a lot of what’s being said without the need for this “mental translation.”  I can actually understand real-time Korean!  It’s amazing how my mind seems to go blank when I’m watching  a Korean drama, just like when I watch something in English.  What used to be an active language-learning endeavor for me is slowly becoming more and more passive.  Sometimes I don’t even notice that I’m not reading the subtitles.  Now if only I can learn words faster so I can do away with subtitles completely!!  My reading has gotten more fluent as well.  If I know all the words, I usually don’t have to stop and mentally translate whatever I’m reading.  In fact, my brain seems to have developed a contextual “sense” of some of the difficult-to-translate Korean words and phrases.  That is, I can read and comprehend certain phrases in Korean, without needing to mentally translate – because the mental translation itself would be weird in English.

As for writing, I think I only started writing longer, essay-type compositions after I did away with mental translation; before then, I just didn’t have the confidence to write anything because I knew my “ear” for Korean writing hadn’t developed yet.  Sadly, my Korean speaking is nonexistent so I have no idea how much I can think on my feet in Korean without thinking about what I want to say in English first.  I think I’d be really horrible at carrying a real-time conversation in Korean.

I’m still working on being able to comprehend Korean fully without having to resort to mental translation.  Sometimes, with more complicated words, I find myself going back to thinking in English and usually end up confusing myself.  I can only hope with more reading and listening practice, I’ll get better at this!

1 Comment

  1. katecdet says:

    Nice post!

    Actually, when I watch korean dramas or variety shows or listen to korean songs, I feel that kind of “blank” moment. hahaha. It’s like when my brother would ask me, “what did they say? Translate it for me.” I CAN’T!!! Hahaha. Sometimes, I can’t translate it in English properly but I absolutely understood what they said. Maybe that’s the thing you mentioned “real-time korean”. Ihahaha..


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