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!