After having seen a super cool TED talk with two guys setting out to learn 4 (four!) languages in 1 (one!) year by using absolutely no English I was really intrigued. They succeeded in reaching a decent conversation level in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Korean in just one year by sticking to the strict but simple rule of no English.

Challenge accepted! I decided then and there that I would use the same strategy with my Korean studies. Since then I’ve spoken strictly in Korean with my online instructors. If they say something I do not understand, I ask them (in Korean) to rephrase the sentence speaking more slowly and/or using simpler words. This is a great exercise, and it forces me to constantly think in Korean too.

I took this rule a step further by also banishing English from my notebooks. Usually, I would write the English translation next to a newly learned Korean word or phrase, but lately I’ve written a Korean synonym or a brief Korean description of the word instead. In this way, I find that I now think and write more in Korean, where I used to go about my Korean learning thinking “what does this mean in English?”

Naver online dictionary is a great resource for this practice as it provides concise Korean explanations and synonyms for almost any word. I’ve even started to just write down a newly learned Korean word in my notebook without any definition or translation at all. The logic behind this strategy is that when I don’t write down the meaning of a word, I tell my subconscious to remember the usage of the word. This works much in the same way as my past memory of phone numbers and birthdays before smartphones and Facebook. Back then, I was excellent at retaining such information which I now always forget because I can easily look it up. So, by not using English I feel that I’m finally learning Korean without training wheels. And just like getting rid of the training wheels allow you to go faster on your bike, my Korean vocabulary seems to expand faster than ever simply by using the “No English Rule”.


  1. In general it’s probably a good thing to force ourselves to remember things, be it phone numbers, Korean vocabulary or court numbers for important verdicts/whatever linked to your profession. I think it will improve our memory in other aspects of life too simply because we’re trained to remember. A while ago I spoke to someone who couldn’t even remember his own mother’s birthday if not allowed to look at his phone. He even admitted that his entire family once forgot it until the day had passed. That’s just sad… I’ve met people who really take it to the next level because they work from the perspective that they can always just look up everything. Then conversations begin to seem a bit “oh what’s the name of that German guy I don’t like? aah yes, Alzheimer”.

    I really like writing out words since it also activates the “physical memory” 🙂 I have found the same word several times in my notes because it obviously didn’t stick the first time, but it becomes more familiar by writing it rather than just reading, looking up, and moving on 🙂

    Will you make a status on the Korean-only approach at some point? 🙂
    I actually did something similar for a grammar note book I have. I decided only to write Korean in it from page 1. Explaining Korean grammar to myself in Korean was a lot harder than expected 😉


    • Haha, it’s scary how little many people remember these days. What so many seem to forget is that the brain is not a limited storage space but on but rather a muscle that grows when you train it 😀

      I’ll be sure to write an update on the No English Rule 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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