I always carry a notebook with me. Always! As a language learner it is probably one of my most important tools. I used to write several pages in my notebook every single day, meticulously filling the blank pages with new words, sentences, or grammar patterns. However, as I took out my notebook yesterday to prepare a Korean news article for a study session with my LP, I suddenly noticed something. The last notebook entry was over a week old and considering that I started writing in this notebook in December, I had filled out surprisingly few pages. I started wondering why this could be, because I sure feel I’m studying Korean harder than ever these days!
So what happened? Why did I stop writing everything down?
I reached the conclusion that I must have stopped writing everything down, because I simply didn’t feel the need to do so anymore. A few months ago, whenever I would talk to my language partner I would pull out my notebook and write down all the Korean wisdom that he shared with me. And I’m not kidding; even one Friday night in a bar after quite a few beers he said something clever that caused me to pull out my notebook from my purse and have him write it down while sitting on a bar stool. Class is always in session, right? Anyway, I gradually stopped writing everything down, and to my surprise I still feel that I learn and remember just as well. How can this be? The only explanation I can think of is that my Korean is naturally improving. Now, whenever I speak in Korean I can easily recall what we were talking about and how it was phrased. Yesterday, for instance, the expression “시간문제로 보이다” (it’s a matter of time) came up, and I didn’t stop to write it down. It just instantly got stored my brain. I can only conclude that the more Korean I know, the easier it becomes to learn something new. It’s much like the force of compounding, which, according to a quote by Einstein, is the strongest force in the universe. The more money you have in the bank, the more interest you’ll earn. The more Korean you already know, the more easily you’ll learn new things.
But then, without my notebook, how do I review? I make mental notes of words and expressions, visualize them in Hangeul (easy when I read or watch subtitled dramas) and let them flash through my mind whenever I take a break or before I fall asleep. It’s astonishing how powerful the mind is when it comes to remembering things. I used to have almost photographic memory when I was younger, and even though this skill not as strong as it used to be, I’m happy to find that I do remember a lot.
Now, whenever I read a book or watch a drama episode in Korean I just focus on following the plot, instead of frantically looking up every new word and writing it down. In other words, I’ve found that focusing on what I do understand over what I don’t understand has been a helpful strategy for my Korean progress. Finally, when you subcontiously tell your brain that you’re not writing this down, you’re more likely to store the information since you know you won’t be able to check your notes later if you forget what you have learned.
Therefore, even though it may be scary at first, I urge all intermediate/advanced Korean learners out there to try just one day without your notebooks. It may help you more than you can imagine.