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.


  1. “….focusing on what I do understand over what I don’t understand…”

    I somehow understand what you mean there. I am nowhere close to being fluent in Japanese, but I find that I’m improving. So there I times when I watch a show and I focus on what I do understand and that helps me understand what is happening. That’s good progress I think.


  2. That’s exactly what language taechers keep reminding. “Do not write down every single word you learn or read somewhere after searching for it in a dictionnary. Instead, try to understand with the context.”
    That’s what I did for the first book I read in English. At first, I barely understood what was happening but I kept on reading and finished the book. I thought of the story and I realised that I had understood the whole thing. Obviously, I can’t remember details or new words but it’s a great way to realised how far you’ve gone and to be happy of what you’ve done so far!

    As for Korean, I am just a beginner so I tend to write new words in my notebook and learn one word per day. For now, I only write important words or everyday’s life words. I am also listening to Kpop when I am “on the go” and I am glad to see that I understand more and more of what the artists are saying as it mixes my two ways of learning! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sofie, do you recommend a particular way to organize a writing notebook? I have a categorized vocabulary notebook where I’ve written random sentences with the vocab, but I want to expand into writing something more meaningful.

    Did you develop a structured plan for increasing your written language skills or did you follow the sequence of the lessons in grammar textbooks that are listed on your resources page? I write all over the pages of the TTMIK grammar textbooks that they’ve recently published – love those books. I thought that following the sequence of the rest TTMIK grammar lessons and incorporating the grammar concepts into written sentences about the events of and thoughts about my day might be a good direction to go in terms of writing in context, but welcome your suggestions!


    • Melanie, really good question. I’m afraid my notebooks are far from well-organized. Like you, I’ve also practiced writing new vocabulary in sentences which I highly recommend. As for improving your writing skills I highly recommend writing a short essay or diary entry of some sort at least once a week. It would be even better if you could find a native speaker to correct it for you. Of course I haven’t always done this. After all, it does require some skill to write more complex passages. I have completed some of the writing exercises in the books that I have studied with, but not all. I generally find that when I just set out to write about something I find interesting, it all flows more easily.
      I think you’re on the right track with TTMIK’s awesome material. Seriously, hat’s off to those guys! I’m not sure how helpful this was but please feel free to write me back. Happy studying!


  4. Thanks! I think I’ll not get hung up on the organization thing then, and will just write, write, write instead. I hadn’t thought about writing something like an essay or diary entry yet. I guess I thought I wasn’t ready for that, but setting the bar a little higher is a really good idea. I do need to find a language partner. Thanks again!


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