How many times have you heard this, “one day it just clicked and I could understand the language”, and wondered if there was such a thing? Or maybe you’ve been told, “One day it will just click…” What is this “click” and what does that even mean???
Well, this mystical, mysterious, majestic click… is not the type of click you’re thinking.
Let me explain.
When I first starting learning Korean about four years ago, I always imagined that one day I would just wake up and I would be speaking Korean fluently. That this “click” would happen while I was watching a k-drama or listening to some music or talking with some friends. Anything!
That “click” never came.
What did happen was something very different. I began to realize that the “click” was understanding the basics to learning any language. Which is something you’ve probably heard before too but I’ll explain it. Basically it means that you begin to understand the “how” of doing it. Kinda like the moment you learned how to read or write or to do math or any subject in school. Or maybe when you figured out the answer to a riddle without any help. It’s that “a-ha” moment. That’s the “click.”
The “how” is learning the basics – grammar, sentence structure, rules – and then learning vocabulary and putting it all together in practice. I know you’re tired of hearing that but that’s literally it. There’s nothing special to do other than that. Once you learn the basics, unless you plan on teaching Korean, there’s really no reason to learn advanced grammar principles. Same with English, unless you plan on teaching English there’s really no reason to know any of the advanced material once you graduate. Think of this way, how much of the advanced grammar principles do use on a regular basis in English?
Knowing the basics is enough. Learning vocabulary is so much more important after you understand how to put sentences together. Spelling doesn’t really matter in the beginning stages because it’s not like you’re going to be doing a whole lot of writing. The most important thing is learning the vocabulary and knowing how to pronounce it properly.
So here’s when this”click” happened for me.
It was when someone finally explained “thinking” in Korean. It’s something I had been doing for a while but never really thought too much about it. How do you “think” in another language? Sure, we have our inner voice that we “hear” in our native tongue but how do we switch that to another language?
Knowing vocabulary and basic grammar.
For example, when you think of something, like say a book, instead of mentally saying “I want that book”, you change that sentence to Korean and say “그 책을 싶어.” And you do this with other things like, “I want to drink coffee.” (커피를 마시고 싶다.) [read: I need coffee. Like now.]
So let’s say, by now, you’ve poured all this time, money and energy into grammar books, textbooks, classes, self-help books, other people’s stories on “how they did it” and their “fail-proof way for how you can too” and you still don’t get it. You still can’t speak it fluently so how are you honestly supposed to “think” in Korean fluently?
Ways to Practice: (when you’re doing this on your own)
- You see a cell-phone. Don’t just say “that’s a cellphone” switch it to “그거 핸드폰이야” in your mind when you see it.
- I know. I know. It sounds crazy! It sounds absolutely insane. But as you’re reading this right now, you’re already doing it. Just in English.
- Translate things for yourself. If you go to the grocery store, make your grocery list in Korean. And yes you absolutely can use a reference guide as you make your list.
- Your list can look like this:
- 우유 – for cereal
- 치약 – for teeth
- Make notes, like the ones I added, for words that you’re not really sure you remember 100%. And on the back of your list you can have it written in English just so you’re not forgetting anything important and have to make another trip.
- If you watch a movie and hear a common phrase in English, think of how you would say that in Korean.
- Challenge yourself.
- Full immersion watching movies and shows and just listen. You don’t have to understand everything but trust me something is sticking. And plus, you’re only listening for vocabulary words and phrases anyway.
You’ll know when you’ve advanced to a point where you can start watching shows without subs. Going without subtitles isn’t helpful for everybody so don’t feel left behind if you’re three years in and you still need subtitles. (Because sometimes they just talk really fast and now you’re lost and confused on what’s happening.) The important part is listening. As long as you’re listening to how they say different words and phrases and picking up on the vocabulary, that’s all that really matters. If you can associate what you hear with what you’re reading then you’re learning something.
The “click” isn’t a magical language switch. “Thinking” in Korean might not be the “click” for you. Maybe it’s association with words and pictures. Maybe it’s what you hear and see in the movies you watch or the songs you listen to. Maybe it’s a conversation that you overheard or had with somebody. It can be a number of things that’ll happen.
The “click” is really just finally understanding how to learn a language.