30 In Korean learning journey (:

Writing in Korean. Thinking in English?

I’m writing something in Korean right now but it’s so frustrating I need a break. I have a question to ask everyone. When you write in Korean, do you think in Korean or do you think in English (or whatever your native language is) first, structure your thoughts in English and then “translate” them to Korean?

I’m doing the former right now and it’s so frustrating that I’m thinking of doing the latter.

Usually when I write diary entries etc in Korean, I think in Korean 100%. I find it more natural and more helpful in improving my Korean. I don’t write about terribly difficult topics and my thoughts just flow naturally in Korean, and my writing feels a little like a monologue of some sort.

But this is different. I have to write something of a more formal nature at the moment, about a topic that I am not (yet) comfortable with writing in Korean. I tried writing it in Korean, and it came out sounding so … simple and child-like. Very unlike the way I would have written it if it was in English. When my writing follow my thoughts in Korean, I can’t seem to think in a “profound or intellectual or academic” way yet. So my sentences end up overly simplified. And the whole writing has little flow. It’s pretty obvious (to me) that my thoughts are all jumbled up when I read it again.

So now I’m thinking if I should structure it first in English before attempting to write in Korean. Part of me refuse to because I know it may become a habit and maybe next time I won’t be able to write Korean without first thinking in English and then translating it to Korean and that will be a huge waste of time (imo). But the other part of me know that I’ll write rubbish if I continue to be stubborn now.

Aggravating. Frustrating.

I have no wish to be reliant (in any sense) on English when it comes to Korean and I don’t want to start right now.

Structuring your thoughts seem to be dependent on language. At least in my case. The process of structuring is seemingly linked to language in my case, and I am the best at doing that in English. Wondering if there’s any way for me to hone that process in Korean.

Also, I think I should start to venture out of my comfort zone for Korean writing. I’m so used to writing blog-style about my mundane life and cultural issues that I can’t seem to write anything else. Maybe I’ll start writing book or movie or drama reviews in Korean. That will be fun.

A lot of people like to tell me that my Korean is very good but I know that it’s not. Maybe cos I’m really ambitious, but I want to be able to do so much in Korean and I can’t do them all yet. I’m not satisfied with being able to read news articles, watch unsubbed dramas/movies, strike up conversations or write simple stuff in Korean. I want to be able to do more.

Maybe my ultimate goal is to be able to do simultaneous interpretation from English to Korean 😀

10 years later, maybe?


Right, I need to go back to writing. Need your thoughts on it.

Think in English? Or think in Korean? 



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  • Reply
    30 January, 2013 at 7:56 PM

    Think in Korean of course! Yeah. I know. Easier said than done! 화이팅!

  • Reply
    30 January, 2013 at 8:21 PM

    I always find your posts so interesting. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Reply
    30 January, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    Haha I speak so little Korean I have no choice but to think in English. When I write something in Korean, I think of the sentence first in English, try to remember all the Korean words I know in that sentence, look up half of the words I don’t know, look up the other half anyway cuz I have no confidence in my ability to remember a word accurately, review all the grammar points again, and then end up redoing most of it cuz I misspelled a lot of words in hangul lol. By that point my brain is so fried I’m done writing for the day haha.

  • Reply
    30 January, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    think in Korean!
    the process of learning is never ending and there is always so much more to learn no matter how good we are at something. so don’t feel discouraged at things you can’t do that well yet 🙂 i’m sure you can do it one day. 화이팅~~^^

  • Reply
    30 January, 2013 at 9:49 PM

    I find that as I grow in my language journey, the more I start to think in Korean when writing in Korean. Though, I still need the dictionary since my vocabulary knowledge isn’t that wide. I also know very limited grammar so I find I always have the same sentence structures, but I’m working on that. ^^

    • Reply
      30 January, 2013 at 10:03 PM

      That’s also my problem. Using the same sentence structures all the time. 🙁

    • Reply
      30 January, 2013 at 10:45 PM

      Whenever I set out to write something in Korean I have a habit of setting grammar usage goals. So if I’ve just learned a new grammar structure I will find a way to work it into my writing, alongside grammar patterns I’m already familiar with. For example, quoting other people (reportive grammar) and various forms of past tense.

      • Reply
        30 January, 2013 at 11:16 PM

        I have that same habit too; whenever I learn new grammar, I’m always eager to try them out. ^^

  • Reply
    Anno (@Acquiring Korean)
    30 January, 2013 at 10:08 PM

    I usually think 100% in Korean and I think it does sound more natural that way (and like you said the ideas are connected differently in English than in Korean). However, like you my writing tends to be somewhat childish and straightforward.

    So I think for formalish writing it might be useful to do it in English first. I find when I write something in English and then try to translate it in dynamically into Korean (trying to convey both the meaning and the feeling) I stretch my vocabulary and grammar.

    I haven’t done it that much but I haven’t found I got any bad habits from it.

    Good luck!

  • Reply
    30 January, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    I try to limit myself to using only English and Korean when studying Korean because most study material will be Korean/English anyway. If I also add my mother tongue, then I think way too many languages are getting mixed in my thoughts. Like you, I wouldn’t phrase sentences the exact same way in either language so I think it would confuse more than it would help.
    Every time I meet with my language partner I have prepared some text from home about the topic of the day. *Ideally*, I try to think of what I want to say (the big picture) in English, then how to put it in Korean, and then when I have written the sentence, I translate what I have written into English to see if it conveys what I really want to say. By having the Korean and English versions written down, it’s also easier for my partner to see if I get some nuances wrong. I think that when writing in Korean, I need to have a semi-structure ready in my head before writing because my writing doesn’t naturally develop if I just jump straight into it. Does that makes sense?
    But: When I get stuck in a sentence, which happens ALL the time, then the order of my thoughts is not Korean-English. Then I end up looking up words, writing a bit here and a bit there there depending on where I think what should go in the sentence. It’s the linguistic version of a mad house! No order at all.
    Obviously I haven’t been studying anywhere near as long time as some of the people here, so my sentences are also really simple, but my language partner will then try to spice it up by saying which words/connectors/something can be substituted for something else to slowly “upgrade” it. E.g. telling me that 그러나 is more used than 하지만 in university essays and so on.
    I hope that I will be able to think only in Korean when doing something in Korean. It’s just going to take some time…

  • Reply
    31 January, 2013 at 12:30 AM

    Definitely think in Korean, when you translate from one language to another it becomes kind of…..I tried doing that before and it came out worst….actually at the moment I am trying to get one of my friend to stop translating prior to speaking another language, she knows a lot of vocabulary and grammar, but she is constantly translating in her mind, which is slowing her down and causing her speech to be unnatural.

    You know how when we were younger the way we start writing is by braining storming, creating a map. Why don’t you try to doing that in Korean, maybe this will help you come up with ideas and allow you to write structurally without forming bad habits. What helps me when I write is just write whatever comes to mind, even if it may sound stupid or grammatically wrong, then I would start mapping out what I wrote then start piecing them together and editing it.

  • Reply
    31 January, 2013 at 4:34 AM

    Hi! I have an ask for you. I’m preparing an esay about Korean habits – things that would probably seen weird in Europe or USA. Do you think you could possibly write about these things a little? Or just to point to things that are worth writing about. I’d be really grateful. Have a nice day 🙂

    • Reply
      3 February, 2013 at 9:03 PM

      mmm there’s quite a lot of differences in drinking culture – like how you have to pour with both hands, refill the cups of elders and never let them stay empty, turn the other way when drinking etc (:

  • Reply
    Renatie Smartie
    31 January, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    voting for thinking in Korean. Or maybe thinking half in English and half in Korean. I think it is useful to think about what you would write in English and then ask yourself how a Korean would phrase it. However, really trying to translate an English text is a trap that can make you think your text will be awesome… and instead it might end up difficult to understand and people would certainly have preferred a simple version to a weird version… Not that I think you’re in danger of writing such a text, but it is a trap that many people seem to fall victim to – I’ve seen it happen very often on lang-8.

  • Reply
    Autonomous Korean
    31 January, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    Thinking in Korean is a good habit, but if it’s limiting your writing to unplanned “speech-like” writing, then it may be beneficial in the long-term to try organizing in English a bit before writing; or else, organize in Korean first.
    One approach to writing is the “genre approach”, looking at certain genres of interest (e.g. review article, formal letter, journal article, etc.). Choose a genre and read extensively in it, try to see the types of structures / formality / conventions etc. that are involved in the genre, and then try writing in that genre. That can help move your writing beyond “written speech”.

  • Reply
    31 January, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    I think definitely in Korean. Have you considered writing in point form, and then thinking in Korean to express what you like to say? I’m not sure whether this will work for Korean but I tend to write down in point form what I want to write so as to ensure there is a certain flow and then think through the points in Japanese when I do my writing.

  • Reply
    31 January, 2013 at 3:23 PM

    I feel kind of good that I’m on the same page as you here.
    Speaking, my thinking is pretty much done in Korean.
    But when I try to write only thinking in Korean, it comes out so horrible.
    I had to write some speeches for Korean class. Fortunately I had a friend who was really good at editting, and made the speech sound so much better and natural.
    I want to improve my written Korean, because when I write now, it’s still all based on spoken Korean. I think one way might just to read things like essays and figure out how formal writing works in Korean. Either that or also look into getting a book on Korean composition.

  • Reply
    1 February, 2013 at 12:28 AM

    I think in English since I’m a beginner. I wish I could think in Korean. I’m going to try now actually ^^.

  • Reply
    1 February, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    u should think in korean! thats my problem too, when i write academic essays in korean, i tend to think in english, so my sentences have the “english structure” according to my korean friend. been practising writing essays in korean 🙁

    • Reply
      3 February, 2013 at 9:07 PM

      I’m totally not trained to write academically so I always come off as more casual in my writing D: Need to practice but don’t really know how to start.

      • Reply
        4 February, 2013 at 12:00 PM

        get those academic writing books! they teach u what kind of vocab to use and which are more often used for 문어 and 구어. they also provide those phrases ie “according to blah blah”… and so on and so forth! quite useful!

        • Reply
          4 February, 2013 at 12:42 PM

          ahhh i have been looking for something like that!! 😀 Do you happen to have any recommendations?

          • ethel
            4 February, 2013 at 2:26 PM

            haha will check the textbook my prof recommended when i was doing 외국인을위한학술쓰기 class and let u know! ^^

  • Reply
    1 February, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    한국어로 생각해보셔야 해요. 문제는 익속하지 않은 주제라 일상생활 대화처럼 쓰게 된 거예요. 주제에 관한 자료를 많이 읽고 상관 어휘나 표현들 더 자연스럽게 머릿속에 떠올리게 될거라고 생각 합니다.

    • Reply
      3 February, 2013 at 9:06 PM

      네, 저도 그렇게 하고 있어요. 그런데 미리 주제에 관한 자료를 많이 읽지 못한 체 빨리 써야 될 경우가 많아요. ㅠㅠ 그럴 때 부족함이 많이 느껴요 ㅠ

  • Reply
    1 February, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    Wow I’m late in the reply or maybe you are getting more comments and visitors 😀 I guess since I’m still a beginner in Korean, I still think in English and translate to Korean :(. I don’t want to do it either, but I currently lack the grammar and vocabulary to make even decent sounding, smooth flowing, pleasant to look at, and understandable sentences. I still need to use a dictionary for unknown vocabulary, and try to find unknown grammar topics. I just wish there was a way to implant all the vocabulary and grammar into our brains haha. But it would take all the fun out of learning a language right? :p Anyways back to the topic in hand, I know you will be able to do what you will set to accomplish. Keep working hard always! 😀

    • Reply
      1 February, 2013 at 12:41 PM

      I forgot write this, but you know what I hate? When you look at a word or grammar and you totally forget what it means and your mind goes blank. But when you look it up and realize.. OMG I should have totally known what that was or you just remember right then.

  • Reply
    Lucie D
    2 February, 2013 at 12:13 AM

    Makes me think of a lady from the language school who has just moved back to the US. She said that she might teach some overseas university students, who even though they passed their TOEFL and other language exams (which allows them to study in the US, they are not able to communicate and write essays/ dissertations in English. So I guess it’s all about learning about aspects of language in a whole new area and learning how to think/express yourself in that language.
    Good luck!

  • Reply
    7 February, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    I think the obvious answer is that it would be better to think in Korean. However, this could be difficult, especially depending on your abilities at the moment. For example, a beginner will lack the necessary vocabulary/grammar and input from natives for smooth writing. As of now, I study somewhat irregularly because of high school and activities and laziness :3, so my Korean is strong yet weak. When writing, I’m very sluggish, but I do think in a Korean-English mashup. Sometimes in day-to-day life a Korean word will come to mind but not the English one (this also happens with Spanish, and I’m sure it will occur with French as well). Just keep persevering. Formal writing is harder. Try to collect your thoughts and write generally in English if need, then put it in Korean.

  • Reply
    10 December, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    Omo.. Im still in the first stage of learning korean. But i used to write korean when my korean friend translates it in korean. But if i had learnt , i sure will tjink in korean. Bcz it will show ur skills n improve well

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