This question comes up again and again. Perhaps my experience as an ALG student many years ago is instructive. When I began, I took about three months to settle into the program. The first three months were frustrating as it was a complete paradigm shift – from hard work, home work and study, to entertainment, and letting the brain do whatever it does. It’s not that I was passive – My role was to actively guess about what was going on, and to avoid trying to speak or even think about words. This I have done since that time and I’ve never wanted to go back to the old ways.
What I found was that I understood many easy words, such as ‘then’ and ‘but’ only after a very long time – which I believe if I was translating at any level, would not have been the case. Also, early on I began to understand the gist of things better than my friends who had studied the language, even though I didn’t know equivalents of any words. This later became a very accurate understanding of both the intended meaning and later the language, and without any apparent conscious connection to anything in English, my native language. I actively turned off the adult tendency to connect languages. Therefore, it’s my understanding that I have acquired Thai without any form of translation.