Listening

How to Improve Your Korean Listening Ability

Have you ever had this thought?

“Even though I know all these words, I just can’t seem to understand people when they say them to me in real life?”

I know I sure have.

Anyone who has studied Korean for a while knows that one’s listening ability can be one of the most frustratingly difficult things to improve. Sometimes it feels impossible, like trying to push a giant boulder up a hill.

This blog post today is meant to serve two purposes: proving to you that it is not impossible to improve your Korean listening ability and to leave you with actionable tips for how to do it yourself.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

학습을 하는 데에 있어서는 there are two kinds of people in this world: those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. That is to say that most people either believe that their intelligence is fixed—“I am just as smart as I am”—or they believe that their intelligence can grow—“I am this smart now but with time and effort I can become more intelligent.”

Which kind of person are you?

A number of years ago, when I came across this TED talk by Carol Dweck entitled “The Growth Mindset”, this simple point made by the Stanford professor 시원하게 fixed a long held 고정관념 I had had about my own intelligence since a young age.

I always thought school was designed to show me how intelligent I was. Tests were a measure of this, and based on my scores I could tell how smart I was, in much the same way a tape measure can tell you how tall you are. I had held the belief that my intelligence was like height—it grows to a certain point then stops.

But Dweck, in this short talk, very aptly points out the obvious: The brain is like a muscle, and as such, 키울 수 있다는 말이다. With time and effort—mental heavy lifting, if you will—it can be strengthened and even grow.

For me, the belief that intelligence is essentially limitless set me free and made learning Korean seem less like climbing into space and more like bodybuilding.

The belief that it is possible is the foundation for everything to come.

So with that said, let’s come back to your Korean listening ability:

How Your Mindset Impacts Your Korean Listening Ability

“Koreans talk too fast”, some may say. 그리고 당연히 “The men don’t speak clearly enough” or even “they mumble too much!”라고 할 수는 있는 것이다. But these are all 핑계거리라는 말이다. These words are spoken only by those with a fixed mindset. It is as if they are saying “This is the way it is, and it can’t be changed.”

Refusing to see it this way, successful Korean listeners focus on what they can control. They do the following:

  1. They find content that interests them on the internet (YouTube videos or podcasts) and listen to that content over and over.

  2. They continue to do this relentlessly, all the while holding in mind that with time, their ears WILL eventually open up.

  3. They “soak their ears in Korean” for so long that the ears begin to “soften” and, seemingly magically, Korean becomes more easy to understand.

I have had my students learning English do this as well, and although it took a while, they have all eventually said “귀가 점점 열리는 거 같아요" - “My ears are starting to open up!” and with a big smile on their faces they say “요즘 영어가 더 잘 들리는 거 같아요!” - “I feel like I’m hearing English more clearly these days!”

As their teacher, I couldn’t be happier to hear this. They are surprised at the results, but I am not. I have known all along that this is the way because I have experienced it myself with both Korean and Spanish for years, at different levels of fluency. I have seen results doing repetitive listening at the advanced level, as well as when I was a beginner. The results do differ, but they are significant.

The Value of Repetitive Listening

When beginners listen repetitively, they will likely notice one or more of the following:

  • Korean sounds become easier to hear

  • Korean words become easier pronounce correctly, or at least notice when one is mispronouncing something

  • The melodic nature of Korean becomes clear to them, and as a result, they are able to feel the beauty of the language.

When those who are a bit further along with learning do repetitive listening, they will notice that:

  • Words at the beginning of the sentence become more clear

  • The wide variance in sentence endings becomes more obvious (although the meaning of many may remain unclear for some time, this is normal)

  • 아는 단어가 잘 들린다! They are able to hear clearly the words that they know!

Those who have entered the conversational stage of learning Korean will notice that:

  • How fast someone is talking becomes less important for understanding them

  • Keeping up with the flow of conversation gets easier

  • Their own speaking speed may increase as well.

And those who have kept up a repetitive listening practice for years will notice that:

  • Their 억양 naturally starts to sound more Korean, without them even knowing it’s improving

  • They are able to feel the emotions of Korean speakers when they speak through their tone

  • Studying vocab and memorizing phrases becomes MUCH MUCH easier because they can “hear it in their head.”

Repetitive Listening Success Requires a Growth Mindset

All of the above are things that I have both experienced myself and heard others report after developing and sticking to a solid repetitive listening practice. Most people, however, get discouraged early on, and for one of the following reasons and give up as a result.

  1. “If I can’t understand what they’re saying, what good does it do to listen over and over?”

  2. “I listened to this thing ten times and I still can’t understand a word they’re saying.”

  3. “I can’t stand listening to the same thing over and over. I just get so antsy and frustrated that I can’t do it.”

All of these are focused on what currently feels true, not what is possible. This is another way of saying that they are rooted in the fixed mindset.

For number 1, not being able to understand is not a permanent thing. With enough repetitions, familiarization with the content is inevitable. Think about it. If you listened to the same five-minute clip everyday for the rest of your life, would you not be able to recite it on your deathbed? A learner with the growth mindset knows this, and plows forward confidently.

Number 2는 this shows that the learner went into it with short term expectations. They thought that ten listens would bring clearly noticeable results. They wanted a shortcut. But just like any marathon athlete, bodybuilder, or redwood tree will tell you, true growth has no shortcuts. It is slow, but steady. Repetitive listening must become a habit to take 효과.

And 3번은 this 답답함이 is a result of wanting to speed up the process and get it over with. Have you ever seen a child trying to grow faster? Nature shows us two things very 분명하게: with the right environment and nutrients, EVERYTHING living grows, and the speed of growth is affected by the quality of it’s 환경과 영양분.

Conclusion

So, there’s no need to feel despair anymore about your Korean listening ability. It is not fixed. All you have to do is create a proper environment for growth and let it happen. We can help nature, but in the end, we must let it do its work. 필자는 반복 듣기를 통해 자연이 얼머나 위대한지를 느낄 수 있다고 생각한다. 더 많은 한국어 학습자들도 느낄 수 있기를 바란다.

For more videos and in depth explanations about repetitive listening, you can check out this playlist on the Motivate Korean YouTube channel.