21 In Korean learning journey (:

Frustration of listening in a foreign language

This post is inspired by a conversation with a good friend a week ago ^^ We were talking about studying Korean and he started telling me about his frustration with his listening skills in Korean. He’s a non-Asian living in Korea right now. This means that he gets loads of input around him, but he pointed out that once he asked the other person to repeat / give a sign that he’s not catching the conversation, the other party will automatically switch to English and he doesn’t get anymore listening practice.

This doesn’t really happen to me, maybe because I am Asian and the Koreans find it more ‘natural’ to speak to me in Korean? haha I don’t know.

The conversation brought back memories of the development of my own speaking skills. I remembered that when I first started out in 2008, the first 6 months or so were a little difficult. I had to put in 1000000% concentration and to listen to short dialogues (from textbooks etc) repeatedly in order to catch what they are saying. Everything in dramas etc were still like a whole string of speech to me.

Things got better slowly and I had no troubles with parsing the speech and listening to material for my standard. My listening improved with my grammar and my vocabulary bank.

It’s easier to ‘hear’ something that you know than something that you are unfamiliar with. Especially for foreign languages. You can recognize a known word more easily compared to a new word even though you technically know all the sounds in Korean. Does that make sense? This also probably explain why it’s so easy to hear and understand your native language in a noisy environment while you need to turn on the volume loud and be in a quiet environment for a foreign language.

It’s hilarious, but does anyone has the experience of turning the volume louder in the illusion that if you do so, you can catch the words in Korean more easily? I know I’m guilty of that.

I glare at anyone who disturbs me when I’m listening to those dialogues on the CDs.

Similarly, it’s easier to catch a known grammar structure than an unknown one. That is why listening skills will improve proportionately to your other proficiencies. That being said, it’s not true that you don’t have to do additional practice. Listening practice is still very much important.

But I want to stress something: Do not be too harsh on yourself if you still have difficulty with it.

Let me share my experiences ^^ When I finally begin to be able to understand natural speech (not in the textbook CDs), I can only concentrate for maybe 30 mins or so before I get so exhausted and stop comprehending.

When I first talked to a Korean via phone / skype calls, I was simply a nervous wreck. It was SO MENTALLY DRAINING. It’s a natural process.

The first breakthrough for me was when I first went to Korea. Suddenly, everything becomes clearer. A sudden jump.

When I came back, I could suddenly hold a Korean conversation (in terms of listening) for an hour or so before I start spacing out again. xD

And during that year, there was another sudden jump (in Singapore) where I could start understanding dramas / shows without subs. A little tedious, but I’m still able to do so. That feeling is awesome. It’s like something is being unblocked in your mind.

The next sudden jump was my next trip to Korea. And everything becomes SUPER CLEAR. I could hang out with a bunch of Koreans (who do not slow down for me) for half a day and I am still very much alive and energetic.

By the end of the trip, I could hang out with Koreans (and listen to them) all day long (:

I am now able to watch sageuks without subs (or at least 해품달) and also majority of other types of programs.

I’m still a little iffy with movies where there tends to be VERY FAST speech and loads of mumbling, but I have watched several movies without subs.

All these took me 4 years. ^^

Everyone is different and you can take a shorter or a longer time than me. Just want to share my experiences to encourage those who are experiencing frustrations with their Korean studies (:

I need to read more inspiring posts for Japanese OTL

I always welcome suggestions on what to blog about. It helps me too xD

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    jewirojewtiowji
    17 February, 2012 at 11:38 AM

    I don’t know if you follow ajatt but I follow AJATT and I think the best way is to keep listening.

    http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/10000-hours-building-listening-comprehension
    http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/why-you-should-keep-listening-even-if-you-dont-understand

    my experience is with japanese but … basicaly you just get used to it and the more you listen to it, the faster you’ll get usedto it.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      17 February, 2012 at 7:43 PM

      I heard of AJATT but not that familiar with his methods. I’ve been listening to random Japanese podcasts and I like it 😀 not that I understand what they are saying though.

  • Reply
    myen
    17 February, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    ahhh i struggled with listening even in basic class sometimes.

    the teacher will speak in a normal Korean speed and somtimes the words just fly past me before i can even catch any word and i will just stare back blankly.

    but i agree, you will start experiencing jumps.

    even at the basic level, there’s one day when i started being able to pick out words and understand part or the simpler full sentences. and when i revisit my audio clips, i realized i didnt struggle anymore.

    so i guess the trick is to really press on

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      17 February, 2012 at 7:43 PM

      pressing on is definitely the only way to go ^^

  • Reply
    gamcho
    17 February, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    It’s strange because I can barely understand anything I hear pre-recored such as dramas or podcasts – but I can understand when I talk to Koreans in person. Although… I’m not sure if it’s because they are using simpler sentences with me.

    And I agree that it’s easier to understand known words/grammar patterns. It’s weird because they sounds crystal clear to me, and the rest of the sentence seems indistinct haha 😀

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      17 February, 2012 at 7:42 PM

      haha! that’s interesting xD I find real people harder D:

  • Reply
    J
    17 February, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    At least I know I’m not the only one who turns up the volume while watching k dramas and listening to TTMIK.

    I hope to experience that jump you talked about soon! TT

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      17 February, 2012 at 7:42 PM

      The jump will come when u least expect it ^^

  • Reply
    Julia
    17 February, 2012 at 6:31 PM

    Great post! I think we all struggle with this sometimes, it’s a natural process. I am currently re-watching dramas that I’ve previously watched, but without subtitles this time around. I can only understand a few words or short sentences here and there, but that’s fine. I can usually roughly remember the storyline of a drama and watching it without subtitles forces me to actually listen to what is being said. Watching new dramas without subtitles would be too furstrating for me at this point, but watching old ones is fine. I have also ripped the audio from several episodes of my favourite drama (coffee prince) and put the files on my iPhone. I listen to them at night when I go to bed and sometimes in the morning (if I have the time to lie in bed for another few minutes heheh) and I think it really helps. I do try to make the audio excercises from my textbooks a regular part of my studies, but when I’m not actively studying (as in, when I’m not sitting at a desk) I prefer to do fun things like the methods I mentioned above. Because, really, there’s a limit to how many times I have the patience to listen to what character X from texbook X does on the weekend (or during school vacation…or at work…etc.). ^^;;

    Anyway~~ good luck to your friend! 🙂

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      17 February, 2012 at 7:41 PM

      haha!! i totally agree with you. Watching an old drama without subs is a great idea! 😀 creates less anxiety too~ 😀

    • Reply
      alodia
      18 February, 2012 at 2:38 PM

      I like ripping audios from dramas too. I like listening to music but since I’m not really a music lover, it sometimes bores me. So instead, I listen to dramas. These days, watching an old drama is just so great. Being able to understand a big portion of something I can only understand with subtitles before is just soooooo~ amazing! 🙂

  • Reply
    Lucie Dvorakova
    17 February, 2012 at 7:50 PM

    So I guess it takes about 4 years of intensive study to achieve some what of fluency in a language. Guess I have another 2 – 3 years of intensive language study before I can start understanding around 80% percent of what is spoken and written. @_@

    • Reply
      skyfullofstarsinthemiddleoftheday
      17 February, 2012 at 8:15 PM

      Ahaha, no it doesn’t take that long for everyone. I know a bunch of people, (but they’re mainly Japanese learners) that got to that place within 2 years of study! 😀

      • Reply
        Lucie Dvorakova
        17 February, 2012 at 10:18 PM

        Guess it depends on what you consider fluency and how much effort is put in. Unfortunately I’ve never been a consistent learner. After six years of French, I’m still intermediate (ok, I admit I’m not that excited about French), after 7 years of Japanese (I’m still intermediate as well… main reason is because I can’t read Kanji T.T).
        I really wish I placed more effort into my language learning and tried to get more fun and exciting opportunities to learn.

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      17 February, 2012 at 9:13 PM

      it really depends ^^ I got my TOPIK level 4 (intermediate) cert within 2 years of studying but I still didn’t think I was fluent in Korean at all.

      • Reply
        skyfullofstarsinthemiddleoftheday
        18 February, 2012 at 3:24 AM

        Yeah a lot of people don’t consider themselves fluent after about 2 years of study. But they usually know enough to watch things without subs, etc. But I guess it just depends on what kind of learner you are, etc.

  • Reply
    Y
    17 February, 2012 at 8:48 PM

    hey, just wanna know, how long did you learn korean for you to be able to comfortably converse in korean? I’d be going korea probably next jan-feb and i want to start learning the language so that i can travel around comfortably and understand people. I’ve always been having an interests in language anyway! ^^

    • Reply
      hangukdrama
      17 February, 2012 at 9:15 PM

      haha it really depends on what you define as comfortably converse. ^^ Most of my friends learn Korean for around 2 years to hold up a very simple conversation ^^

  • Reply
    Xing Wei Poh
    18 February, 2012 at 9:59 PM

    I find listening much harder than reading or writing… 🙁 As you said, things get easier when you get exposed to more grammar structures.

  • Reply
    alodia
    19 February, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    Because subbing Korean dramas (aka Kim Sun Ah dramas XD) is one of my hobbies, my ears were trained to listening – dramas! I’ve been subbing for years and has always been a timer, so I have to rewind and play every freaking sentence gazillion times to make sure I put the subs on it’s proper place and then test whether the subs are too fast or too slow. I may not understand everything, but I can somehow space things out and determine word boundaries. Subbing alone didn’t help me in learning Korean, but it does helps me in remember things that I’ve learned (from textbooks/lessons) that I encounter when subbing and it makes me comfortable/less stressed in listening.
    However, because I only sub dramas, I’m only comfortable in “drama talk” (that are often full sentences, slower pace and no overlaps – not to mention cheesy lines!). I remember I was watching a Kim Sun Ah drama live and my Korean has improved while watching the drama from Episode 1 to the point of being able to simultaneously translate some scenes to fan forums while watching the last episodes live. It boosted my confidence thus I was so excited to watch a variety show live thinking I could understand many things now. I ended up not understanding anything – not even a clue as to what was happening! OTL
    And yes, I REQUIRE a good headset when listening to anything Korean (and Mandarin)!

  • Reply
    fly
    21 February, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    Just typing a small simple conversation on me2day with a native speaker left me exhausted… so I can see what you mean even though I’m just a beginner with the Korean language 😀

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