7 In Others / General

How to practice listening in a foreign language?

A valid but hard to answer question. Isn’t the answer simply to keep on listening?

I remembered vaguely that I blogged about it. Did a quick search and >> Frustration of listening in a foreign language 

(I always feel like I’m gaining new insight from my past self -.-)

Someone once ask me how do I know if my understanding of what I listened was “correct”. That really stumped me and made me realise that the answer to the topic may not be so simple.

I don’t have a magic formula, but here are some tips and pitfalls to avoid.

Over-reliance on subs or transcripts

I know how scary it is to listen to something but be unable to check if you are “right” or not. It’s like removing your safety net and you start to be hyper-vigilant, wanting to catch every single syllabus/word and second-guessing yourself. Or be too afraid to try such materials.

That is not the way to go. You should assume that what you are listening and understanding is “right” if it kinda all make sense. If there are certain words you didn’t manage to catch, just move on. Don’t be overly reliant on textbook dialogues.

Even if you are using subbed materials, please listen to the stuff raw (not looking at transcript) for the first time.

Listen more, listen widely

Everyone speaks in a different way. Just like how you are unlikely to find people talking like a BBC anchor, you aren’t going to find a lot of people who speak like the person who recorded your textbook mp3 files. It’s easy to have a “favourite voice” and be reliant on it. (mine was Maybee unni from KBS radio) But NO. Listen to both genders, people of all ages, backgrounds etc.

A lot of people have problems listening to older people / non-Seoulites speak in Korean but I loveee those accents heh. A good way to practice would be to watch documentaries or those 시사 프로 like 그것이 알고 싶다. I love 극한직업 (link to youtube channel) and I watched one ep of 항아리 makers and totally gained a lot of respect for them and their craft.

Understand that listening goes hand in hand with your proficiency

Just like how you can’t expect your proficiency to grow overnight, the same goes for listening. Your listening skills is linked to your overall proficiency. It’s harder to listen to “a string of words” compared to words you already know. Don’t blame yourself for not “catching the sounds” even though you have the whole of Hangeul pronunciation / syllabus remembered. Listening is not about “sounds” but “words”. If you don’t know the grammar point / vocabulary, it is unlikely that you would catch it, especially as a beginner.

Don’t be too harsh on yourself!

Listen everyday

I can’t emphasise this more. Do both active and passive listening. Active meaning you concentrate like mad to decipher the meaning lol. Passive being to simply let it play in the background. The former is good practice and the latter helps you familiarise yourself with the intonation etc. I listen to Korean for at least an hour or two each day nowadays. Back at my peak (lol), I used to listen to it every moment when I’m awake and at home, which means around 9 hours at least.

Do take note and not turn on the volume too loud ;;

Any other tips to share? 

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  • Reply
    15 October, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    Great post! I’m so guilty of not practicing active listening. I’ve done passive listening and some shadowing, but after a while of trying to listen actively, since my vocabulary is horrible, I switch to passive. In my mind it’s like, “Oh hey I understand this a bit… OH GOD NO YOU LOST ME TURN BACK TURN BACK!”

    I loveeee the different dialects so much. The first one I want to learn more of is the dialect used in Busan because I adore it so much. A ton of my biases speak it too. I can’t even describe why I love it. I just do, haha.

    You used to do about nine hours a day? That’s amazing. You cease to amaze me with how much you put into studying at your peak. I have TONS of free time these days so this is what I should be aiming for. It’s so inspiring.

    By the way, I don’t know if I’ve asked or told you this before, but I’m having the hardest time juggling Japanese and Korean. OTL I want to choose just one and put most of my time and energy into it and then go onto the next one because it seems more practical, but I’m to the point where I enjoy both so much I just can’t choose. When I choose Japanese, I end up reading Korean material; when I choose Korean, I end up writing to people in Japanese. I’ve tried just studying whatever I feel like at the moment and then switching languages every week or so (and maybe this is all because I’m not as diligent as I used to be ) but I feel I’m not making sufficient progress or at least putting in enough effort.

    • Reply
      21 October, 2014 at 9:06 PM

      Thanks for the comment 😀 yeah I always wonder which one to choose, so I end up doing both and switch as and when my mood changes. I think it’s efficient, since you are making progress in both! Language learning take years (ohwell, forever), so I don’t think it’ll be efficient to wait until you are ‘sufficiently’ good in a language to start the other one. I’m glad that I started Japanese in 2012 because I could see how much progress I made in the past 2 years (at least in reading/listening) even though I haven’t really been concentrating on it

  • Reply
    15 October, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I too have problems with my listening skills! I hope to improve my listening skills slowly by using these tips! 감사합니다, 샨나 씨!! ♡♥

    • Reply
      21 October, 2014 at 9:06 PM

      ♥ ♥

  • Reply
    18 October, 2014 at 9:25 PM


    It has been so long! I hope you remember me?

    My brother recently started work in Samsung (in Seoul), and thus had to do a crash course in Korean. He was so stressed out it was funny. I guess some people just don’t like learning languages, so it becomes a chore…

    I on the other hand am learning a new language! Bahasa Indonesia~ going to class reminded me how I loved learning languages. On the first day the teacher asked me if I were Indonesian, cos my pronunciation sounded very Indonesian. That is one of the best praises one can ever get, no? I was beaming haha… ok 자기 자랑 그만. ㅋㅋ… 샤나씨 도 이런말을 많이 들어
    봤으니까… 느낌 아시죠…
    So I will remember your tips above for my Bahasa journey… listen listen and listen! 듣고, 듣고, 또 들어야 해야, 진도가 나간당~

    • Reply
      21 October, 2014 at 9:09 PM

      wow congrats to your bro! It’s not easy to get in right >< I can't imagine being 'forced' to learn a language within a stipulated time. I wonder how I'll cope in that situation. mmm hahaha is that your 4th language or more? Any reasons why you decided to take it up? Just curious! ㅋㅋㅋ 그 맘은 잘 알죠 ㅎㅎ 화이팅!! 참. 담 달 15일에 모임이 있는데 시간이 되면 오세용 ㅋㅋ

  • Reply
    24 October, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    I normally learn the new vocabularies & grammar points first when I start every chapter, and goes into active listening mode, only reviewing the dialogue if I really can’t figure out the word and when I’m done listening at the end. And I really do prefer listening to all sorts of gender & of all age speeches, you know, everyone has a different way of speaking where some are easier to listen while some are not.

    Great post though, I still have a lot of difficulties catching Korean speeches..

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