In general I don’t think that one point or area of language learning should ever be considered more important that other points, however to me, I seem to have been the most worried about my listening skills. When I finished TTMIK Level 1 grammar lessons, I tried the audio test to see whether I was ready for Level 2 or not and when I listened to the mp3 track, I didn’t catch the words at all. I listened again and again and after 6 times I was able to follow along and I felt ready for Level 2. This was of course great, but it really freaked me out that my bad listening skills could cause THAT much trouble and confusion, so since that day I couldn’t help but to focus a bit extra on listening, whenever I was studying – And also when I wasn’t studying!
How to improve one’s listening skills obviously varies depending on what works the best for you, and during my language learning journey I have tried out several things. I try to expose myself to a lot of Korean even when I’m not paying attention, I watch Korean television without subtitles (I find that I forget to really listen if I have subtitles, but I know several people who just zone out after a while, so as with everything else, it depends on you), I’m listening to Korean songs (I try to listen to a lot of different songs so that I can get exposed to as many different pronunciations as possible. Also I find it really helpful to look up the lyrics as words can sometimes be pronounced in so many ways and be split up to match the melody. This means that you sometimes can’t recognize an otherwise well known word, and looking up the lyrics will make you aware of that specific word and then make it easier to spot it in the future.), but there’s mainly two methods that I have found really useful;
- Conversations! When having a Korean conversation (even if it’s just partly in Korean) I find that you focus in a completely different way than when you are just sitting at home, watching a drama. I’m not completely sure what makes that difference in my focus, but I ALWAYS find it easier to listen when I’m skyping with an actual person, having an actual conversation.
I have talked a lot about Italki and I definitely recommend that everybody at least gives it a try. Of course you can find free language partners or friends online, but one the best parts about Italki is that since you pay for it, you don’t really feel the same pressure about being liked as a person and you can easily control how personal you want the sessions to become. Another great thing about Italki is that most people already have some experience with teaching and they are very well aware that you are not a native speaker, so they are patient and won’t judge you even if you ask them to repeat the same sentence 6 times, not to mention that you can easily ask them to adjust their speaking pace unlike with dramas and music.
At least that’s my personal experience.
- Dictation! This has always been one of my favorite methods! When I was younger we did this a lot in all of our language related classed (including the lessons on our native language) and I have always felt that it really forces me to focus on what I hear and it also helps you practice your spelling skills as well as your handwriting if you want to make an effort on that part too.
I have often done this with short podcasts or YouTube videos and usually I simply listen and write down the words. When I come across words that I am unfamiliar with then I try spelling it as well as possible and then look up the words. Sometimes I look them up as I come across them and other times I wait until I’m done writing everything down. Even if you don’t know the meaning of the word, it can still be very helpful to write it down as you hear it. It might mean that you loose the understanding of whatever you are listening to but it can also feel really amazing when you discover that you heard and wrote it correctly even though it wasn’t a part of your vocabulary. This too depends on you though. I personally don’t mind the not knowing part but my boyfriend can’t stand it when he doesn’t understand something, which is also why he never listens to anything else than Danish and English. This is also why I always wear headphones when watching dramas – I can literally see him get all tense and frustrated if he can hear them speak. If you feel this way too, then this type might not be for you! In that case I recommend sticking to dictation through materials that have a transcript. That way you can make sure that you write it correctly in your dictionary and thereby feel more relaxed when you know that you’re looking up the right words.
I have come across podcasts with transcripts before so you might get lucky, but if not then here’s 3 resources that I have frequently used for dictation:
1. TTMIK – You can find their free audio level tests on their website including the transcript, and they also have a ton of great e-books with corresponding videos or audio clips.
2. YTN News – There’s plenty of videos with a transcript below. The videos are of different lengths and have different topics, so I really enjoy using this site!
3. Previous topic listening tests – you can always find these online and on this site you can always find a transcript of the test. Here you also have different people, different situations and different lengths. Not bad right?
Two general tips for studying:
– Get yourself in an comfortable environment. In my case I don’t listen well if I’m surrounded by people like on a train or bus. I can focus completely on a book but not listening. Also I can’t focus if my desk is messy. I can handle a lot of mess, but if my desk is messy then I can’t do ANYTHING. I can’t enjoy a movie on my laptop, I can’t read a book, I can’t study – NOTHING. I know this part of myself very well and if you have any problems like these, then you need to fix them before even trying to practice. If not it might lead to unnecessary failures that will cause even more struggles
– Remember to stick to short dictation sessions if you aren’t very comfortable with listening. Focusing as much as you can on listening and writing down, can be extremely exhausting and there’s no reason to make this an uncomfortable part of studying.
– Correct your mistakes in your notes as soon as possible so that you won’t make the mistakes become a habit. Also, review new words if that usually works for you!