improve-korean-listening

7 Study Techniques That Will Supercharge Your Korean Listening Skills

We all know that practice makes perfect…

But it’s not always quite so simple.

Of course, practicing Korean is crucial to progressing toward fluency, but the type of practice you do is just as key.

This is especially true when it comes to training your ear in the language.

After hours and hours of study, you might be able to read a Korean text or identify tons of new vocabulary but still struggle with deciphering the sounds of spoken Korean.

If that’s the case, it’s time to take a hard look at your study methods and try out some new, targeted techniques to get your listening skills on track.

So read up, and learn the best-kept secrets to dramatically improving Korean listening comprehension.

7 Secrets to Improving Your Korean Listening Skills

Learn a foreign language with videos

1. Identify Problem Areas When Listening to Korean Sounds

Korean pronunciation is different from that of other languages in many ways. When first learning the language, you might rely on the romanization of words and phrases. However, this will only confuse you when you eventually try to converse with or listen to Korean natives.

That’s because certain Korean sounds don’t exist in English or other Western languages. Leaning on the sound equivalents in romanizations will make it a lot harder for you to learn and distinguish sounds as they’re really used in Korean.

To remedy this issue, try to identify which sounds are most difficult for you.

An easy way to get started is to watch a Korean movie, preferably using bilingual subtitles so you can more easily verify spelling and words, pausing frequently and writing down what you hear. Then, compare your writing with the actual words. The way you write the words tells you what letters you’re prone to confuse.

Generally, simple, aspirated and tense consonants are the most difficult for learners to distinguish.

  • Simple consonants (ㄱ,ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅈ and ㅅ) are the closest to English. They’re plain and pronounced without exaggeration or stress.
  • Aspirated consonants (ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ and ㅊ) are pronounced with a burst of air.
  • Tense consonants (ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ and ㅉ) are said with a harder, stiffer voice than their plain counterparts. The hard d sound in “duck!” is like the sound made by the Korean ㄸ.

To familiarize your ear with these sounds, try to find three Korean words with the same consonant—but with each one’s pronunciation falling into a different category.

Here are some examples to get you started. You’ll see the three versions of each consonant appear in this order: 1) simple, 2) aspirated, 3) tense.

  • The Korean K
  • The Korean J
  • The Korean S

The next step is to play them over and over again using the listening tool in the Naver dictionary. Open different tabs in your browser so you can easily navigate between pages.

2. Use Technology Hacks to Improve Your Korean Listening Daily

Use Your Phone to Record Conversations

Why it works:

This is a fantastic strategy to practice listening by turning your personal experiences into custom lessons. In so doing, you’ll be focusing on words that are relevant to you while also improving your own pronunciation skills. What better way to detect your own listening patterns and errors than to listen to yourself?

How to do it:

Use your smartphone’s built-in voice recorder to record your Korean dialogues. There are helpful tutorials to guide you through the process whether you’re an iPhone or Android user. Alternatively, use a voice recording app if you prefer to record longer conversations. These articles list some useful options for iPhone and Android.

Then, simply record all your lessons, reading practices and friends’ conversations in Korean and play them often. Try to focus on sounds that you missed, if any, and repeat what you hear.

Listen to the Same Podcasts Over and Over

Why it works:

Podcasts are word-rich audio recordings that feature real-world conversations and presentations by teachers and/or native Koreans. Better yet, podcasts are typically educational and will bring color and culture to your Korean studies.

How to do it:

The best strategy is to download a diversity of podcasts so you can listen to them without burning your data and when you don’t have access to Wi-Fi. This will allow you to truly incorporate them into your daily routine and turn down time into productive Korean listening sessions.

Great moments to listen to podcasts include your commute, when you’re doing chores around the house or when you’re grocery shopping.

SBS features some fantastic podcasts to propel your Korean listening. This article will help you identify some other terrific Korean podcasts based on your interest and fluency level.

Set Up Your Voice-activated Devices in Korean

Why it works:

Turning on your voice-activated devices is a smart method to surround yourself with Korean sounds and immerse yourself in a Korean environment without leaving your country. It’ll also allow you to develop precise listening skills and help you to acquire specific terminology along with plenty of useful action verbs.

How to do it:

Simply change the language settings on all your devices that use voice command to Korean. Your smartphone is a great place to start, but go a step further and set up your car’s voice-command system, your tablets, your GPS and any other voice-activated devices in Korean as well.

Read your owner’s manual if you’re not sure how to access language settings, or look up instructions for your device on Google.

3. Download Korean Songs

Why it works:

Songs are a terrific tool to train your ear to detect common Korean sounds using repetition, rhythm and rhymes. In addition, songs are catchy and fun to memorize, making it easy for you to learn new vocabulary and practice pronunciation without much effort.

How to do it:

The key to improving your Korean listening skills through songs is to maximize your listening opportunities. Create a playlist on your favorite streaming site or app such as YouTube or Spotify, or purchase your favorite songs on iTunes so you can listen to them offline as well.

Opt for upbeat K-pop songs during your workout or walks and opt for peaceful ballads during your commute or while you meditate. KBS World Radio is a great place to find a diversity of Korean songs. In addition, this article will give you some nice ideas to keep building your Korean music library and find songs that match your taste.

Where to find Korean songs:

FluentU

FluentU is a language learning tool that uses immersion and multimedia technology to help you improve your listening skills. FluentU’s Korean program features a variety of Korean music videos that have been transformed into a language learning experience.

FluentU’s videos come with interactive subtitles so that you can learn new words in-context, while also getting exposure to Korean culture and entertainment. There are also quizzes, activities and progress tracking tools to ensure that you remember what you’ve learned.

To make the most of FluentU, create your own playlist depending on your fluency level and download the app to listen to your favorite songs on the go.

네이버 뮤직 (Naver Music)

This is a tremendous resource to find the latest Korean music and brush up on knowledge of your favorite Korean artists. The site is entirely in Korean, which makes it perfect for honing your Korean reading skills. You’ll particularly want to check out the Korean Top 100 section to discover the latest beats that move Korean dance floors.

4. Watch Movies and Dramas in Korean

Why it works:

Authentic Korean movies and TV shows will develop your ability to detect and recognize Korean words and conversations while also bringing you closer to the Korean culture. Highly engaging, they’re the weapon of choice for learners who want to stay motivated for the long-term.

How to do it:

The key to maximizing your listening sessions while watching movies and dramas is to opt for a variety of content. This will allow you to get comfortable listening to Korean on a wide range of subjects as well as conversations with multiple speakers.

The method, too, matters. Start by watching with no subtitles and try to glean as much as you can from context. Then, use that precious replay button and display subtitles in English or Korean, or better yet, both. Watch it again, this time taking note of the vocabulary that caused you difficulty and that you wish to remember, and spend a week or more learning and reviewing it.

Once you’re confident that you’ve memorized it, watch it again without any subtitles and check on your progress!

Where to find movies and dramas:

FluentU

Once again, the FluentU platform is helpful here. Along with the songs we mentioned above, you can access a range of authentic Korean videos from news clips to TV shows to movie trailers, so you can truly diversify your lessons and achieve your listening goals.

As you dive into FluentU’s library, the platform will remember what you’ve learned and recommend additional content based on that information. This way, you’re getting truly personalized, targeted Korean listening practice.

Viki

This streaming site features popular Korean movies and series watched by Korean natives. Browse content by genre, upload date or popularity, and sign up for an account to avoid ads.

Depending on the show you’re watching, Viki offers you the option to display subtitles in multiple languages, perfect if you’re not a native English speaker or if you’re an English native speaker simultaneously learning another foreign language.

Netflix

If you already have a Netflix account, you’ll be happy to learn that your favorite online flick site features a solid selection of Korean content. This helps to keep your viewing experience interesting and exciting!

A great trick is to use the “save” feature to build your movie playlist and remind you to watch Korean flicks when you open Netflix. They’re generally displayed at the very top of the page. Better yet, this will help Netflix understand that you’re interested in Korean content so it can also suggest new Korean titles as they’re released.

5. Have Real Korean Conversations

Practice with Korean Natives

Why it works:

Don’t be shy! This is a foolproof way to improve your listening (and speaking!) skills in context. That’s because you’ll be able to activate your learning through real-life, unscripted conversations while also getting honest feedback from natives on your accent and intonation. They’ll also be able to give you concrete tips if you confuse certain words and sounds, and most importantly, give you the motivation to continue your studies.

How to do it:

The key is to make it happen! Take baby steps if you’re shy and find opportunities to have frequent contact with the Korean community in your city. A great place to start is your local Korean supermarket. Ask where ingredients are located, how to incorporate them into your cooking or ask for recommendations on Korean ingredients and foods.

Another idea is to join a Korean language or culture Meetup group. This can be a fun way to practice your Korean listening skills in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

Practice with Non-native Korean Speakers

Why it works:

This will help you to become more aware of the differences between how Korean should sound (i.e. when natives speak) and how it shouldn’t. It’s a very effective mirror to become aware of your own flaws and fix them. And when you converse with fluent non-native Korean speakers, you can gain confidence knowing that it can be done!

How to do it:

The objective here is to look for sounds that sound weird or different to you. Focus on common expressions and words that you regularly encounter when communicating with natives. Make a mental note of why they don’t sound right to you, focusing on the melody, intonation and cadences.

Then, practice them yourself and verify results by recording yourself on Vocaroo and uploading your accent to the subreddit /r/JudgeMyAccent.

6. Make Listening Regular

Why it works:

Frequent exposure to the sounds of Korean is the only way to develop familiarity and comfort with the language.

Plus, Korean listening practice has a range of other indirect benefits that support your overall learning goals. It’ll help you to stimulate your speaking skills by allowing you to eventually “think” in Korean. It can also enrich your vocabulary and help you learn grammar structures by activating usage in context rather than theory.

How to do it:

The goal is to fit your listening sessions into your daily schedule. Set up a routine time and place where you can listen to Korean content. Everyone’s schedule is different, but try to allocate at least 20 minutes a day for maximum results. Be sure there are no distractions or background noises so you can truly focus on the sounds. If you can, use a headset so you can hear words more clearly.

Make it easy for yourself. Download apps and content that you can listen to offline and place them on the first page of your phone or tablet. That way, you’ll be sure to remember them. Another great strategy is to set up recurring calendar alerts on your phone. That’s a helpful way to remind yourself that you need to begin your Korean listening drills!

7. Set Listening Goals

Improving your Korean listening skills is a step-by-step process. The best strategy is to incrementally target specific elements and set deadlines based on your goals. This will keep you moving consistently forward in your language studies.

Your first objective should be to accurately distinguish simple, aspirated and tense consonants. Here, you should be able to tell apart letters like ㄷ, ㅌ and ㄸ, ㅈ, ㅊ and ㅉ, and ㅅ and ㅆ. It may take you some time, but eventually, you need to be able to naturally distinguish the nuances between them so they’re no longer confusing to you.

Then, your second objective can be to try to recognize as many words as possible when watching a movie, and write down the sentences and context in which you heard them. Verify with a Korean friend or on the Korean subreddit on Reddit.

For your third objective, you can aim for full phrase recognition and try to focus on the meaning of an overall conversation.

Also, make sure to complement your reading with immediate listening drills and practice. That’s particularly important if you have no prior exposure to the Korean language and will help you to verify how written words sound when spoken.

A great way to do this is to look up tricky words on the Naver dictionary and click on the listen icon or, if you have a longer text, to use a Korean translator with pronunciation. This FluentU article offers a wealth of Korean dictionary apps, most of which include translator features, so you can verify Korean sounds on the go.

 

Now that the process of mastering Korean listening holds no mysteries for you, we have no doubt that you’ll put these insights to practice and ace your Korean studies. Keep up the good work!

And One More Thing…

If you enjoyed this post, you’re already halfway to having the time of your life learning Korean with FluentU!

FluentU is an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks, vlogs and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

FluentU App Browse Screen

FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you (which are organized by level and topic), so you simply choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!

Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.

FluentU Videos with Interactive Captions

Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.

Interactive Transcripts on FluentU

You can use FluentU’s unique Quiz Mode to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions.

FluentU Has Quizzes for Every Video

FluentU keeps track of what you’re learning, and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Korean with real-world videos.

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