Korean Language Learning Tip #3 Surround yourself with spoken language

Often when I come across tips about how to teach yourself another language there will be lots of advice about surrounding yourself with written words as a kind of constant reinforcement of the vocabulary you are trying to learn. This might be by putting sticky labels on all your stuff, sticking lists of vocabulary up on your wall or putting flashcards everywhere. However while I think it’s important to use any method that works to increase your skills, I would argue it’s much more important to surround yourself with spoken language.

You know how before a baby learns to speak they start to babble, making sounds that sound like they’re speaking but it’s just nonsense? It turns out that is an important part of how children learn to speak. They imitate the speaking patterns they hear around them as a way of understanding how language works. Similarly, constantly listening to a variety of Korean speakers can be useful for developing an understanding of how Koreans speak, an essential part of learning how to speak Korean. Because Korean grammar is almost as different from English grammar as is possible, it can be very difficult to get a good grasp of it. Especially for those just starting out, it can be extremely confusing and demotivating. But by constantly listening to Korean, not only can you reinforce what you have learned already, you can build an understanding of speech patterns which can be very helpful in understanding grammar. Koreans tend to speech in a start-stop manner which corresponds to the main grammar points of the sentence so listening to many different speakers, even if you can’t understand them, will help in finding the common patterns in speech. This make it much easier to understand each new grammar point you learn as you already have an instinctual feel for the way that it works which can be more easily built on with grammar theory.

Korean is still a relatively specialist language, although it is becoming more popular because of the influence of Hallyu and South Korea’s increased economic significance, but thanks to the internet, there are thousands of different ways to hear Korean being spoken.

Firstly of course, you can try to speak to actual Korean speakers. If you live in London, it is fairly easy to meet Korean speakers, you can find groups that hold regular events through websites like Meetup. Meeting in groups can be a good way of picking more up by listening to more advanced speakers talk to each other. If you don’t, there are still plenty of other ways to find people to do language exchange online through sites like Interpals.

There are also plenty of other ways to listen to people speak as well as actually talking to someone or if you can’t or don’t want to talk to someone. Watching Korean films or TV Dramas can be educational as well as entertaining although remember that characters often speak in a way that is very clear but often over-dramatic and slightly unnatural so it is important to balance this out with other forms of spoken language.

Other kinds of TV shows and clips are a great way of exposing yourself to more spoken Korean. Interview shows, variety shows, documentaries, clips of K-pop stars, adverts and even kids programmes (I’ll admit I quite enjoy Pororo which you can watch through YouTube in Korean and in English) all offer examples of subtly different ways of speaking which can help develop a more holistic understanding how the language works as you start to pick up on patterns and differences.

There are also more specifically educational resources for listening to more natural Korean speaking. I really like TalkToMeInKorean’s Iyagi series where they have discussions which are fairly natural but slowed down about particular topics. I recently found this site, LingQ, as well which looks quite promising. You can use it to listen to short spoken passages and then study the word you don’t understand.

Of course the most important thing when learning any language is to stay motivated and listening to more spoken Korean, particularly entertainment, definitely helps motivation by giving you more opportunities for practical usage of newly acquired language skills. From contrived dramas and cheesy K-pop to critically acclaimed films and obscure indie music, you can find entertainment you like and be safe in the knowledge that is all useful in helping you become a better Korean speaker.