Korean Listening Practice – should you slow down the audio?

One of the biggest challenges when you start on a Korean language learning adventure is finding resources for Korean listening practice. It’s not that there’s a shortage of things to listen to. Rather, the difficulty lies in finding something that is not just instructional (i.e. podcasts teaching verb conjugation) while also being at an appropriate level.

Korean listening practice
Korean listening practice – it can be hard at first!

(I just want to note that while I specifically focus on Korean language learning, this tip can be used with any language you are learning!)

The right Korean listening practice is easy to find – but difficult too!

Finding a resource that is interesting to you is the easy part. You can find many podcasts, vlogs, or a variety shows, online. I personally have enormous playlists on YouTube that are full of content I want to hear. The problem comes when you hit play and realize that you can’t follow along.

Of course sometimes that issue lies in vocabulary and grammar. For example, if you haven’t learned the vocabulary for ingredients and utensils, you’ll certainly have trouble following a recipe on a cooking vlog. At the same time, you may have learned a great deal of verbs but if you don’t know the conjugations used in the video, you’ll be lost. Sometimes you can’t even recognize the word as a verb you already learned!

The only solution for that is to keep studying. There’s plenty of debate over which is more important to learn first – vocab or grammar. I say they are both equally important and you can’t get ahead without an even balance. Use resources to learn both so that you can understand more and more material.

What if it’s not the content though?

Sometimes, though, the problem isn’t the material itself. It’s the speed. In a class, a teacher will speak clearly at a moderate pace. This is great, and it helps you to learn. The issue is that in general, people don’t always speak slowly when they’re having a conversation. Most people don’t always enunciate clearly and their words blend together.

If you think this isn’t true, think of your own native language. You likely speak much faster than you realize. Sometimes your words merge. For a new learner, they may not realize “an apple” is two words at first listen. It may sound like “anapple” to them.

This brings about an easy solution that is a surprisingly hot debate topic:

Can you help your Korean listening practice by slowing down the audio?

It seems like it’s a no-brainer right? But it’s fiercely debated by some who are against this method. The argument against it is simple. Many people say it’s a crutch that will not serve you well. Why? Because if you rely on slowing down the audio on your listening practice, you won’t be able to understand real, live people. Olly Richards believes this slowed-down listening is detrimental to your learning.

It does make sense to a point. If you only ever listen to a Korean vlog on 75% or 50% speed, you’ll get used to that slower pace of speech. This could be a problem if you meet a Korean person face to face and try to have a conversation. After all, as Olly has pointed out regularly, real people don’t come with a slow-down configuration option.

This is very true! However, I would gladly debate that, and here’s why.

Any language learning tool can be called “a crutch” if you rely on it 100% of the time

One of Olly’s primary strategies for language learning is to learn through reading. However, it’s not just about reading a book or a story. He suggests reading while also listening to the story. Basically it’s reading along with the audio. And it’s definitely a great way to learn. I use it often myself. Most of the Korean books I own – story collections, textbooks, etc – have audio clips you can listen to as well. My weekly reading group on Discord does this too. After practicing our reading, we listen to the audio clip while following along.

But is this not an equivalent crutch? Because, yes, this is a helpful learning method, but if you’re having a real-life conversation, the person you’re speaking with doesn’t come with a transcript!

No matter how well reading a story with the audio playing works, it’s not going to help your conversations unless you eventually ditch the book and just listen to the story. Like a physical crutch, it’s meant to help you for awhile until you can proceed without it.

Slowed-down listening can work the same way.

Slowing down your audio can help your Korean language learning

My suggestion, and what works for me is to go right ahead and slow it down to a speed that is manageable for you. If the person is speaking very quickly, I might drop it down to 50% speed. Most often though, 75% is sufficient for me.

However, don’t leave it there forever! And I think that’s the trick that makes this work.

Listen to the same clip multiple times until you feel comfortable and understand most of what you’re hearing. As long as you get the overall gist of the audio, it’s not necessary to understand every individual word.

Once you feel confident, go back to the settings and bump the speed back up. If you started at 50% speed, move up to 75% and repeat your listening again. Then, move it back up to 100% natural speed.

The first time you listen you may find it too fast, but your ears will know what to listen for. Keep at it and soon the natural speed will not be as difficult to follow. In my reading group we often listen to the story at 75% speed, and then at full speed the second time. I can follow the full speed version more easily because I’ve heard it slower the first time.

It works because over time you get used to hearing certain words and conjugations so you will recognize them in new conversations too.

So how DO you adjust the speed on your Korean listening practice?

Most apps and sites with audio have a very similar function for slowing down or speeding up the audio. For this example I’ll use YouTube since it’s a great place to find listening practice for a variety of interests.

When you select the video you want to watch (and listen to!), pause it before it starts playing. At the bottom of the video is a wheel that you can click to adjust various settings.

How to slow down audio on YouTube

Inside those settings is an option for manipulating the playback speed.

How to slow down audio on YouTube

Click on it and choose the speed that feels right for you. You can play with it as you’re listening, adjusting as necessary. Once you’re ready for full speed, just switch it back to normal playback speed.

How to slow down audio on YouTube

It’s important to note that this doesn’t affect your other videos, only the one you are adjusting. That means if you do your listening practice and then switch to some music, it will play at the normal speed – you won’t subject yourself to some weird-sounding slowed-down tunes!

As I said, this example uses YouTube, which is what I use most often. However, the settings and the changes to those settings should be very similar for anything you are using. You can use this in whatever app you prefer for podcasts, and it can even be done in Netflix!

In Summary

Overall, I have found this to be a really valuable way to practice my listening. Any language sounds unbelievably fast when you are not a native speaker. This is especially true if you haven’t reached a high skill level yet. This is such a great way to make listening practice a little less daunting. Don’t worry, it’s not going to be detrimental to your learning unless you never ever listen to natural speed!

Korean listening practice
Korean listening practice gets better with, well, practice!

If there’s some interest, I will put together a blog post soon listing some of my favourite sources that I use for Korean listening practice. I personally enjoy watching vlogs with my favourite idols, anything to do with food, and also YouTube vloggers sharing their daily routines. I’ll cover some of those and the concept of comprehensible input in that post. Be sure to sign up for my list if you’d like to be updated, otherwise check back regularly!

What do you think about using this for your Korean listening practice?

Where do you stand on the concept of adjusting speed to slow down your Korean listening practice while learning? Are you for it or against it? Let me know in the comments, and if you’ve already tried this tip, tell me what you think about it. Did you find it helpful for your learning progress?

This post is part of the KCC Canada Honorary Reporter project.

1 thought on “Korean Listening Practice – should you slow down the audio?”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *