While I was preparing to come to Korea, I thought I was pretty motivated to learn Korean. I was about to embark on a journey to a place of the world where English was no longer the main method of communication, and that pressured me into studying pretty hard.
Actually being in Korea is so much more motivating.
Living here, even though it’s only been for a brief period of time, has showed me how lacking my Korean skills actually are, particularly in the areas of listening and speaking. I already knew my speaking skills weren’t great, since that’s the area that I practice the least, but what I didn’t realize was how terrible my listening skills were as well.
I’m calling my self-diagnosed listening failures “High Pressure Listening Dysfunction”. The “high pressure” part of that label has nothing to do with the situation at hand, but instead refers to the mental pressure that I place on myself to understand.
Typically when I do listening practice on my own, I’m placing very little mental pressure on myself. Why? Because I’m there to learn. My expectations are low. I’m just practicing by myself. There are absolutely no consequences for failure.
But now that I’m in Korea, I’m in situations where I have to use my listening skills to function like a normal human being, which for some reason stresses me out way more than it should.
Making purchases is generally the easiest and least stressful thing to do. Even if you don’t understand a word they say, it’s understood what will happen. You give the cashier the items you want to purchase, they ring them up, and you give them the amount you owe. Easy breezy.
At other times, though, I’ve found myself floundering in surprisingly “easy” situations, like ordering food at a restaurant. For some reason, this situation in particular stresses me out, because I know there will usually be follow up questions/statements that they make, and I’m determined to understand what they’re saying (and not appearing like a dumb foreigner). Even if every word that comes out of their mouth is a word that I would typically recognize easily, my brain is so busy stressing out about understanding them that it flounders to compute the words that they’re saying. Thus, even simple questions like “what would you like to drink?” go right over my head sometimes.
Sigh. My floundering listening abilities always make me think of this comic.
I usually don’t resort to asking if people speak English, but the drowning feeling is definitely relatable.
The reason I struggle so much with this is probably because I’m a perfectionist, so I want to understand perfectly everything they’re saying. Maybe if I just relax a little more during the interactions my listening skills will improve significantly. Easier said than done, but I’ll give it a shot!