Posts Categorized: Korean Baby Games

Talking about animal sounds

animal sounds

The Korean language has a LOT of onomatopoeia (의성어) and mimetic words* (의태어) to learn. In my experience they are difficult to memorise as an adult, but children aquire them easily and they play a major part in children’s speech (even in English, where a child might say “choo choo” instead of “train,” or use a sound word instead of a verb)

It’s beyond the scope of my ability and capacity to teach Alice all of the 의성어 and 의태어, but I still try to regularly choose a few, based on current situations or places or things we encounter a lot, then use them as much as possible to absorb them into our every day dialogue.

I started with animal sounds. As long as you can keep your mind open as you say the sounds (since some of them may not sound convincing to you at first) they are easy to memorise.

At first I would make up a question and answer monologue, for example “돼지가 어떻게 우는지 알아? 꿀꿀! 꿀꿀하고 울어요! 고야이는 어떻게 우는지 알아? …”

Obviously it is best if you can point the animals out in a board book or when you are at a park or zoo.

The baby will slowly learn to copy the sounds and will also begin answering the questions enthusiastically, however I should note, Alice answers “멍!멍!” no matter what animal I ask about, even though she can make “꿀꿀” and “꽥꽥” I think she simply associates the general sound of the question with this answer. When she sees a furry animal, be it dog, cat, tiger or bear, she calls out “멍 멍!” but when she sees any type of bird she will say “꽥꽥”

What I find really interesting in teaching this to Alice, is that the choice of sound word seems to influence the way she hears the sound. I was brought up ‘knowing’ that dogs say “woof woof,” and I hear this very clearly when a dog barks. When I heard that Koreans interpret a dog’s bark as “멍멍” I really couldn’t match the two sounds. Still, I dutifully taught Alice “멍멍” and after a while noticed that beyond just responding to the appearance of a dog with that sound, she also echoes “멍! 멍!” in a loud, drawn out voice imitating a dog that she can only hear and not see. When she does it, it sounds like a dog’s bark.. A particularly cute dog’s bark!

*Where onomatopoeia are words that represent sounds, mimetic words represent physical movements, motions and attributes

A game to teach the facial features- 코 코 코 놀이!


Here’s a very easy game to practice the names and locations of the facial features. This is a good drill for a parent who needs to memorise these words, too!!

( If you want to review vocabulary for this game, Click here! )

To play, simply start gently tapping the nose, “코, 코, 코, 코, 코~”

Then you pick another facial feature, name it and tap on it. eg. “..눈!”

“코, 코, 코, 코, 코~ 입!”

“코, 코, 코, 코~ 코!”

“코, 코, 코, 코, 코, 코~ 볼!”

This game has a similar feeling to the English “Simon Says,” in that the second facial feature you name ought to be suddenly and unexpectedly picked, seeing if the child can quickly recognise and point to it.

This game can be played with babies of any age, adapted to suit their ability. For a small baby, you might tap their face or your own face to show them, as they get a little bigger, you might hold their hand with index finger extended and help them tap their own face or yours. Now Alice is learning to point with her own finger and she likes to practice by herself “코, 코, 코, 코, 코~”


Games that translate part 1: Peek-a-boo


There are things that come naturally when we play with babies, like games that were played with us as babies. Sometimes in using a second language with my daughter, I feel like I cannot have the same bond as I might in my native tongue.

To be honest I think our bond goes far beyond what we can and can’t express with words; but as I find my feet using Korean with her, games that are universal to both our cultures have helped to make our interactions more relaxed and natural. Language wise, these games are simple enough that my mother (who is not studying and has little knowledge of Korean) has easily memorised the words and also plays them in Korean with Alice!

A simple game to start with is 까꿍!

I think this game is common in many cultures. It involes covering your face, or baby’s face, with hands or a blanket or behind a curtain, etc.

When I cover my face I might say: “엄마 없다~ 없다~”

Or Alice covers her face and I’ll say: “엘리스 없다~”

or ask a question like: “엘리스 어디서?”

It’s a nice opportunity to practice different grammar forms of “where are you?” and “where is mum?” type questions 😉

Then ofcourse you suddenly reveal your face and call out “까-꿍!”

I’m yet to meet a baby who doesn’t find this game endlessly hilarious.

Alice has been practicing saying “없다~” and “까꿍!” using this game since about 14 months. Her pronounciation is something like “어따~ 따~ 까꾸~~!”

She uses the word “까꿍” to express any time something is revealed and often does so with a very cute sense of humour.

Related vocabulary/expressions:

눈을 가리다  to cover one’s eyes