Posts Categorized: Raising a Korean Australian Baby

Teaching manners pt. 1: 주세요~

pleaseI’ve always felt that good manners are basically essential to getting along well with others in Korea. If I want my daughter to feel comfortable in Korean society as she grows up, teaching appropriate etiquette and manners is really important.

Obviously teaching manners begins with modeling the behaviour you wish to see. Among other things, this has meant making simple polite transactions in front of her with my husband, Han and ensuring we always demonstrate polite greetings.

Around 12 months of age, Alice travelled to Korea with me to prepare for her birthday party. My Mother in Law started encouraging Alice to place one hand on the other, palms upwards to ask when she wanted something. When Alice showed signs that she wanted something (at the time she was crazy about 귤 and 한라봉,) 어머님 would demonstrate this hand gesture and clearly say “주세요” then pause before giving the item to Alice. Once Alice had received it, 어머님 would bow her head and say “고맙습니다,” although Han and I have been using “감사합니다” with her instead. (In Australia, we usually say “Ta” when we give something to a baby, “Ta” being a sort of baby version of “Thankyou,” so it is obviously the same lesson, but the Korean way involves gestures and perhaps expects a little more of the baby)

By somewhere around 14 months, I started gently putting Alice’s hands into this position and saying “주세요” and she quite quickly learnt to use this gesture to say please. We also would use a hand to gently nudge her head forward in a nod for  “감사합니다” which she picked up with even greater ease.

For a few months now she has also been adding “니다~” or “은다~” to her “주세요” hand gesture when she wants something.. and the more she wants it the higher and sweeter the pitch, haha! It seems to be an attempt at saying “감사합니다”

So even though she does not yet have a huge vocabulary, Alice is already learning and using basic manners.




포대기 매는 법 How to use a traditional Korean carrier


As you could see in my last post, 포대기 is the traditional way of carrying baby. There are a variety of styles nowadays, and perhaps originally they just used a big rectangle of fabric, but the basic 포대기 is a big, thick rectangular blanket, usually with a folded down top edge and a long strap attached to each side near the top. They come in different widths and lengths. The one I use, a gift from my lovely Mother in law, is of the wider and longer variety.

Generally you would start to use a 포대기 from the time baby has gained reasonable neck control (approximately 100 days/3 months) I saw a woman in the DPRK’s 1972 film, 꽃파는 처녀 using a 포대기 a bit like a sling but she seems to be providing head support with her hand as you can see in this screen capture:

flowergirlIf you are going to use 포대기, apply the same care and commonsense as when using any other baby carrier or mobility device. I am not an expert on infant physiology and don’t want any harm to come to your child. I’ve also read a few people’s accounts of becoming bow legged from being carried excessively in a 포대기 as an infant. I don’t know whether studies have been done on this, but again, use it carefully and in moderation.

I didn’t use the 포대기 much when Alice was small since it took me a while to become confident tying it by myself, and I often didn’t have someone around to help me tie it. Now she is older (17 months) she much prefers 포대기 to the Ergo Performance carrier we used to use, and happily climbs onto my back for a walk to the shops. Since she is heavier, I actually find 포대기 much more comfortable and easier on my shoulders and back, than the Ergo.

Some Korean mums just use 포대기 at home, to lull baby to sleep. I use it as a general carrier.


How to tie the 포대기:

1. Start with a piggy back! I grasp Alice around the chest, under her armpits and swing her over my shoulder (need strong arms for this) Sometimes I sit on the edge of a bed and call out “어부바!” which is a baby word for giving a piggy back (from 업다) and she climbs onto my back.

A smaller baby should be in a sort of crawling position, with their legs bent and thighs under their body, a larger baby should also have legs bent comfortably, avoid wrapping baby’s legs around your waist, Alice seems to know what is comfortable and naturally assumes the right position.

2. bring the 포대기 up over baby’s shoulders, grasping the top corners of the blanket, where the straps start, and gently pulling forward so baby is held in firmly. Keeping the whole thing tight is essential to carrying baby securely.

3. Bring one side of the blanket across your chest, the strap should go over the other side of the blanket. Hold it their firmly as you bring the other side across to overlap. Again, check that it is tight across baby’s shoulders.

4. Each strap wraps back around baby. they should cross each other under baby’s bottom, creating a sling seat.

5. After crossing over, pull the straps back to the front of your body, pulling firmly, but being mindful of baby’s leg position. Tie securely at the front.

6. Check that everything is secure and the straps are holding baby firmly under the bottom. You’re ready to go!

I will discuss some alternative 포대기 carrying styles in upcoming posts.



아기 데리고 가자! Let’s take baby out!



애기 탈 것
Prams and strollers, though becoming more popular in recent years, are still not commonly used in Korea. Most buses and subway stations are difficult to access with a pram and in my experience, many streets have narrow or congested pathways, sometimes uneven paving. Most parents bring baby along in a carrier, sling, or the traditional Korean blanket wrap, called 포대기. One big difference between Australia and Korea is that Australians tend to let their children ride in strollers til a much greater age than Korean parents.

You’ll notice the name for the infant capsule/seat is taken straight from English. There still doesn’t seem to be any regulation, standard or law about safely restraining infants in the car and often babies are carried on their parents’ laps.

Some related verbs (with example sentences):

데리다 bring along (note: this verb is very seldom used alone, it is usually accompanied by 가다/오다 or similar)

아기를 데리고 공원에 가요

밀다 push

유모차를 고 가요

매다 tie/fasten

안전 벨트를 세요

아기띠/포대기를 매었어요

타다 ride/board

유모차를 면서 우유를 마셔요

태우다 ride/board – causative form (to cause someone to ride, to put someone aboard something)

아기를 유모차에 태워 주세요

업다 to carry something on one’s back, to piggyback someone

아기가 울어서 업어 주었어요

업히다 to be carried on someone’s back

엄마에게 업혀서 잠이 들었어요


a newborn’s first tiny world

배냇저고리 is a Korean newborn outfit. It’s a loose jacket that crosses over at the front with two ties and has pockets at the end of the sleeves which can fold over the hands to keep baby’s hands warm and stop accidental scratching. We were given some as presents before Alice was born and it  was interesting for me because Australian babies often wear a ‘wondersuit’ which is an all-in-one towelling suit, covering everything except the hands and face. Wondersuits are usually designed to be close fitting, so the newborn sized suits I had were much smaller than the 배냇저고리. Alice sprouted through 3 or 4 sizes of wondersuit before ever outgrowing her 배냇저고리.

가제손수건 is a little gauzey cotton square that you can use for many purposes like washing baby’s face, wiping her nose, or you can fold it on the diagonal and tie it round his neck as a dribble bib or tie wet to cool down on a hot day. They come in hundreds of cute prints and designs. A really simple yet great idea, we use them a lot.

Some thoughts on starting out..

alicewatercolourIf you do not use Korean very much in your every day life, it is unlikely that you will be able to immediately chatter away in Korean to your new baby. I have been speaking to Alice in Korean since her birth, but it was a gradual phase in, using Korean and English until 9 months, when I committed to using Korean with her at least 95% of the time (you have to take into account that friends and relatives and strangers will use the community language and sometimes it will seem more appropriate to use a little of that language in such situations.)
You also might have chosen to use Korean just for certain situations or aspects of parenting (maybe even just singing Korean songs, or using Korean with baby when Korean in laws are visiting, or just at bath time, etc.) which is also fine.
If you are going to use a mix of your native language, and Korean, the most important rule is that you must use only one language per sentence.
It’s probably fine to follow one sentence in your language with a sentence in Korean, for example “What’s this? 연필이에요, 연-필”
But you shouldn’t use sentences like “This is a 연필”
I recommend starting with simple sentences and repeating them often which will help you feel more fluent in saying them. When starting out, I often would practice just saying one sentence to Alice, then trying to say as many similar or related sentences as I could think of
“비가 와요! 비 와! 비가 오는 것 같아! 비가 오는 날이야! 비가 내려요” etc.

My very first goals were to:

1) Improve my proununciation

2) Feel confident speaking or singing in Korean in public

To improve my pronounciation I sang childrens’ songs. I focussed on the vowel sounds, which I think can be an issue for Australian English speakers, and tried to sing all the words very clearly. I also did a lot of listening and mimicking of my husband and others, and asked for feedback often.
As for confidence, I found at first I just had to force myself. A crying baby on the bus is a good imperative to get you over a fear of public singing pretty fast. I opted for the simplest Korean songs I knew first and gradually learnt more.

In using Korean with my baby every day, I have naturally and gradually improved in both skill and confidence, however, it is important to understand that I have continued to study, taking various classes through community organisations, as well as personal, specific study of speaking to babies through my family, community and Korean Playgroup. My study methods have definitely had to adapt to limits of time and situation. I can’t spend a lot of time on the computer or with text books these days, so listening and speaking and ‘field research’ have taken a greater role in my learning, and I’ve actually found this more effective, since I had most of the basics down before Alice was born. (Knowing what a mother’s life can be like, I will try to keep all my lessons on here highly visual, clear and concise!)

자장가 (lullaby)

sleepingbabyThis is a pretty and quite simple lullaby that my mother in law sings to Alice when we are staying in Korea.
A lullaby can be a lovely first step to speaking Korean to your baby, as you can sing in the privacy of your home, in a hushed voice.
When 어머님 sings, she loops it so the last line becomes the first line of the next repetition, and she usually replaces “아가” with our baby’s Korean ‘pet name.’

잘 자라 우리 아가

앞뜰과 됫동산에

새들도 아가 양도 다들 자는데

달님은 영창으로 은구슬 금구슬을

보내는 이 한밤

잘 자라 우리 아가~


“Sleep well, my baby,

In the front garden and up on the hill behind, all the birds and the baby lambs are sleeping.

On this night where the moon is throwing gold and silver beads through the window,

sleep well, my baby”



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