Posts Categorized: Thoughts on method

Playgroup to Ballet

Alice pointWM

I started taking Alice to a Korean Community playgroup when she was 7 months old.

The playgroup was a revelation when I first found it. Our local area had one Japanese restaurant, two Chinese restaurants. No Asian or Korean supermarket, no Korean children for Alice to meet. Alice and I were just back from her first trip to Korea and I started wondering how it would be possible for her to learn Korean, given our circumstances. To that point, I had been speaking to her in English, Han worked long hours and finished late. I searched online in English and Korean, and came up with a lot of out dated information. Community lists from 2008 and 2011, dead links. Finally I found reference to one playgroup that was close by, with just an address and phone number.

To our surprise and great fortune, when Han entered the number to his phone to call, it turned out it was already saved in his contacts list- she was a mother who’s family Han had once boarded with. Consequently we were warmly welcomed to the playgroup and I think we may have even bypassed a waiting list to get in.

Because we had few other resources, I’ll admit I had huge hopes for what we could get out of going to playgroup, and some of those were satisfied.

The most significant benefit of playgroup was a captive environment in which to listen to other mothers speak Korean to babies and toddlers in various play situations. This was hugely helpful for me as I transitioned to speaking Korean to Alice over the course of that summer*

What I could not get from playgroup was a lot of input from Korean native speakers to Alice. The other children were either too young to really play and talk, or were old enough that they were already attending daycare or preschool and learning and using English as a preference. The mothers, quite understandably, saw playgroup as a social opportunity to spend time with other Korean mothers, so I couldn’t really ask them to go out of their way to talk to Alice. Also, many of them could not grasp the fact that the child of a white mother would understand Korean at all, and simply spoke English to her.

The playgroup’s management changed and we continued to attend semi-regularly, and I did enjoy the social outlet, and Alice, the access to toys that were different to what we had at home. But since moving, it has proved a little difficult to get to, as I don’t drive.

A few months ago I saw a notice for a Ballet class which is held at a local newspaper office’s 문화센터. I’ve been waiting for Alice to reach the 30 month minimum age for entry, but luckily after Han called, we were allowed to start her just a tad early (a little shy of 29 months)

The class is conducted in Korean language, and despite some of the older girls being quite fluent at English, they all caught on quickly that Alice only speaks Korean, so they all speak Korean to her.

This put me in a position to do something that I have been a little unsure about for a while now, but having made the decision, I am sure it was the right one for us- we stopped going to Korean playgroup.

With limited opportunities for Korean language based programs (especially in the infant to pre-school age) it sometimes feels like if you are not joining everything you can, then you aren’t doing enough. That you might be failing your child.

I know I have felt that way.

The biggest lesson for me is that the best programs for supporting Korean language development may not be the obvious ones. I started my search thinking I needed to find a playgroup or a preschool. These are strangely uncommon here, even in suburbs with large Korean populations. But my local area has art classes, ping pong and other sports, even a robotics class, all conducted in Korean language.

If a program is not delivering the language outcomes you want, and the child is not obviously enjoying it, keep looking and find something else.

Ballet has actually been really interesting for me, since I never danced as a child. The first few sessions, Alice was more interested in the room than the class, and needed a lot of help to participate. Then suddenly on the fifth lesson, she started following along, watching the teacher carefully, noticing the significance of foot position, and chanting along the names of the arm and foot positions as the group performed them. I often take notes from the side lines of vocabulary and expressions that are used in class, and then we use them to practice at home. Her growing love of ballet is incidentally keeping her in a good environment for language aquisition, and consistently attending classes (she asks to go every day of the week, leading up to the class on Thursdays) is helping her build social skills and reinforcing her sense of purpose for Korean. It’s a really nice extention of what we do at home, and in our every day life, to teach her.

If you’re also struggling to find local Community language opportunities and resources, here are some suggestions (you may need to search in Korean to get results):

-Library – look out for multilingual collections, children’s programs or story times

-Saturday language schools, often held at church venues

-Korean language Preschool

-Preschool/School with language immersion programs or LoTE programs

-Korean Family Daycare

-Korean baby sitter/nanny

-Language Exchange (I’ve previously arranged exchanges where the partner will speak Korean with Alice and in exchange I help them with English. A more ideal exchange might be with a Korean parent and their child)

-Korean playgroups

-Sports/Dance/Art classes

-Interractions with hair dresser/mart/cafe in local community

-Community book store


-Korean government initiatives, for example Sydney has the Korean Cultural Office and Korean Education Centre

Once you find something that you think might be appropriate for your child, be sure to check that the program is run in Korean, or what proportion of Korean is used. Some classes may be targetted to the Korean community and advertised in Korean language, but then have a focus on English.

*Australian summer is November – January

Basic expressions

I’ve previously talked a bit about how I started off using Korean with Alice. One of the most helpful things I had when starting was a small piece of brown cardboard on which Han had written a bunch of basic expressions for me to use. I could already use Korean quite comfortably with adults, but was daunted by the task of using it with Alice, so we brainstormed the list together, and with that as a base, I started introducing expressions. From there, I added more and more ..and then left English behind.

So here, for those who are equally unsure where to start, I have compiled a similar list.

This list very roughly covers the daily activities of a small baby, has some playful expressions, instructions, admonitions and reassurances. My next few posts will be focusing on grammar and speaking style, and I will provide many more detailed expressions in the coming weeks.

I think this list is easy and brief enough that you could start using it straight away. There is obviously more than one way to say many of the things on the list, you can adapt it to your level of confidence. I have typed the way the expressions might be spoken to a child, so the spelling is not necessarily dictionary accurate and there are a few baby words in the mix.




Did you sleep well?

Good job!

I love you


Please give me (that)

Thank you



My, what a pretty baby!

Oh.. Is that so? (a response to use for early conversations with baby when she uses babbling baby talk)

Tickle tickle

Let’s play!



Stand up/get up please

Sit down please

Come here

Time to go

Let’s eat

Yum Yum! (to encourage baby to eat, or when pretending to share baby’s food)

Let’s have a bath

Let’s get dressed

Let’s change your nappy



No (you mustn’t do that)

That’ dirty!

That’s hot! (to touch or taste)

You’re okay/are you okay?

Teaching manners pt. 2: 배꼽인사

baeggobinsaSince Alice is competent at bowing her head to greet and thank people, I recently taught her to “배꼽인사” (belly button bow)

I taught this in two stages. First I would gently hold her two hands together at her tummy, as I said “두 손을 모으세요” or “두 손을 모아” However you choose to say this, it becomes a cue for the action of placing one hand over the other at the waist. Then I would give her a familiar cue, which is “안녕하세요~” When she hears this, she already associates it with nodding her head once as a bow.

The second step was to increase the depth of the bow and preferably lengthen its duration. You can add an additional cue, “고개를 숙여요” or an appropriate greeting, such as “감사합니다” or “안녕히가세요.” We used “인사~” and as I said the cue I would gently use my hand to push her body forward just above her bottom. Do not push too far or too fast, as this will throw the child off balance. Your hand should be really light and you should allow the baby to make whatever stability compensations he needs.


If you’ve never seen a toddler perform 배꼽인사 before, you may not know what sort of form to expect. Toddlers are very good at keeping their centre of balance slightly forward so they are more likely to fall forward, but if you push them too far forward, they stabilise themselves by bending their knees.

A toddler’s correct 배꼽인사 “form” will most likely include deeply bent knees, wide parted feet and often an exaggerated depth of the bow itself (Alice’s head almost touches the floor)

We practise this bow once or twice a day, very casually. Often when Han arrives home or leaves, so she can experience it in context. If you always start the practise with “배꼽인사 하자!” baby will become used to this as an overall cue and you will ultimately be able to drop the step by step cues quite quickly.

The most important thing is to be patient and realistic, a toddler should not be expected to always have perfect manners or to always 배꼽인사 on command. Give plenty of positive encouragement and feedback, but avoid pushing the issue when she refuses.

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.




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!)