This is part of an ongoing special series when 1-2 Korean learners/bloggers each week are invited to share their Korean learning journey! It will be nice if you can leave a comment after reading! ^^ To participate in the series, check out this post. Check out previous entries HERE.
My husband and I took our first Korean language course at the YMCA while we were processing our paperwork for a Korean adoption. When we decided to adopt from Korea, we knew it was important for our child to have access to is birth language so that he could feel more integrated with the Korean-American community throughout his American life. Most importantly, we felt he should have access to all the tools it would require for him to eventually have a private conversation with the woman who gave birth to him, if he chose to do that.
I enjoyed studying Korean immediately, using Korean Through English Book One. This is a series I still highly recommend. After the YMCA class ended, I continued taking private lessons with that same teacher, and then, the Universe intervened — we became parents. We were as surprised as anyone, though, to find, our child was not Korean! — We had been given the opportunity to adopt a gorgeous African-American newborn, and we took it.
Even throughout those early days with the baby, I tried to study. I was not going to give up the love I had for the language just because my child was not Korean. And, for the next year or so, we were unsure as to whether or not we would ever adopt from Korea. Eventually, we did, and our beautiful son arrived seventeen months later. He and our daughter are only six months apart in age.
We stuck with the idea of integrating the little bit of Korean we had into the children’s lives. Even has babies, I would introduce them to Korean nouns simultaneously with English ones, if it was a word I knew. As they learned to speak, they invariably chose the word that had fewer syllables (딸기 over strawberry, etc.). When they began preschool, I made sure that the teachers there knew the short list of words the kids regularly used in Korean rather than English, so that they would understand them (우유, 물, 만두, 사자, 나비, etc.).
Our lives are busy and loud and messy and it is harder than ever to introduce any formal learning of Korean. I have tried lessons with other teachers, none of whom measured up to that first teacher at the YMCA (who has since moved to Japan.). I know I am not moving along at a pace that someone engaged in formal study would be, but as long as I am constantly exposed to the language, and the kids are exposed to the language, I feel we are not at a standstill. My standby sources are still the Korean Through English series, as well as Korean Grammar in Use and of course talktomeinkorean.com. We listen to a lot of Korean radio via the internet and I watch Korean dramas and films. My children are happy to watch some Korean children’s DVDs — 로보카 폴리, 한굴이 야호, 드림 아이 are all favorites. On YouTube, we’ve found dubbed Korean versions of some Disney movie clips and they enjoy those as well. Every morning before descending for breakfast — rather than fighting at the top of the staircase for who goes down first — the kids count from one to ten in Korean (in both pure- and Sino-Korean) and sometimes name face and body parts.
I can read, in a limited fashion, to my kids in Korean. We buy Korean children’s books at the nearby Korean shopping center, and I will choose one and translate it to the best of my ability — then get some translation help from a Korean friend — and also as a Korean friend to read the story and record it for me. I will listen to it regularly on my phone, learning pronunciation, and then I will read it to my children.
The kids will use some of the Korean they know very spontaneously, but if “drilled” or trotted out for display, they often founder. They do understand that, in a Korean restaurant or social situation with Korean people, a little of their polite Korean makes a very nice impression and they get a lot of attention for it. Sometimes that motivates them. We are frequently surprised by the very natural way they are learning — much the way they learned English, just slower, which is fine. Recently, our daughter, not wanting to ask for “a little milk” (우유 좀 주세요) chose instead to ask for “big (a lot of) milk” — “우유 커요 주세요.”
We don’t really talk about the “why” of learning Korean in our house — we just do it. Because of all the “passive learning” we do, with listening to and watching Korean broadcast media, our daughter in particular has a great command of Korean phonemes. In the last year I’ve become more conscious and supportive of the passive learning ideal, and have totally altered my short-term goals based on the methods passionately supported in the wonderful Japanese language-learning blog, alljapaneseallthetime.com. It’s much more important to me to “touch” Korean multiple times during the day — and putting it in front of my kids a few times a day — than it is to worry about what actually “went in”. When times are busy, I still feel confident that we are reinforcing the language in a very natural way. In the long run, it’s the kids themselves who will have to be willing to sit through a class or any kind of formal study, but I am very satisfied with what we are doing to make that official jump less jarring.
Amber Dorko Stopper, Philadelphia