Posts By: 며느리

About 며느리

Australian wife of a Korean immigrant, mother of our three and a half year old daughter and newborn son. Here I chronicle our experiences trying to raise our daughter bilingual, as I also try to learn my husband's mother tongue. Living in Australia 2012-2016, Korea 2016- I will also share my experiences fitting in with my husband's extended family and discuss how we combine to cultures in our daily life. "Children have the right to learn and use the language and customs of their families, whether or not these are shared by the majority of the people in the country where they live, as long as this does not harm others." Article 30, Convention on the rights of the child If you are a 'foreign' daughter in law to a Korean family and are interested in sharing your story on this blog, please email me at

Little fingers, little hands

gold ring

October is fast slipping through my fingers. This month Han and I celebrated the second anniversary of our wedding ceremony, but unfortunately we also had to farewell my dearly beloved grandmother, which has always been so unimaginable for me that it still doesn’t feel real. Alice is now 18 months and has started jumping on the bed and is simply thriving. Singing, dancing, chatting with anyone who will smile back at her. I will be discussing her progress in Korean language in an upcoming post.

I thought I might provide some more detailed vocabulary relating to hands. If there is one major difference between learning Korean to make friends, and learning Korean to use with a baby, it’s that for speaking with a baby you need a name for EVERYTHING. If you can see it, if you can hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it, experience it, if you can hurt it, it needs a name, and babies are particularly curious, exploring everywhere, always looking back to you to explain the interesting and new.

hands 1

There are several different sets of names for the fingers. I’ve included two (so those in cream and pink are each a set, not left or right specific)

hands 2


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

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.

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~”


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


Chuseok greeting..


Wishing our family, friends and readers in Korea a safe and happy 추석 (Chuseok)!

Please try to ignore my ugly handwriting, I can’t find my glasses after a long and busy weekend. o_O

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!)