Posts Categorized: Personal reflections

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

Making sense of life in two languages

telephone unmarked WMAlice and I have been staying in Korea for the last month or so, trying to soak up as much Korean language from Han’s family as we can before Alice turns two.

She is absolutely thirsty for words at the moment, and her ability to express her needs and personality is improving every day. For me there is a great sense of relief that all the effort I have put in to her language development, particularly over the past 12 months, has really paid off. Obviously there are similarly aged children here who are more advanced speakers than her, but there are also children who are speaking less, so I dare say her Korean language development is at least average or better, which is a great achievement for both of us.

A few weeks ago Alice started saying “할로” (or ‘Hello,’ I have typed it in 한글 because that is exactly how it sounds when she says it.) I’m guessing the reason she started saying it in the middle of our Korean trip is that “Hello” must stand out a lot more when she hears it here, which is less often than back home (Although I must say A LOT of Koreans try to speak English to Alice, and she usually responds with a blank look. But if they speak Korean to her, she has learnt some new tricks, like holding up 3 fingers in response to “몇살?” because 3 is her Korean age)

In Australia, Alice hears a mix of Korean and English across the various situations of her daily life. She hears English in shops and playgrounds, from my mum and sister. She hears Korean and English when Han and I are talking to each other, Korean when we speak to her directly, Korean from Han’s parents via skype; at Korean playgroup, from local Korean community, in songs, television and story books.

In Korea, Alice has heard Korean everywhere, with the exception of when we’ve met friends of mine who speak with me in English (Australians,) when we skype with my mum and the aforementioned random English that strangers approach her with.

Alice has been very interested in mobile phones and phone calls for a long time now. We bought a toy mobile phone for her on our last trip to Korea which was May of 2014 and it has always been a favourite. When she doesn’t have a real or toy phone to play with, she also improvises with her hand, pressing ‘buttons’ in her palm, and even holding it in front of her face with her other hand and counting down to take a photo “~!” (she imitates exactly the way we sound when we take photos)

Lately she has been doing something I have found particularly interesting. She’s started roleplaying longer phone conversations, and using them as a means to explore life as a bilingual person, some of the calls being in English, and some in Korean.

Since we haven’t intentionally taught her English at all, her English phone conversations go something like this:

“Hallo? Howyougoing?

Yeah? Yeah? Wee-wee? Yeah? Okay.


I think ‘wee-wee’ is an attempt at ‘really’ and the rest are expressions she hears frequently when I am on the phone, I guess..

Her Korean ‘conversations’ tend to go on a little longer, with a lot of babbly babyspeak sentences mixed in and sometimes expressive hand guestures with her other hand. The main content goes like this:


네 네 네~ ~ ~


끄’ might be an attempt at , or 끊어, I suppose.

She’ll also use the name of a family member she’s pretending to speak to.

Sometimes she will make a number of these ‘calls’ in a row, so I ask her who she’s calling, and she will tell me a family member each time, and the language used in the following call will correspond correctly to the language that person usually speaks to her.

I suppose this type of play indicates that Alice now has a real sense of English and Korean being different and distinct, and each language being a part of the major relationships in her life. She also seems to have a clear understanding of who uses which language. I guess she is now trying on the concept of also becoming an English speaker and imagining what that will be like. It seems that she might be ready and interested in beginning to take on more English language. I guess that means I will need to work just as hard for the next 12 months..