My Korean Husband

Intercultural Life

Category: Korean Language (page 1 of 12)

Learning Korean and discussions about language

Does he speak English or Korean?

Raising a bilingual child

People are very curious about if our son Yul is learning both English and Korean, so we get a lot of questions. He is learning English and Korean both simultaneously. I mostly speak English to him while Hugh speaks Korean to him, but we also switch languages or repeat the same thing in the other language.

Yul is aware that there are two different languages and understands both. Well, as much as 20 month old toddler can understand. He does speak some words as well, mostly Korean but a few English words too.

We do get A LOT of questions about raising him bilingual. I understand that people are very curious, but he is going through a dinosaur phase where sometimes he’d rather roar like a dinosaur, than say anything. I’m sad that later in life he’ll discover that new dinosaur research suggests that dinosaurs probably honked like geese instead of roaring.

An old fashioned idea that still goes around is that being bilingual will be too confusing for him. Or that he should just focus on one language first. But we know that being bilingual has incredible benefits for him and the research supports us too. But sometimes I can see that people have their own misconceptions about it. For example, sometimes Korean people will try to speak in English to him, but we’ll say “Please speak Korean to him as that’s your native language and he understands it”. But then they will ask him something and expect him to reply! He’s too young! For example, they’ll ask, “How old are you?” He is too young to articulate that yet. But then the person will try to switch back to English, thinking Yul knows no Korean.

We’ve realised as parents, how little people in general understand about child development. Yul also does look a bit older than he is, so people expect him to be speaking full sentences. He says a bunch of words, but it doesn’t mean he is going to respond to your questions! Even when he was 6 months old we had people asking if he spoke English or Korean!

Another aspect of raising a bilingual child is that monolingual people can make judgements on how many words a child knows and perhaps criticize how few they know in their language. But actually a bilingual child usually has the same amount of words as other monolingual children at that age, but they are spread across 2 languages. For example, Yul may say about 10 words in Korean, while Korean kids a similar age are saying 15 or more. BUT, Yul is also saying 5 or 6 words in English which brings the total of words he knows up to a normal level. But only people who are speaking both English and Korean can see the amount of words he knows.

Yul is in a great environment for learning both languages at the same time. If we were in Australia we’d have to make a much bigger effort speaking Korean at home. But since we live in Korea, he hears Korean from Hugh, hears Korean at daycare and just being out in society. And then because English learning is considered so important in Korea, lots of TV shows and toys are switching between Korean and English. His electronic toys all have both Korean and English options and on kids channel they will have English segments. From an early age it’s easy for him to identify the two different languages and that he can switch between them depending on the situation.

Studies done on bilingual children have shown how good it is for the brain to know two or more languages. Bilingual children also tend to have a higher level of empathy as before they speak to someone they evaluate the situation, who the person is, and decide which language to use.

I’m sure I’ll have many more comics about being bilingual in the future!

How to say Tomato?

How to say tomato?

Actually the Korean pronunciation of tomato (토마토) sounds similar to British/Australian pronunciation, but Hugh said many Koreans think it sounds cooler to say it the American way. As if it’s some example of English speaking skills and a way to show off! Many Koreans have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with American English which means they will judge other’s pronunciation of words if they don’t sound American. It’s unfortunate because Korean English speaking skills on a whole would benefit from exposure to more accents, not just an American accent. Foreign English teachers in schools are told to speak with an American English even when they are not North American. This obsession with the American accent, which they are already exposed to anyway, hinders Koreans when they have interactions with English speakers that have a different accent. And there are many types of English accents!

I have no problem with Americans saying “tomato” in a way is natural for them, but I scolded Hugh for saying it that way when there was no need to. He still gets judged on the way he speaks English, usually by Koreans who don’t speak English anywhere near as well as him! There is an idea many people have of how English is supposed to sound if you speak it well, but the reality is quite different. When a Korean adopts a strong American accent when they are not a native speaker (and haven’t been to the US) it can sound very jarring, especially to native English speakers that have a different accent. To me it sounds better if an accent is something that happens naturally and is not forced. So usually Hugh has a Korean accent and says some things in an Australian way and still has some slight tenancies he learnt in The Philippines.

I hope Koreans don’t continue to feel pressure to speak English in a certain way, even though it seems that I’m pressuring Hugh to speak the Australian way! hehe

We talk about the rubbish man comic! Just because you know how to translate something doesn’t mean it sounds good in the Korean language!

Let us know what other comics you’d like us to revisit and talk about. They don’t have to be recent ones, we can dig up some older ones. We actually don’t remember all the comics so it’s fun to go back and have a look.

I have to be honest and say that I did know it sounded bad in Korean when I first said this to Hugh (before I made the comic). But I was being a bit naughty and seeing if he would react. He did.

The original comic is here!

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This is just one of the mistakes I’ve made in Korean! It’s hard learning a second language and not knowing how words are related or not related at all. At least Hugh got a good laugh out of my dumb assumption.

Our audience can be quite fragmented. We have people who only read the comics, people who only watch our videos and some who only follow the Nicholalala webtoon. This new series is a way of showing the comics to the YouTube audience and to discuss them further as a couple.

When I posted this comic there were people who said they thought the same thing, so I felt a little less dumb! Let us know what other comics you’d like us to revisit in a video!

Original comic is here.

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That sounds a lot worse in Korean… I’ve often heard Koreans use that when they describe someone really bad but “rubbish” in English doesn’t sound as extreme as that. This is why you can’t always directly translate things. I knew it was worse in Korean so I said it deliberately to get a reaction from Hugh. “Trash” in American English may be closer to the way the Korean word can be used, especially with the way younger people call people “trash” but probably still not the same connotations.

What other words or sayings can sound a lot worse when directly translated into English or Korean?

When I posted this comic on Instagram I had some comments like, “But what is the direct translation?” This still is the direct translation, but the point is that words have different meanings and connotations in different languages. It doesn’t always mean what you want it to. It can lead to accidentally offending!

Remembering Names

He likes the TV show “Luke Cage” but always calls it “Lucas Cage”.

There always comes a point in multicultural marriages where you get scolded for something your partner does constantly as well. I need to try harder to remember Korean names, but Hugh also thinks so many English names are interchangeable. Luckily he has never called me “Nicole” before…




“Oppa” is the Korean term that I often use for Hugh as he is an older male. It can also be used in the context of our relationship as a pet name. Unfortunately in a crowd there are many “oppas” so Hugh often assumes it’s a woman calling out to another guy, and not to him. If I call out “Oppa” to him it doesn’t really get his attention. Calling out “Hugh” also doesn’t get his attention if we are in a loud place. Lately I’ve been calling out “oi” in a very Australian accent and have found it works so much better! Especially when I stress my Australian accent as he knows it’s immediately me. The word “oi” is used quite a bit in Australian English.

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