[Q&A] Do you intend to speak Korean language to your children?

Should you speak Korean to your children bilingual kid languagesDo you intend to speak to your kids in Korean language?

– Anonymous 

I will gladly give my opinion. However, since I don’t really speak Korean, and  Kimchi Man and I are not too keen on having children, I think msleetobe  from On Becoming a Good Korean (Feminist) Wife has  much more authority on this topic. She is a Canadian woman married to a Korean man, living in Korea, and recently had a beautiful baby boy who she calls Dragon on her blog. That’s why I asked her if she would write an answer and she kindly agreed. Here is a wonderful answer she gave:

Before our son was born, my Korean husband was searching for daycare options in our area, and he was informed by the operator of one that our son would be bullied unless I, an English-speaking Canadian, spoke only Korean to him at home. At best the woman was unaware of both the science and real live children who show that it is possible to successfully learn two or more languages at once during the formative years. At worst, she either believed that a father has no role in the home education of his child or that expats residing in Korea should give up their heritage in favour of Korean language and culture. That’s not what our family believes, and that’s not how we live our lives.

My husband speaks Korean to his three month old son each day. He also sings him Korean songs, reads Korean books, and watches Korean shows with him while at the same time subtly imparting Korean culture just as any other father. Our son hears only Korean from his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. He will attend Korean daycare, kindergarten, and elementary school, and he will most likely speak Korean on the playground as he gets older. Living here and being immersed in the culture, we feel pretty confident that he will speak Korean just fine. And if he needs extra assistance, there’s a plethora of hogwans (after school academies) and private or government-sponsored tutors to fill the gap.

However, while I may use Korean words here and there, I will not be speaking Korean on a regular basis to our son. The reason is simple: language experts say that children best learn and separate different languages if each parent speaks one language to the child. Of course, practically speaking, we tend to speak mostly English at home, so our son will naturally hear his father conversing in English, and in public, he will hear his mother interacting with store clerks, taxi drivers, etc. in Korean. Nevertheless, the main interaction our son has with each of his parents should be in their native tongue because then he can learn proper pronunciation, grammar, and idiomatic expressions. I also have a responsibility to pass on my language and culture to our child, and I actually anticipate this job being even harder because his world outside our home will not only be all Korean, but also full of Konglish. I imagine that one day I will be frustrated by our son saying ‘diamond’ in four syllables instead of two, or battling with his English teachers when they tell him he has to use ‘color’ instead of ‘colour’ or ‘zee’ instead of ‘zed’ as a result of the influence of American English in Korean schools. But despite the small hurdles we will face with trying to pass on two languages and cultures to our child, it is an important endeavour. Our son is both Korean and English-Canadian, and it is our responsibility and privilege to help him understand his heritage and prepare him for an increasingly globalised world where cultural awareness and bilingualism are increasingly important skills.

– msleetobe

I sincerely thank msleetobe on her answer. And here is mine:

Kimchi Man and I are currently in Europe, but our plan is to permanently relocate to Korea. If I would manage to learn Korean and if I would move to Korea and if I had a baby, then, yes, I would speak Korean to her/him.

My native language is spoken by far fewer people than Korean is so I would much rather that from very young age my child learns English as a second language. Msleetobe has the advantage of English being her native language.

I have seen over and over again how important English is in today’s world. After all, my love life as well as my (future) professional life would be much worse off without English. Kimchi Man and I talk to each other exclusively in English and that is probably not going to change any time soon.

Not to mention that without English I would have never been able to start this blog.

Knowing many languages is both useful and exciting. I would encourage my child to learn other languages later on in life but let her/him choose which ones.

However, if we chose to live in country other than Korea, then I would do my best to speak the language of the country I am in. That, of course, includes my own country. I guess the language I would choose to speak to my child depends on the country my child would grow up in, not the countries where its mother and father were born. But as you can see from my answer, there are a lot of “ifs” and future is impossible to predict, so I would leave all options open.

– Oegukeen

If you had to live with your child in a foreign country, which language would you speak to her/him? Would you prefer raising a bilingual or a trilingual child?


You might also like:

Interview with Canadian woman married to a Korean man Should I speak Korean language to my children Is my dream of going to South Korea going to turn into a nightmare?
[Interview] Canadian woman married to a Korean man living in Korea – Msleetobe [Q&A] Will my Korean man marry me? [Q&A] Is my dream of going to South Korea going to turn into a nightmare?

20 thoughts on “[Q&A] Do you intend to speak Korean language to your children?

  1. My Korean husband and I don’t have kids yet, but we have agreed that when we have children, Korean should be their first language. Anyway, even if we don’t enforce them to speak Korean, they’re going to learn it because they are going to grow up here in SK. My husband said he would speak to our children ONLY in Korean, although he can speak English well. I, on the other hand, will never talk to them in Korean. I’m going to use English in our conversations and maybe Filipino sometimes. My husband is a bit worried that the kids may get confused, but I’m a language teacher… and I know that children learn a second language best. =)

  2. Even if I surely am not an expert of the field of developmental or cognitive psychology, the thing I’ve learnt (not from my own experiences but through the voice of experts of the field) is that it would always be most beneficial to the child that his/her parents would teach their own mother language no matter how ‘useless’ that language would be in the child’s situation then. (And bear in mind you never can be sure if that ‘insignificant’ language might be useful at some point of that child’s life.) Even if your skills in the language in question, were it for example Korean or English, were high you might not be on the level of a native speaker. This can lead in to small mistakes in pronunciation, grammar, idioms etc. which can have a negative effect on the child’s linguistic development. Of course the surroundings might fix these minor mistakes if the child’s interaction with it is frequent enough.

    As for myself, my native language has only 5 million speakers and it is internationally rather useless with almost nonexistent language family. Yet I would choose to use this language with my children if I were to have them outside the borders of my country.

    • Hello nyymi, thank you for sharing your point of view.

      Even when we speak our own language we make many mistakes. Proper language is learnt at school, from books, listening to news, etc. I have no doubt that if I taught my hypothetical child English from birth, it would surpass my skills with little effort.

      According to the research, even bilingual children can revert to being monolingual if the second language is not used often enough. Imagine what then happens with third language.

      Should my child need my native language one day, it will decide to learn it, and I will be there to help.

      I think everyone should just relax. Bilingual children only have advantages over monolingual children in very specific areas, like better understanding of language as an abstract system. Surely it is more important for my child that I am a happy and non-frustrated mother.

  3. Do you not plan to let your children meet his grand-parents? I find it extremely sad to think that a child and his grand-parents can’t understand each other.

    I’m also really curious as to why it would result in you unhappy and frustrated to talk to your child in your native tongue.

    • My parents speak English as well.

      People are unhappy and frustrated if society forces them to do something they do not want. If my children live in my native country I will happily speak to them in my native tongue.

  4. I think the expert consensus is that it’s best to speak to your children in your own native language. Why deny them that special connection?
    It’s true that they will gravitate toward the language of the community that surrounds them. That’s fine, and you can’t change it anyway. But children can handle “mommy’s language” and “daddy’s language” without much difficulty.
    Plus, knowing two languages will make learning a third somewhat easier.

  5. I have some of friend have been living another country(I`m korean),
    and she often told me that she was sometimes confused because of her`s identify
    actually she hadn`t any memories about korea, just some of friends at all who made before moving from korea.
    and also she didn`t understand why she has to learn korea language.
    so between father and her sometimes fought due to learning langage(korean and english).
    of course, It is very important to learn a various launguage for furture.
    but just In my opinion, parents have to know about their children more deeply.
    (tendency, personality and so on.)
    what do you think of that??

  6. Hi there! I came across your blog through Facebook. I have to say I am really sad you don’t want to teach your mother tongue to your children but rather choose English. Kids nowadays will pick up English even if they don’T want to,especially in interracial marriages where the main communication is in English. But if you decide to teach them your language later, they wont be able to use the correct pronunciation anymore or achieve a near native level (bcs our speech organs can only get used to the sounds of a language properly until puberty). I had a roommate at university, her father was Hungarian, her mother Bulgarian, they lived in Hungary and her father talked to her in Hungarian, her mother in Bulgarian but at home together they spoke English. She also learnt French at school. She could distinguish between these languages easily and didn’t cause her any problems. You would think what can someone in Hungary do with BUlgarian but she still ended up finding jobs exactly bcs she could speak that language too.

    My language (Hungarian) is spoken by 10 million ppl in Hungary (outside of the borders by more but still not a big language) but I am soooo proud of my own language, I would die if my children would not be able to speak it or be connected to the culture of my home country. I would do my best to make them as much Hungarian as Korean (since my bf is Korean). BUt at home of course we will speak English mostly bcs that is what me and my bf both understand. I don’t see any problem with our children learning 3 languages this way and not just two…

    I know that by learning languages myself, I have become a richer person in many ways…the more languages I learn, the more diverse my knowledge and experience is…and the more open and empathic I get. Not to mention all the different cultures are absorbed by me in a way. Even though you think your language might not benefit your children in Korea, think about these values I have described above…People in America tend to think you should only learn things that you can directly use right there and then but I disagree with that…People can handle a lot more and become something bigger with every bit of knowledge they acquire.

    • We are happy you found our blog. And it’s great to meet another European with Korean boyfriend. :) And thank you for this comment, it gave me a lot to think about.

      Please don’t be sad for my children that will probably never even exist. There are so many bad things happening to children that are real and need our help.

      You misunderstood me. I never said children should only learn things they can directly use. I grew up monolingual, and here I am, writing a blog in English – a foreign language for me, and learning 5th language (Korean) right now. I’m just fine, so bilingual children should be just fine too. I also never said it is a problem to grow up learning 3 languages. Just in my situation, I wouldn’t do it.

      I know we can’t get proper pronunciation when we grow up. But I am not embarrassed of my accent! And I think Kimchi Man’s accent is adorable. Also, probably more people speak English with Chinese accent nowadays, than they do with American or British. :)

      I just don’t understand how I could be proud of my native language. Or nationality. I was born into it. I didn’t choose it. I didn’t contribute anything to it.

      I also don’t believe in this “making them Hungarian” or “making them Korean”. What does that even mean? I believe people are unique and special, and shouldn’t be forced to fit into pre-defined mold.

      I was lucky to have an opportunity to get education I wanted, and on the side try to learn so many languages. Not many people get that. I see so many who have bad luck or had bad teachers and struggle with English. That is why I would give English a priority. I wouldn’t risk it.

      • Of course I didn’t say you meant you should only learn what you can directly use. I said many Americans say this and this is why American education doesn’t focus that much on certain things (this is why we tend to say they are stupid and don’t know as much about the world as they should…which is of course a generalization but does have a basis somewhere).

        By “making them Hungarian” I meant to teach them about HUngarian culture and history and whatever so it will be a part of their identity. You are right, you cannot choose where you are born but I don’t think it is a bad thing to identify yourself with the culture or traditions of the country you were born in. Not everyone likes their home country, especially when someone struggles to make ends meet there…Or when there is a really strong political power that controls everything.
        To be honest I don’t agree when people try to act like there are no boundaries between countries or people. Because there are, like it or not…anyway.

        You are also right about why philosophize about children that don’t even exist yet or maybe never will. :))

        The thing about pronunciation or accent, my bf-s accent is cute too (even though sometimes I don’T understand a word he is saying due to it). It’s just kind of awkward for me to imagine my child speaking for example Hungarian with an accent, when his/her mother is a native speaker. But i guess that’s just me then….

        You are right about many people struggling to learn English but almost 90% of them don’t live in families where the parents use English or even know how to speak it. If they are surrounded by any language, they will learn it even if they don’t want it…I am a non-English native myself too, and I do use English online 99% of the time, it does help me a lot…but that is not just who I am and I would not want my kids to limit themselves to English just bcs it helps them in the world of today the most. I mean I won’t teach my children Chinese just bcs it might be the next lingua franca. Anyway, sorry I am rambling on, it was a looooong day -.-

        By the way, it IS nice meeting a fellow European…I would be interested how you can get a job in KOrea, bcs I myself find it extremely difficult, bcs I am originally a qualified English and German teacher but as you probably already know, in KOrea they only want native speakers to teach children (even though my pronunciation is pretty good and I like to think I am at a decent level in both languages).

        • I just don’t feel that my identity comes from my country’s history or culture. My identity comes from the choices I make and the beliefs I have. I was sitting at a family lunch yesterday thinking how incredibly different these people are from each other, and we share DNA, and we all have spent our whole lives in the same town.

          If you are proud of the good things your country and citizens have done, are you also ashamed of the bad things they have been done through history?

          If you believe boundaries between countries and people are important, do you feel a boundary between you and your boyfriend?

          You are right, as far as I heard only native English speakers get English teaching jobs. But there have been instanced of people getting work in other areas.
          Maybe you can get a job as a teacher of Hungarian. I’m sure some of the Korean universities teach Hungarian.

          • Yeah I am ashamed of the bad things we have done and the choices we have made, especially political choices. But all in all I love living in my country although nowadays many people condemn it, and it has become fashionable to hate living here and everyone wants to go abroad bcs they think “fences are made of sausages abroad”. :)

            I do feel the boundary between me and my boyfriend and although I have seen different cultures and thought I was quite understanding towards other cultures, Korean culture, worldview and behaviour seems many times soooo extreme and difficult that I just cannot find a way to accept it. And I don’t feel any support from his side towards my own culture…but that can be a personal thing too…

            Hanguk uni has a Hungarian Institute but the staff is so limited and they only want people who have a degree in Hungarian literature and grammar (which I don’t have :/). But I will need to find out about that once I finish university in January.

            • That is too bad. I don’t think you need to be ashamed because you didn’t do any of it. You weren’t even born yet.

              I used to be in a relationship with a man from another European culture. I felt then what you feel now.

              And then I found Kimchi Man. At first, I thought Korean culture is more similar to mine. But I soon realized there is no way that Korean culture is more similar than another European culture. That is when I realized that I wrongly explained that man’s behavior with his culture and Kimchi Man’s behavior with Korean culture.

              The reason why I don’t see any differenced with Korean culture is because Kimchi Man is similar to me. I experience Korean culture trough him, just like you experience it trough your boyfriend. And Kimchi Man makes it seem mild, understanding, interesting and welcoming.

  7. I think the idea of languages and children is fascinating.

    I was born in Canada, to American parents… neither of which spoke French. But they sent me to a French school, and we lived in a French neighborhood.

    Then we moved back to the States, and my mother put me into a Spanish school so I could learn her native language. I was 8 – but I learned Spanish just fine. And my English also adapted fine from Canadian style to American style.

    I don’t think children have any problems learning languages when they’re young! So I think that no matter what you speak to them at home, they’ll also learn whatever language they speak at school and outside the house. …like little sponges.

    • You are certainly right.

      The problem arises with languages children are not surrounded with, and only learn in schools, the way English is taught in Korea and most European countries.

  8. where I reside we speak 3 languages, I learnt 2 when I was really young, I was able that time to learn all the 3 languages but my parents were the one to blame because they didn’t think it”ll be useful, well it is useful, I am trying hard to learn it now cause it’s never to late, but if I’m going to marry( please god make my husband a Korean please god Amen) there I’ll make sure that he learns languages as many as possible.

  9. This was very useful for me. I am Bulgarian and my boyfriend is Polish but none of us is planning to live in our home countries. Me and my boyfriend we speak to each other in English. Currently I am living in France and my boyfriend will join me in less than a year. I really want to learn my future child my mother tongue and same goes for my boyfriend. It is a bit hard for the child in the beginning but I think all of them adapt at some point. And when it comes to langues – the more, the better.

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