Nursery rhymes – language learning tips

It’s been a while! I’ll be taking TOPIK I in a few months – probably April. I decided now that I’ve finished university and no longer have Korean classes to work towards, I should set myself a language learning goal to stay on top of things.

I thought I’d share a great language learning method I used – and continue to use, really – when I was first starting out. Actually, it happened by accident. I decided to watch a Korean drama after learning the alphabet and some of the basics and ended up watching Full House. There’s a scene in it where the main character prepares a “gift” for her boyfriend’s family the first time (I think?) she meets them.

She ends up singing a nursery rhyme called “The Three Bears” (곰 세 마리).

I know. Super awkward and cringey. I’ve added the YouTube video of it so you can also share my second-hand embarrassment.

The thing is, as with most nursery rhymes, it was such a catchy tune that I would find myself humming it afterwards. So I looked up the English lyrics so I could understand what was being said, then watched the nursery rhyme video while following along with the Korean lyrics.

Not only did it teach me some Korean vocabulary, it also taught me some basic Korean grammar. Here are the lyrics:

곰 세 마리가 한 집에 있어
아빠 곰, 엄마 곰, 아기 곰
아빠 곰은 뚱뚱해
엄마 곰은 날씬해
아기 곰은 너무 귀여워.
으쓱! 으쓱*!  잘한다

And in English:

Three bears live in a house
Daddy bear, mummy bear, baby bear.
Daddy bear is plump,
Mommy bear is slim,
Baby bear is too cute.
Shrug! Shrug! You are doing well!

*because kids sing the rhyme, they shrug their shoulders at this part. There’s a dance which goes along with the rhyme.

Although I had learnt 개 as a counter for items by that point, I didn’t know that different objects/beings used different counters. So seeing 세 마리 (three animals) made me realise this and research the different counters.

The method also taught me about topic/subject marking particles and helped me understand when to use one over the other (though I still struggle with it, annoyingly). It taught me how to change topics in a conversation and how to structure sentences.

There are also so many great, basic vocabulary words in this:

곰 – Bear

집 – House

아빠 – Dad

엄마 – Mum

아기 – Baby

뚱뚱하다 – Fat/overweight

날씬하다 – Thin

너무 – Too much

귀엽다 – Cute

으쓱 – Shrug

잘하다 – To do well

So yeah. I recommend listening to nursery rhymes at the beginning of your language learning journey! You could even learn the dance if you wanted! I believe it would help build your confidence in your target language; being able to sing along to a song is pretty impressive, if you ask me.

I did a similar thing with the song 담배가게 아가씨 and 너에게 난 나에게 넌 once I was more confident with the language. The pace of the songs are fairly slow, which made it easier to learn and sing along. Good luck; let me know if you use this technique!


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Hi, my name's Jasmine, I'm 25 and I live in London. This blog is simply to note down my current thoughts - got any opinions on what I write about (or if you simply want to drop me a line), comment me :)!

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