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!


Listening Progress | Language Learning

For those of you who don’t know, I’m learning Korean both in university (we’re offered free language courses alongside our degree) and through self study.

I made what felt like major progress today. From a couple of the language learning blogs I follow, they often write about how they’ve watched a film or an episode of a programme without any subtitles in their native language. That idea has always scared me senseless. I’ve tried a few times before today and have always failed catastrophically – either I get frustrated/bored and stop watching/turn on subtitles, or else I can’t understand anything and believe it’s a waste of time.

I’ve been watching a Korean Drama called 가족끼리 왜 이래? which (clichéd storylines and different local dialects aside) I’ve always thought uses fairly simple language. So today, seeing that the latest episode had only 10% completed English subtitles on Viki, I decided to put aside a couple of hours and watch it (rewinding whenever I didn’t understand something) raw.

The difference those couple of hours made! Even when the English subtitles appeared on the screen, I found I did not focus wholly on them as I usually do. Rather, I listened more and understood what they said through listening. Granted, I quite often only got the gist of what they were saying, but I know that if I persevered, it could really improve my listening skills. Amazing! I’ll be re-watching the episode with subtitles to see if I understood it all properly and then replay the parts without that I only got the gist of.

I reckon I probably understand about 40-50% of it all and then comprehended most of the rest through context. Let’s hope that percentage grows with practice!

So yeah, I would seriously give this technique a try once you know the basics for vocabulary and grammar in a specific language. I’ve watched a few children’s programmes (each of the episodes were 20 minutes long so it’s not as time-intensive as an episode of a drama/film) without subtitles and found that was a great starting point.

Good luck! 화이팅입니다!