The ABCs of Korean | Teen Ink

The ABCs of Korean MAG

March 8, 2008
By Dongeun (Jane) Seo GOLD, Davis, California
Dongeun (Jane) Seo GOLD, Davis, California
11 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Ga, na, da, ra.” They recite in unison as I point to the intricate ­Korean alphabets.

Hmm … too easy?

Facing the whiteboard, I carefully form a word incorporating these ­elaborate characters, crossing my fingers for someone to shout out the answer.

Nabi!” someone declares. “It means ‘butterfly.’”

Pleasantly surprised, I turn around to see Joshua, an ebullient six-year-old Korean boy who was adopted by an American family, grinning broadly. I smile in awe as Joshua and seven other children confidently smile back.

Established in 2000, Davis Korean School is composed of volunteer ­teachers with the goal of increasing linguistic and cultural awareness among second-generation Korean-Americans. When my mom decided to teach there last fall, I inadvertently began volunteering as well. At first, I viewed it as a dreaded duty that took time away from hanging out with my friends. But this three-hour weekly commitment, initially viewed with ­contempt, soon turned into my priority when school began in September.

I was assigned to teach the youngest class – six- to eight-year-olds. When I assessed their skills, none could read, let alone write or speak, even the most rudimentary Korean. I had to start by introducing the ABCs of Korean.

Korean is one of the most difficult languages to master due to its unique alphabets called Hangul. In a matter of weeks, the children’s initial enthusiasm diminished as they grew weary of the overwhelming material. I decided to change my tactics; instead of providing assignments from the teacher’s point of view, I’d create activities relatable to the children themselves.

Rather than handing out countless pages of boring worksheets, I organized games integrating Korean alphabets. Rather than having the children “read” books that they didn’t understand, I had them actively engage in a sing-along of Korean folk songs. Like brilliant fireworks soaring into the sky, the children’s interest and results rapidly peaked to their full potential.

Just six months later, these children who previously had no knowledge of Korean could read, write, and speak this language by sounding out each syllable. This is a truly miraculous achievement that I had deemed impossible.

Korean school is not just about learning Ko­rean. Rather, it is a place where children who were previously unfamiliar with their native background gain awareness and appreciation for their culture. I am grateful to be part of their journey of grasping the importance of cultural duality.

Recently, the students participated in the annual Culture Day, experiencing a variety of traditional Korean games such as Nul-Tee-Gee (Korean seesaw) and Bak-Tuh-To-Ree-Gee (Korean piñata). As I watched them frolic happily, I became certain that with devotion, effort, and willingness, learning Korean is, in essence, as easy as GaNaDa.

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This article has 2 comments.

on Dec. 9 2011 at 8:58 pm
musicisthegoodlife GOLD, Daegu, Other
17 articles 1 photo 8 comments
wow. I really loved this article- the vocabulary use was perfect and the message you were trying to get across rang clear throughout your writing.  I'm actually a Korean myself, and reading this brings back the memories when my mom used to teach hangul in the United States. Fantastic job, and keep writing~

i<3steven! said...
on Feb. 24 2010 at 4:08 pm
i really like this article. i think that it's very cool that you were able to do that. i love volunteering my time and helping out little kids