Monday, April 25, 2011

Bilingual Potty Training

Our house has been alive with a new adventure these days: TheFry is finally getting the hanging of “Potty Training!” We’ve been working with him little by little for the last 7 months or so. We took the whole thing in several small steps, working only at home on weekends, then gradually introducing underwear, until he finally decided in March that he wanted to wear underwear to school and not his diaper.

However, the concern we always had about potty training was how it would work in two languages.

TheFry’s nursery school has been trying to encourage him to use the potty for the last five or six months. We had hoped that nursery school would aid in potty training success, and that the social pressure of being a big boy like his classmates would help him. However, we started potty training at home before the nursery did, and we were concerned about the confusion TheFry might feel when learning potty training at the school.

As much as I thought I might speak Korean with TheFry on a daily basis, it has not turned out that way. Most of our interactions occur in English, because the words I want to say just come naturally to me. Therefore, it felt awkward and even a little silly to try and teach him two sets of words for “pee” and “poop”. At first I started teaching him the words in English and Korean, but he seemed confused, and I was constantly fumbling over the words. Therefore, I dropped the Korean vocabulary and just trained him in English.

When he started potty training at the nursery school, I wrote in Hangeul the pronunciation for the words we used for “pee” and “poop.” The teachers were kind enough to make an effort to use the English words, but I know they were more than likely going through the same thing I just described. And, given that Dexter was used to hearing only Korean from them, it only made more sense for them to potty train him in Korean. (Furthermore, I’ve been told he actively ignores his teachers when they try and speak English to him, but that’s another story for another day.)

In the end, he learned both sets of words just fine, but now that he’s mastered potty training, he only uses the Korean words. Why? Maybe it’s because he knows I understand them. Maybe it’s because he spends a large part of every weekday speaking Korean and using the Korean words for “pee” and “poop”, and switching doesn’t seem to make much sense if he knows he’s being understood. Maybe he finds that the words just come easier to him in any case.

All this makes me wonder just a little bit how he will feel in other situations in his life. I’ve often wondered if, when he finds the one he loves in the future, whether the Korean words or English words for “I love you” will come first to his mind. Or, if he continues to worship God, which language he will feel more comfortable for worship. When he writes in his diary (if he ever has one), in which language will he write?

Though I ponder all these things often enough, for now I’m just glad to not be buying any more diapers for awhile!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

English Loan Words in Korean: A Bus Stop Story

One thing I’ve noticed TheFry doing in his language acquisition adventure is categorizing loan words in a very different way than I expected.

Let me explain this further for a minute. The Korean language (as used in South Korea) is full of English loan words. Many everyday objects are words taken straight from English with a Koreanized (or “Konglish”, as many of my students would say) pronunciation. Off the top of my head, I can think of these: bus, heart, truck, pink, pizza, chicken nuggets, cheeseburger, spaghetti, taxi. Yes, many of these items are food or transportation-related nouns, and it certainly doesn’t stop there – this is just the kind of vocabulary that’s infiltrated TheFry’s life right now.

Now, as a monolingual speaker of English, I tend to recognize the loan words as being English words borrowed into the Korean lexicon, and not separate members of the Korean lexicon. As my undergraduate studies in linguistics will refresh my memory, this is not necessarily the way that native speakers of Korean, especially monolingual Korean speakers, will think of such words. Anyhow, I had neglected to remember this when TheFry’s Korean and English lexicons began to form and appear in public. One particular incident brought all of this to the forefront of my mind:

We were standing at the bus stop and waiting, as we generally do on Saturdays, to go into Seoul or grocery shopping – I don’t remember which. We were all alone at the bus stop at first, and TheFry was chirping “Bus! Bus!” as he usually does, because he can’t say a word just once and leave it at that. Soon we were joined by other would-be passengers, and one lady in particular greeted us. TheFry refused to be greeted, protesting “No, thank you! No, thank you!” and hiding his face in my neck. Then, out of the blue, he turned to the lady and shouted “beoseu! beoseu!”

I had to laugh out loud. TheFry had perfectly differentiated the two words in pronunciation and usage. One thing he has managed to do since a very early moment in his acquisition of Korean and English is to distinguish to whom he speaks each language. In general, he uses English with his family members and other people that he knows will understand English, and he uses Korean with everyone else. So, he had distinguished the English word “bus” from the Korean word “beoseu” without any trouble.

This little anecdote reminds me that TheFry, as a native speaker of Korean, has acquired what I would call “loan words” as Korean words, and they appear to fall naturally into his Korean lexicon, separate from the English words from which they are derived. Those English words, in turn, appear to fall into his English lexicon, and are separate in form, but not in meaning, from their Korean equivalents. I will need to do more research to see if this is a common phenomenon, and if it indeed happens as I think it does, so if anyone has any pertinent information, please feel free to share. ^_^

I wonder how he will come to think of such words as he grows older. I can only assume that he will come to think of such words as loan words from English, although not English words – much in the same way Spanish loan words and phrases (i.e., “burrito”, “hasta la vista”) are recognized as being not native to English by many, if not most, English monolinguals. However, there is a chance he could still see them as distinct forms of separate languages (a similar example from Spanish would be “barbecue”, from barbacoa). It will be interesting to see how he thinks about and uses English loan words as he grows up.

Monday, April 11, 2011

TheFry's Linguistic Development: Bilingual Babbling

There are a couple of things I've wanted to do during TheFry's early growing-up years.  One of them was to make a baby book, which, after about two years, I finally finished.

Another was to keep track of all his developmental milestones beyond one year, which I've neglected to do.

Yet another was to write down a list of his first words, which I neglected to do until awhile ago, and then stopped about two weeks of trying to keep up with his rapidly developing vocabulary.  I even had a list of his words written in IPA with their intended meanings, in both Korean and English.  So, you can see what a daunting task that was, and I just didn't have the time for it.

One thing that I refuse to give up on is to track his linguistic development.  As a monolingual myself, I am constantly fascinated by my son's linguistic development.  I never thought I would raise a bilingual child (without having become bilingual myself, that is - a state in which I think I shall never find myself at this rate).  I think my undergraduate studies in linguistics has tainted the fascination somewhat; when other monolingual parents of bilingual children that I know seem in awe of his abilities to switch between Korean and English, I tend to shrug it off.  However, when that new word or phrase sprouts up, whether in Korean or English, and I see his maturity coming about, I can help but be joyous - it's almost as if he has two personalities, and he's dissected them completely.  However, he is one, and he knows he is one.  He recognizes himself in the mirror and in pictures, and talks about himself using his given English name and also his Korean name.  But, I wish to talk about the bicultural aspects of his linguistic development later.

This post is about the very beginning stage of his language production: his babbling.

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Bilingual Babbling

As much as I wanted to raise TheFry bilingual in Korean and English (even though he was born in the U.S.), when it came time and he was born, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t have the special vocabulary that made talking to an infant in Korean endearing. Korean, in my mind, was a very functional language for talking with other adults. I had no knowledge of Korean “baby talk” words (you know, like how we say “pee pee” instead of “urinate” in English…), nursery rhymes, lullabies, or any such conventions. Thus, I began to raise him as a monolingual.

When he was 10 months old, we moved to Korea. It was August 1, 2009. TheFry stayed at home with his father while I took a job as an English teacher at a private after-school program in Seoul. However, my husband was looking for a job, and it soon became clear that we would not be able to swap care of TheFry and have him stay at home as we had for nearly a year in the U.S. No, it was time to look for a suitable daycare for him.

There were no English-language daycares near us that we knew of at the time, and even if we had known of the few that existed, they would have almost certainly been out of our price range. Thus, in November 2009, when our son was just 13 months old, he was enrolled in a public all-Korean daycare near our home. The price was just under 400,000 won per month (roughly $350 at the time), and we were excited about the prospect of financing a second language so cheaply. As we could not possibly rear him bilingually on our own, the cost of the Korean-only daycare was completely worth it to us.

Now, TheFry was a bit behind the curve in development in many ways. At 13 months he could not walk and was still struggling with drinking from a sippy cup. We had barely gotten him to sleep in his own bed – and that’s only because we all slept on the floor next to each other; he just got a different mattress. Also, his linguistic development was slow – he was still barely babbling, and could not even say simple words like “mom” or “dad”, or even sounds resembling them. He continued to be fairly nonverbal throughout November, but towards December he really began to vocalize more often.

Here I must pause for a moment before talking about daycare to briefly describe what our lives were like out in public in Korea. People were constantly talking to TheFry wherever we went. They played “peek-a-boo” with him, and made a number of exclamations ranging from “wow, he’s cute!”, “he looks like a doll/angel”, to “he must be cold!”, all in Korean. He responded positively to these exclamations, basking in the attention and really playing it up. But something else started to happen as a result of all this sudden exposure to Korean, and it began before he started attending daycare. At the time I thought I was just imagining it, and even now I’m not so sure of it, but I still remember thinking: He started babbling in Korean.

Before, his babbling consisted of a lot of stops, for example: /b/, /d/, and /g/ were the most common. Now, I was hearing plosives, such as ㄲ (Romanized [kk] or [gg]) and ㄸ (Romanized [tt] or [dd]. As anyone can guess, once he entered daycare, it didn’t stop there. More “Korean” babbling ensued, and in fact took over his “English” babbling to a large extent. Furthermore, when my husband and I were very eagerly awaiting his first words, there emerged Korean words when we were still expecting English. (His first word was eomma, or “mom”, which was followed quite closely by kkakgung, or “peek-a-boo”).

From that point there came an explosion of vocabulary, most of which was Korean. In fact, when I hear him playing now, at two and a half years old, I hear plenty of conversations between toys and blankets and stuffed animals that I know is Korean and that I also do not understand.

I must say that there was a brief moment of a few months in all of this where I worried about TheFry’s linguistic development, especially his English development. At 20 months he hardly knew any English words, but was saying complete enough sentences in Korean (for example, I heard him say “my, how handsome!” in Korean after trying on a pair of my sunglasses).

At present, the two languages seem fairly evenly implanted in his mind. Back in November 2009, he was attending daycare part time, perhaps 4 to 6 hours a day, three or four days a week – now he attends for 8 or 9 hours a day so that my husband can study full-time while I’m working. However, even though his hours of Korean exposure outnumber his hours of English exposure by quite a bit during the weekdays, he communicates well enough in both languages – even though his two-year-old pronunciation is generally not understood by anyone except PapaFish and I.