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Mother brand English as an effective approach to teach English for young children as a foreign language in Korea.

Parents must be the first teachers and the best English teachers for children in their whole life. Now in Korea, some brave and challenging mothers are innovating new English approaches in their homes with their young kids. They have goals that their children come to possess the ability to use the English language as a vehicle to think and solve problems and communicate for making creative and productive participation in our global society. These parents also implement English approach called Mother-Brand English or Home-brand English. "Mother-Brand English" is a movement to influence children to experience linguistic and cultural diversity at home. It is imperative that children understand a wide world with a variety of cultures and the English language as English learners. Those parents explore many different kinds of children's literature and inspiring readers and critics based on those books. These mothers have an increased capacity for enhancing and understanding the quality of English-teaching based on use multi media and written materials.


The number of elementary, middle and high school students going overseas to study has been increasing in recent years and it continues to do so today. As a result, South Korea's international balance of tuition fees made by students going overseas to study suffered a deficit of ($1.85 billion) last year (The Korea Times, 2004). In order to send their children to study abroad with their mother, fathers called father geese stay alone in South Korea while their wife and children are sent to adjust to the new school and a new country.

For this reason the number of father geese that send their wife and children to study English and have business jobs in South Korea has increased during the last decade. The main purpose of studying abroad from primary school is to become fluent in English; however, it results in a lot of financial payments and the sacrifice of a cozy family net.

There are two types of language learning as a second language. The first one is called simultaneous acquisition, which occurs when parents speak more than two languages. For example, the father speaks English and the mother speaks Korean from a very early age. The other approach for second language learning is described as "sequential or successive acquisition" which occurs when children start to learn another language after the mother language is somewhat obtained.

The second approach has been often seen in the public school system because the National Curriculum in elementary schools in South Korea provide English classes twice a week from the third grade. Each English class has fifty minutes. Of course, some mothers don't think this is enough time for children to learn English.

Generally speaking, many people believe that children easily learn a second language in school after they establish their first language in the family from the time of the children's birth. However, contrary to those widely held beliefs, learning English from young child at home has been spreading in South Korea. A basic key factor of supporting children as English language learners is establishing an atmosphere of natural context of English surroundings at home.

Some parents want their children to learn English from early infancy. These parents prefer their children to enjoy valuable children literature all by themselves in English instead of translating children books that might lose their value and essence. In particular, well-known classical books by Eric Carle, John Burningham, Marice Sendak and Audrey Wood, who are authors of famous picture books in English-speaking countries, are commonly used. Some mothers who encourage young children to learn English from infancy believe that there is a little gap between cognitive developmental level and English level related to a variety of materials such as a picture books, animation movies, and other children's media stuff if their children learn English in primary school. If parents want their own children to reach native-like proficiency in a second language, they need to provide exposure to English surroundings for their children to experience from early infancy. But, if the goal of learning English is just communicative ability in a foreign language, early start would not be necessary or particularly beneficial (Lightbown and Spada, 1999).

This English approach in South Korea is called 'Mother Brand English', which means this approach has been implemented and developed by many mothers. The advocated of this Mother Brand English approach is real for most mothers and a few fathers and grandparents who apply it to their children at home. Although they do not seem professional in academic knowledge based on children's language learning, they really are researchers and observers to guide their children's language learning every day. They can be authentic knowledge producers and advocates to watch their children's development.

This Mother Brand English has used meaningful ways that allow children to practice and develop the skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening in an integrated way, just as in authentic communicative situations at home.

However, not all parents who use this approach are good at English. But, they just enjoy reading many books with their own kids in English. Also, they have been using a variety of multimedia to provide live English surroundings at home. Audiotapes and videotapes are appropriate material to provide the effective input for children with mothers at home.

This teaching approach that evolved from these notions, referred to acquisitions rather than learning based on Chomsky's (1980) theory focused on input process, which is a critical requirement. For example, listening from natural environments and naturally meaningful communication to use English in particular social contexts. Children should start to learn English by listening to meaningful conversations and by responding nonverbally in meaningful ways. Amazing benefits in this approach are that it has been developed by many parents who are not only advocates and but also researchers to implement new ways for their own children with their real love and interests.

For example, a 5-year-old girl named Youngju frequently likes to play activities and games in the Barbie Web Site and enjoys decorating many princess dreams such as Rapunzell, Swan Lake, Nutcraker, and many kinds of fairies in Fairytopia.

Recently, she watched the Barbie video, "The Princess and the Pauper". Her mother had the child draw and dictate characters' name on the paper besides her drawing. Her mother also encourages her girl to retell the story and emphasize repeating words. She wrote "prinnesss" for princess, milaid for maid, and "wadding" instead of 'wedding.' She already understands the knowledge that sounds can be associated with letters and had attention to familiar visual configurations of letters and to such word parts as prefixes and suffixes. Of course, she is not always using the correct convention for a given word, and does not always remember the correct order of letters in the conventional spelling. But, she frequently wrote the correct spelling of short vowels. Her mother encourages her to write invented spellings to create her own story. When a child wants to know the right word, she likes to find a word in a children's English dictionary. However, she was born in South Korea, and has never been abroad: How could she get this English ability as well as Korean? This case might be one of meaningful solutions for the exodus of South Koreans to study abroad just to study English. This child has developed her English progression by being exposed to meaningful input that is just one step beyond their level of competence since she has been twenty seven months old. Her mother created an atmosphere for her to have a silent reading and provided all type of books in English children like to read in everyday life at home.

Another boy, a twenty-four month old, named Jinsu, begins to enjoy many picture books in English from twelve months.

He likes to read books, the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and pointed his finger to the egg and said "egg" in English, and pointed to an apple and said " apple" and he goes to get an apple in a dish. He looks at something and just says the word in English.

Finally, when he looked at the butterfly, he said "butterfly" in English and he pretended to flap his wings like a butterfly. However, although his mother pointed to the strawberry and sounded it out, he did not copy it. On the contrary, he called it "Dalgui" which is the word for strawberry in Korean. He insisted in saying out "strawberry" in Korean. Finally, when he turned twenty-seven months, he tried to sound out "strawberry" in English. I think he feels like sounding strawberry in English is not as easy as other words in English because the sound "raw" in strawberry is not used in Korean.

In order to implement mother brand English, parents have a critical role in planning an environment that encourages children's learning English through many materials such as books and multimedia in daily life.

These parents believed that English learning based on these premises allow children who learn two languages at the same time from infancy to become more fluent than those children who start to learn two languages after about age 7 or 8. These parents make a distinction between second language acquisition in a natural context and just learning in school. The problems or dilemmas of children who begin to learn English from age 9 are related to the content level of materials such as books and a variety of media because these children's cognitive level to perceive and understand the world differ from the level of materials they have to learn English with. Because children are just beginners in learning English, materials for children should be as easy as those children are able to deal with. However, children from early infancy who learned English are able to enjoy many different kinds of materials such as picture books and audio and visual process and activities and develop into fluent English users very naturally as they grow up.

The key points of early English start are natural acquisitions that focus on the exposure of rich English surroundings around children with appropriate developmental practice, with parents and the home environment being meaningful stimuli. This approach enables the natural context to input English to children and not to induct output from children in a hurry. It is apparent that this approach is similar to the process of the first language that is for a while to input in listening, though expecting no output.

How could this approach be appropriate and practical is related to parents participation, which have implemented as parents movement that attempt to change English approach from bottom?

That's how today South Korea has one of the world's Widest Internet systems and most developed Internet market, the whole nation seems a little cyber world. More than a third of South Korea's 47 million people are logging on to the Internet. South Korea's Internet systems provide 24-hour and high access to the World Wide Web. Computer and the Internet are changing the possibilities for learning English in a technology society.

Many Internet bookstores become a great support system to help parents discuss early English learning issues, get information, or share their real experiences with their kids.

In particular, mothers as Netizens could access many different kinds of English learning and teaching websites and get a lot of information and share their experiences with their own children for English teaching at home.

Parents must be the first teachers and best English teachers for children in their whole life. Also, home should be the first language classroom for both Korean and English. The essential relationship between a child and caregiver shows the importance of the parents' role to teach and provide English rich environments. Many parents and even grandparents try to teach their own children to learn English from early age. Some of them need to get more advice and support and get help with each other through the Internet in the cyber community. Many parents now use the Internet as a vehicle through which parents and teachers can form learning cyber communities. The leading representatives of English websites for young children of South Korea has around 250,000 members who joined this site and provided English information for young child and parents.

These parents also implement English approach called Mother- brand or Home--brand English. They also meet together to study and teach their children once a week as home school teachers. They develop new programs and share their experiences and empower each other. Some of them become professional English teachers and build English home schools in their home to teach other neighbor children.

Those mothers explore many different kinds of children's literature and inspiring readers and critics based on those books. These mothers have an increased capacity for enhancing and understanding the quality of English teaching based on using multi media and written materials. Mothers can learn about teaching and acquisition of English through self- inquiry and their own experience with their own kids. One mother who provides early English surrounding to her kids who are 12-month old was interviewed.

"I found that mother goose rhymes serves as great learning materials for my children. I also enjoy audio beat, stress, sound, intonation, and the imaginative use of words and ideas in mother goose that contribute to the child's developing language. When I learned English at first, I thought English was just one of the subjects in the curriculum in junior high school. I could remember that I had done my best to get high score on the English test. Thus, the meaning of learning English was just studying and hard works for me. That's why I want to provide exciting and interesting experiences for my kids related to English learning. One of those solutions is the sharing of many children's literature books in English with my kids instead of textbooks."

We found and analyzed some categories based on their own levels. These categories developed from young children.

There are certain developmental stages of learning English. We observed children who have learned English from early age and interviewed six mothers.

First step

Children just perceive the words. However, they just listen and understand but cannot speak.

Parents say "Where is a car?" or "This is an apple" They can teach children in daily life, children can point a finger to the things parents mention without speaking. After time goes on this process for a while, children begin to say a few words. They just begin to say a few words they just like to share with their mother and father.

Second step

Children learn many words at a fast speed and they can speak only a few words.

But, a child can change at each time to speak Korean and English depending on when she or he prefers to speak.

One mother had finished cooking for dinner, as her 27 month boy clapped hands and said "good job, mom", or when another mother came from outside during the summer, she said "I am hot ", a child listening responded" I am hot, too".

Third step

Children can speak a few words and connect each word. For example, blue car, more juice, teddy bear, green leaf. Children can speak the first word in Korean and the second word in English. For example, this is my Jib (house in Korean), it is a nice and white cha (car in Korean). Children in this stage seem to use S at the end of the Korean to represent plurals and also connect each word with and between Korean. For example, I want to eat bae (pear) and podo (grapes).

Fourth step

Children start to distinguish and use both Korean and English.

Children begin to understand sentences with Who, What, How, Where, When, Which and make a question to ask what they want to know or get information. Also, children are able to give the right answer to questions and make an interrogative sentence with a question mark. For example, 'Where are you? When we come? What do you want to buy?' Children can communicate with basic sentences and make simple dialogues to communicate. For example, when a child went to the supermarket with her mother, she asked in English "I want to buy some cookies." She could express what she wanted with a short and simple sentence. When a child (30 months) came from van outing with family in a car, she just says to herself in English, "My dolls are waiting for me."

Fifth step

Children begin to understand the present, past, and future tenses and to connect some sentences to speak out. For example, you and I go to the park, and play a swing and you push me back.

But not all children can understand how to use tenses when they speak in English; some children may use to mix up the past and present tense. For example, " tomorrow is my birthday." " Mommy will bought(buy) teddy bear and cake for me." "Do you want a book about teddy bear?" "No, just teddy bear."

Children enjoy speaking English. They want to express many things but they still keep using Korean when they speak English. They also use 'because, if, that' to connect naturally two sentences. If you break my house with blocks, I will not make anything with blocks for you. I will show you how I make this car with clay.

Sixth step

Children are able to speak about what they think in English. In some cases, they surprise their parents with a fluent expression. Children can use a variety of sentences such as the comparative grammar and the superlative grammar.

For example, "I am the first, my little brother is the second in our family, or I am the much smarter than you.' Also they can use the present tense and the past tense. "Mom, I have been reading this book, it is fun" "My apple becomes poopoo and peepee in my tummy. Right?"

A 50 month-old boy who has been exposed from 15 months at home can speak English very well. He can express that he wants a toy car for his birthday present in English " I want to get a nice red toy car for my birthday present".

Seventh stage

Children in this stage can play in English during 20 minutes or play with puppet and home play. They can speak alone in English. They use long sentences and can develop good pronunciation. They almost sound like native English speakers with correct grammar and structure and good accent when they speak in English. They also can tell a story but not just memorization and lead dialogue with their parents and ask more questions about new English words they have just heard when they cannot figure out on new video programs. Fox example, 5 year-old girl, Minju who has learned English from 27 months old with her mother, asks the meaning of new English words, confidence when she watched the movie 'The Sound of Music.' Maria who was a nun and governor for seven children sing a song I have a confidence when she has own way to the Captin, Von Trap' house to teach seven children. Confidence is a very philosophical word for a 5 year-old girl, even in Korean. Her mother explained the meaning of confidence is "I can do it" in English. The little girl is able to figure out and think in English when she learns the new word. The children in this level role play with parents too. Another five year-old girl named Sumin likes to play with mother "Jack and The Bean Stalk" after she watches the video tape, "The Magic School Bus" which was trademarks of Scholastic Inc. She also enjoys playing various and interesting CD-Rom series such as blue series and Caillou series and Little Rabbit series.

When her mother talks to her in English, she answers in English, but when her mother talks to her in Korean, she can answer in Korean. She also draws a picture and told her story in English. These several cases have shown that parents and especially mothers can do much good in supporting children's English learning as a first teacher in their life at home. Parents are respectful, positive and warm and establish interactive routines in which they provide a variety of English reading materials and activities. It is the children's English home culture that constitutes a strength that can be brought into the future school and used as the basis for learning English with a lot of interests.

English is not only a second language and foreign language but also an international language. English can belong to all the people on Earth who speak and use it, no matter whether they are using English as a second language or a foreign language, or whether they are using standard or nonstandard English.

In today's globalized world, being bilingual is necessary in order to communicate with people from all over the world.

The bilingual approach is for monolingual children who speak only the mother language and want to speak fluently and develop strong proficiency in another language.

Many researchers have focused on studying about English language learning as a second language in English countries. Most of them have focused on the children in immigrant families to participate and adjust and learn the new culture and English. But now in Korea some brave and challenging mothers innovating new English approaches as their home with their young kid. They have goals that their children come to possess the ability to use the English language as a vehicle to think and solve problems and communicate for making creative and productive participation in our global society.

"Mother Brand English" is a movement to influence children to experience linguistic and cultural diversity at home. It is imperative that children understand a wide world with a variety of cultures and the English language as English learners.

I believe that the great reward for our earth community will be the most beautiful in the future.



Chung-Ang University

Seoul, Korea


Carle, E. (1987). The very hungry caterpillar (Braille). New York: Philomel Books.

Chomsky, N. (1980). Language and Mind. N.Y.: Harcout Brace & World.

Lightbown, E, & Spada, N (1999). How Languages are Learned. Oxford: Oxford University press.

Ruby, C, & Lesser, E. (2004). Barbie as the princess and the pauper. Mattel Entertainmant.

The Korea Times (2004). Overseas Education Spending Doubles. (2004, 04/29).
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Author:Seung-Yoeun, Yoo; SookHee, Lee
Publication:Reading Improvement
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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