My First Book of Korean Words: An ABC Rhyming Book by Henry J. Amen IV and Kyubyong Park, illustrated by Aya Padrón
No matter where you’ve been hiding, someone has been able to infiltrate your defenses and made you watch the freakishly popular “Gangnam Style” by PSY (in Korean, 싸이, although apparently it’s short for ‘psycho’). The South Korean singer (educated at Boston University and Berklee College of Music, I must add) is an international mega-superstar-in-the-making; his viral prominence has produced more than enough “Gangnam” spin-offs to keep you YouTube-ing for days. [If you need a shortcut, the best is “Umma Gangnam Style.” Really.]
So what does all that have to do with this kiddie book? Timing, of course! It’s always about the timing!
I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked me ‘what’s he saying?’ in spite of my rather rusty Korean. [Pretty good answer here, by the way. Even better answer here.] So … given this unexpected interest in Korean, why not start teaching the younger ones earlier than later with this clever, playful, adorably illustrated hybrid of Korean and English?
“The goals of My First Korean Words are multiple,” the informative “Preface” explains, “… to familiarize children with the sounds and structure of Korean speech; to introduce core elements of Korean culture; to illustrate the ways in which languages differ in their treatment of everyday sounds, and to show how, through cultural importation, a single world can be shared between languages.”
“A is for achim,” or breakfast, with comes with a direct question for the young reader, “Would you eat rice and veggies for breakfast” as many Koreans do? “E is for echwi,” the sound of a Korean sneeze, with a note contrasting it with “achoo!” in English. “L is for lamb,” which is yang in Korean, but no ”l’-sound exists in the Korean language, just as “Q is for queen,” or wangbi in Korean, which comes with the gentle question, “Did you guess that the Korean language doesn’t have a Q sound?” “R is for roket,” which clearly borrows from the English “rocket.”
Most serendipitously, “N is for nolda,” which means “I play”; yes, various conjugations of the Korean word for ‘to play’ gets oft-repeated throughout that addictive video – just one more reason to listen again! If you find you need to do more deciphering, the same trio you see here of editor Amen/language software creator Park/artist Padrón also wrote the highly-rated Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Korean for the determined Korean language seeker. Might be high time to order my own copy … if nothing else, to get beyond “Gangnam Style”!