Adventures in Baby-Sitting: 'Can You Count to 2?'

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Adventures in Baby-Sitting: 'Can You Count to 2?'

Every Saturday, Hwang Myung-jun, a 3-year-old boy who lives in Gongdeok-dong, looks forward to his baby-sitter's arrival. As soon as she opens the house's gate, Myung-jun rushes from his room, and says "Hi!" in English.

Lee Dong-eun, 20, baby-sits Myung-jun, who's known as "Bryan" in English, every week. Unlike other baby-sitters, Ms. Lee helps Bryan drive his plastic car, shouting English phrases like "Watch out! There is a huge train in front of you." Fire trucks, yellow buses and black-and-red trains lie scattered on the floor. The sitter points to one and asks, "What color is it?" "Norang... hmm, Yellow!" answers Bryan. Ms. Lee, instead of acting like the boy's tutor, is his good friend.

In Korea, the demand for English-speaking baby-sitters is increasing sharply. The reason? Most Korean parents want their kids to speak English more naturally. And the rising number of foreign residents want baby-sitters who can talk in English for easier communication.

Some critics say that hiring English-speaking sitters has no real influence on children, and that it is just a way for language-hungry rich people to show off their wealth. Most of these baby-sitters earn about 15,000 won ($11.70) per hour, which is three times more than the going rate for regular sitters. But English-speaking baby-sitters provide added benefits to the necessary service.

Ms. Lee says that she was surprised at Bryan's wonderful memory : "Children Bryan's age have a brain like a sponge, so Bryan always remembers the new English vocabulary that he studied a week ago." Ms. Lee is studying educational psychology and English literature at Sookmyung Women's University, so a part-time job is all she can handle.

Jeong Young-joo, 24, is another English-language baby-sitter. She graduated from Ajou University last spring, but because her new job does not start until February, she took up baby-sitting in the meantime. Twice a week, Ms. Jeong tends the 15-month-old toddler, Viola Rietdorf. Viola and her family are from the United States and now live in Yongsan-dong, Seoul.

At Viola's house, the warm sunlight brightens the living room full of Korean antiques and modern furniture. Ms. Jeong is just like a shadow: Wherever Viola runs, Ms. Jeong is standing right beside her, making sure she does not come to any harm. Ms. Jeong also speaks both Korean and English to Viola. "Do you want to draw a picture on the board?" she asks. "Yeogi paransaek," he answers ("Here is the blue.").

Viola's mother, Choi Mi-sun said, "We prefer an English-speaking person so that we can let the person know what should be done for my child. But I don't think people need to be blamed for hiring English-speaking baby-sitters."

To meet the growing demand for these bilingual sitters, companies like Kid World (02-516-0065) and Baby-sitter Korea (02-561-4331) have sprung up. Kim Mun-jung, a director at Kid World, says, "English-speaking baby-sitters can be a positive impact on kids. And with the 2002 World Cup coming, the demand by the foreign community for these sitters will only be greater."

by Kong Seo-hee

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