I was aghast after learning Korean and proper ways to speak to elders when my native Korean spouse spoke to her mother in 반말. But it doesn't seem that the majority of children speak formally to their parents.

I want my children to learn the right way, and they struggle with 존댓말 since they primarily only use 반말 at home.

From experience raising children to speak Korean, please give findings on forcing 존댓말 (or not forcing 존댓말) and the results thereof as it pertains to teaching children to speak Korean.

  • 2
    I think most children speak 반말 at home, it will probably sound too weird you try to be overly formal. But then again, at home you can teach them to use whatever language they and you are comfortable with
    – user17915
    Jan 19, 2018 at 2:57

3 Answers 3


The way of using 존댓말 has been changed rapidly in about recent 20 years. In 1990s, adults usually called their parents as 아버지 and 어머니. It was thought to be childish for adults to use 아빠 and 엄마. But, from roughly 2000s, people started widely using 아빠 and 엄마 even when they are grown up.

Now 존댓말 is not only about age but also closeness. For example, although nowadays' Korean adults will use the vocabularies 아빠 and 엄마 for their parents, they will still call their parents-in-law as 아버지 and 어머니.

Of course 존댓말 is not only about vocabularies but also about tones and attitudes. Still I think it is quite natural these days for kids speaking 반말 to their parents. People usually don't think that's a problem. Still, there are also many parents who teach their children speak 존댓말 to them. Two ways are both popular in Korea these days, and I think it depends on characteristics of parents.


Well, my kids started to say 존댓말 when they started talking. But of course, when they reached around their pre-teen age (9) they started to speak in 반말 too me.

-age 2~9: 존댓말

-age 10~17: 반말

-after 18: 존댓말

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    Also, they start speaking 존댓말 naturally, so no worries. Jan 19, 2018 at 15:17

I can only speak from experience of one Korean family, where the two children usually speak 반말 to their parents, and even to their maternal grandparents (whom they see every day and often stay with). I say usually because the parents do teach the children to speak politely at certain times (such as domestic 'mini-ceremonies' - accepting a present, or offering food).

The parents will often prompt the children the correct way to speak to or reply to someone less familiar - I think this is quite common in Korea, and I'm often on the end of this experience when other children are talking to me as the 'stranger' - the parents will prompt with the correct form of what the child 'wants to' say.

With these two 'opportunities' to speak 존댓말 - 'ceremonies' at home, and talking to strangers - the children are able to pick it up before starting to learn more formally at school.

  • 1
    school, good point, I'll bet teachers don't put up with panmal at all! Jan 20, 2018 at 14:12

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