SEOUL — Crystal Kim recited the Korean numbers slowly: "Il baek, yuk ship il," she said. "Times ship il."

It was a multiplication problem with many numbers.

Her third-grade students squinted for a moment, some counting on their fingers, before writing down the numbers at their desks. Not only were they learning to multiply big numbers, but they were learning to do it in Korean.

Kim’s class is one of three partial Korean immersion classes at Seoul Elementary School, the only Department of Defense Dependents School in South Korea to offer the classes. Similar immersion programs also are offered at the Ikego Elementary School near Yokosuka, Japan, and at Kadena Elementary School on Okinawa. The Ikego program offers Spanish immersion for grades K-3; Kadena offers Japanese immersion for grades 1-6.

Students in the programs follow the same curriculum as the other classes in their grade.

Most of their instruction is in English, but teachers incorporate basic foreign language words and phrases into some of their lessons, usually math.

"We try to do a lot of the real life phrases that they can use outside the base," Kim said during a recent interview in Seoul.

Her classroom itself looks like a normal American classroom, except for the Korean flag hanging beside the American flag, and the display of commonly used Korean phrases in a window. Students sometimes call her "sun saeng nim," Korean for teacher.

Theresa Pak-Blyzniuk, whose mother is Korean, knew simple Korean words for dog, cat, elephant and bathroom before she enrolled in the immersion class. Now, she can ask where the bathroom is and how to get there.

"My mom talks to me, and now I understand it more now," the 8-year-old said. She also can communicate more with her Korean relatives, she said.

Seoul Elementary school tries to offer one immersion class each year in grades 1-4, but this year only enough students signed up for classes in grades 2-4. School officials hope to add a first-grade immersion class next year.

Missy Gingrich, instructional systems specialist for elementary foreign languages at DODDS Pacific schools, said interest in immersion programs is growing because people — especially military parents — realize the importance of learning a second language at an early age.

"People really want their child to be able to speak and function in a second language," she said.

So does the military education system, which has increased emphasis on its foreign language programs in recent years.

"We just really want to produce bilingual students who will be successful in our global world," she said.

Denise Gehler said her third-grader son, Max, has learned more Korean during his one year in Kim’s immersion class than in the three years the family has been in Seoul.

"When we’re out, I hear him intermingling his Korean with English," she said. "He doesn’t even bat an eye."

Gehler said she doesn’t expect Max to become fluent in Korean, because they’ll be in Seoul just one more year. But he has learned enough to communicate when the family goes off post.

"He’ll tell me he has to go to the bathroom, and he says it all in Korean. He’ll order two of something, and then he’ll turn around and tell me what he said," Gehler said.

Immersion students can’t be native speakers, and parents are asked not to enroll their children in the immersion class if they’ll be moving during the school year.

Kim said the real value of the immersion program lies in the process of learning, not in mastering the language.

"They go through the frustrations and the stages of learning a different language and accepting a different culture," she explained. "They become more accepting of others."

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