Lee Dong Kil’s daughter was born on December 31, 2018. She arrived late in the night – two hours before the start of the New Year. But two hours later, the baby girl became 2 years old.

She was not alone in aging quickly. Every baby born in South Korea last year turned 2 on January 1st, 2019. Based on an unusual system for calculating ages, South Korea’s babies become 1 on the day of their birth. They become an additional year older on January 1st.

By the way, Lee is 32 years old internationally, but 34 in South Korea.

Exactly how this aging system developed is not clear. Defining a full-term pregnancy as one lasting 40 weeks is one way to explain why babies are one when they are born. But becoming a year older on January 1st? That is even harder to explain.

Jung Yon-hak is with the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul. He suggests that perhaps ancient Koreans cared about the year in which they were born in the Chinese 60-year cycle. Without modern methods of measuring time, they did not care much about the specific day they were born.

Officially, South Korea has used Western-style calculations since the early 1960s. But many South Koreans still use the old system in their daily lives. The government has done little to get people to change over to the Western system.

In January, lawmaker Hwang Ju-hong proposed a bill that would require the government to put international ages in official documents. The bill also urges citizens to go with their international ages in everyday life. It is the first legislative attempt to end "Korean age."

The goal of the bill is to end confusion “caused by the mixed use of age-counting systems," Hwang said in the proposed legislation.

Opinion studies in recent years showed more South Koreans supported international age. It was not clear, however, how seriously they wanted a change.


Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.

calculate – v. to find a number or answer by using mathematics

  • I need to calculate how long it will take me to drive to Chicago.

style – n. a way of doing things or expression

  • She has a unique style of singing.

cycle – n. a period of time

  • These plants have a 2-year growth cycle.

confusion - n.  a situation in which people are uncertain about what to do or are unable to understand something clearly

  • There is still some confusion as to the time of the meeting.


Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.

1. When was Lee Dong Kil’s daughter born?

2. How old was she on January 1st, 2019?

3. When did Koreans officially start using the western-style calculation?

4. What is the aim of Hwang Ju-hong's proposed bill?


Exercise 3

Make a sentence.

Make sentences using these words.

calculate, cycle, style, confusion


Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions.

1. What do you think of Korea's calculation system? Have you heard of it before?

2. Do you like being the age that you are?

3. Do you worry about getting older?

4. How are birthdays celebrated in your country?


This lesson is based on a news article originally published by VOA.