Korean Language in New York City
Jungmoo Kim and Kay Yoon
New York City's undisputed reputation as a
leader in providing
opportunities attracts a multitude of cultures from every corner of the
world. Throughout its history people have come to New York in search of
these opportunities, and one of these groups has been the Koreans. The
introduction of the Koreans in large numbers along with other cultures has
resulted in a complex situation where people try to assimilate into
American society while retaining some elements of their past. The two
largest populations of Koreans reside in Flushing, Queens, and Korea Town
in midtown Manhattan.
In Manhattan, Korea Town is situated
around 32nd Street and
Broadway. The area serves primarily as a business district and residential
functions are limited. One can see the numerous restaurants, beauty
salons, bookstores, and so forth owned by and serving primarily Koreans.
Several Korean newspapers are in print, and it is not difficult to see
that the language of this community does not comprise of much English at
One can observe a similar situation in the
Flushing area. In terms
of public education, schools have significant populations of Korean
students, the two largest schools being Flushing High School and John
Bowne High School. The ESL program serves as a way for immigrant students
to learn English with an alternate set of courses. It is interesting to
note that immigrant Korean students seem to have relatively little
difficulty in math and science related courses, since little English in
required, and also due to the fact that these courses are not as English
dependent as others.
A visit to the Kor-American Association of
Flushing at 34th Avenue yielded
much information about the Korean community. Numerous information services
are available, such as a Korea Times New York Korean Business Directory
and the Korean New of USA Business Directory. There is also an online
website at www.koreanyellowpages.com.
Other similar organizations were found to be connected to the Kor-American
Association. There is a Korean American Family Service Center, and the
Korean YMCA provides after-school programs and weekend classes taught in
Korean. Various other organizations providing social, legal, and immigrant
services in addition to Korean and English education, were listed in the
directory, most of which were located in Flushing and midtown Manhattan.
The Korean Consulate General on 45th Street
provides listings of numerous
government services available to those who speak little or no English.
Translation services are available for Korean-only speakers in police
departments in many precincts. These services were adequate for the most
part, though some printed documents were not available in Korean. District
courts also provide translators, and a listing of Korean speaking
attorneys is available through the Korean American Legal Aid Society.
The Korean community provides ample Korean
speaking medical services for
its residents. Doctors were fluent in both Korean and English, and
hospitals such as those in Flushing provide either Korean speaking nurses
and doctors or a translation service. Many private practices were
partnered with Caucasian doctors.
The majority of churches in Flushing are
both Korean and English speaking.
Services provided in Korean seemed to be attended by an older audience of
Koreans, while English services attracted a younger generation. The
immigrant Korean population is predominantly Christian, though there is a
significant Buddhist minority. Numerous churches provide various other
services such as counseling, weekend classes teaching Korean, and even
transportation services to and from the church.
Eating and dining are a significant part of
Korean culture, so it was
interesting to see how immigrants were adapting this aspect of their
culture to a new environment. Almost all restaurants provide menus with
both Korean and English descriptions. American customers represent a
significant portion of Korean restaurant patrons, and the waiters all
spoke English rather well.
Many of the workers for Korean businesses,
not just restaurants, were of
Hispanic origin. The interactions between the Koreans and Hispanics are of
particular interest, since Koreans addressed the Hispanics in a
non-honorific form of speech, indicating a lack of respect. It was quite
easy to notice this since the Korean language has a, elaborate honorific
system. The relationships between the two groups seem to be filled with
tension at times as the Hispanic workers were in many ways looked down
According to the FAIR Immigration and New
York Census Bureau data, Koreans
rank as the sixth most populous group of immigrants in the New York area,
and rank third among Asians, comprising 0.6% of the entire New York
population. The services available to non-English speaking Koreans is more
than adequate, since most live in closely knit social circles. This is
especially important for Koreans since their language is so different from
English. Many Koreans, especially older generations, have much difficulty
learning English, so providing Korean language services is especially
The patterns of assimilation are
interesting in that they seem to
be separated by different generations. Older generations, since there is
really no need to become fluent in English, retain most of their culture
and live as they had before immigrating. Younger generations, however,
adapt to American culture and language much more readily and easily. At
the same time, however, they still tend to socialize with many other
Koreans and respect their cultural past. This seems to be a general trend
that will continue in the future.
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