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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 all.


      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.

Government Services

      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.

Medical Services

      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.

Religious Services

      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 upon.


      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 important.

      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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