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Learning Korean
From JoongAng
July 13, 2003

By YoonHee Park

“ People recognize me as a Korean and whenever they notice that I do not speak the language, they look down on me…the inability to speak Korean especially discouraged me when I was interviewed for a job.” said Marian Choi, now spending her evening studying the language to be a “real” Korean. She feels that she finally found her root as a Korean.

Many of the 2nd generation Koreans are devoting their summer to learning Korean. At the Korean Language Center of New York (KLC), language classes are filled with 2nd generation Koreans on every Tuesday and Thursday. They study hard and try to listen and repeat what the teacher says to them word by word.

Lee, who attends MIT starting this September agrees, “I spent my high school years more preparing for college applications than finding my ethnic identity.” Graduating from high school, he felt a strong sense of identity as a Korean, which made him decide to learn the language.

The institute has a wide range of a student body, from high school to medical school students, but they have one thing in common; they were born in the U.S. and didn’t realize the need to learn Korean while attending prestigious schools until recognizing the sense of identity all in one moment.

SunGun Lee, the director of the institute, pointed out that more than 70 percent of the 2nd generation cannot speak Korean, and only 5% of the generation has experienced Korean language education. He added, “It is a good sign that now an increasing number of Korean-Americans have an interest in taking Korean education and know their root.”

The Korean language program at Korea Society showed high enrollment among the 2nd generation in their 20s and 30s. Kim, the program associate, finds the motivation beyond identity-driven. “There are lots of people among the 2nd generation professionals who feel that they need to learn and possess ability to communicate in Korean.”

The boom of language learning among the 2nd generation also has to do with recent unstable job market. One employer from an on-line job listing company said, “We have many calls this summer form Korean-Americans who wish to work as interns at venture capital firms in Korea to take the opportunity to learn Korean. An increasing number of the 2nd generation wishes to visit Korea and learn even though they are provided with lower salary.”

Translated from Korean by JooYeon Lee


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