Korean language classes in NY are not only for Koreans anymore

January 20, 2015
Korean language students at the Korean Cultural Center during a lesson.

Korean language students at the Korean Culture Center during a lesson.

By Kim So-young

About 20 students of all ages and color sat inside a Manhattan language school Saturday mouthing the Korean alphabet.

They’re among the many enthusiastic adults who have picked up learning the Korean language in the city.

Lessons previously geared toward young second-generation Korean Americans in the past now target a diverse group of students who take time out of their weekends to brush up on their ga, na and das.

One institution, Korean Culture Center, located on 32nd St., has 70 to 80 registered adult students. It had only 10 when it opened its doors for the first time four years ago.

Lee Geum-sook, director of the center, said language schools for second-generation Koreans have been around for decades but that it was difficult to find one for non-Korean adults until two to three years ago. She credits Hallyu — K-pop and K-dramas in particular — to students’ rise in interest.

Many students, a majority of them in their teens to their 30s, began learning Korean while influenced by Hallyu content, from K-pop song lyrics to K-dramas.

Others are Korean adoptees who as adults want to learn the native tongue. The Korean Education Center in New York is offering twice-a-week courses targeted toward adult Korean adoptees beginning at the end of January.

Business Korean — which has also seen a rise as an increasing number of Korean companies enter the U.S. and as workers move to Korea — will also start being offered for the first time in 20 years at the Korean Language Center of New York come March.

Beom Lee, a Korean language lecturer at Columbia University, said the number of students taking up Korean have been increasing in the last four to five years as Chinese- and Japanese-language students have declined.

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