Korean Americans are Americans who are immigrants from Korea or their descendants. According to the 2014 United States census, approximately 1.9 million people of Korean Americans are residing in the United States, comprising 0.6% of the entire population. This is the fifth largest Asian American subgroup (US Census, 2014).
The Korean migration to the United States began in the years between 1903 and 1905. It was reported that the first migration was the move to sugar cane plantations in Hawaii, seeking for jobs (Youn, 1990). From this point, Korean immigrants have increased rapidly in the States and now the 1.5, second and third generation of Korean Americans are living in the US. The lives of new generations were completely different from those of the immigrants, in terms of their ways of thinking, education they received and the language they spoke. This was mostly resulted from the first generations’ attitude toward the language education. In the early stage of migration, immigrants strongly forbade their children to speak Korean, wanting children to assimilate to the American society faster. They had strong hopes and expectations towards the life in US, believing their children would have better life with the proficient English skills. In their regard, learning the Korean language would hamper their children’s English competency. Thus, the efforts to maintain Korean language and culture were very scarce until 1950’s. The transition in this trend was made in 1960s, influenced by the enactment of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of the US and Emigration Act of Korea. At this point, the Korean government started to actively support the Korean language learning for the overseas Koreans, establishing Overseas Korean Foundation and Hangeulhakyo, Korean language schools.
With constant efforts in spreading and educating Korean language to the second and third generations and the rapid growth of the Korean economy and culture, the attitude toward the heritage language has gradually changed in a positive way, encouraging bilingual education. Currently, North America has the greatest number of Korean schools all around the world; one thousand and seventy schools are in operation, with more than fifty thousand students. The Korean language users in the United States are now more than a million, situating Korean as the sixth most widely spoken foreign language in the US.