Posted on September 26, 2005

English Bypassed in L.A. Koreans Learning Spanish

Rachel Uranga, Daily News (Los Angeles), Sept. 26

LA Daily News Peruvian immigrant Miguel Aliaga always knew that coming to Los Angeles would mean a long struggle mastering a new language. He just never figured that language would be Korean.

In a city that lures some of the world’s poorest, brightest and most ambitious immigrants, a strange phenomenon is occurring.

Clusters of immigrants are learning that America is not as much about assimilating into an English-speaking world but into a diverse immigrant culture, where Koreans can speak Spanish — and vice versa.

“At the beginning, English was very important — and it still is, if I need to go to a government office or court or get a license,” Aliaga, 32, said as he sat behind a small display case in his soccer-supply shop in Koreatown.

“For me, (learning Korean) is as important because I lived in Koreatown. Now I am able to communicate with Koreans.”


A Korean immigrant — by way of Argentina — Martin Paik writes a column, “Hola Amigo,” in the Korea Times that provides conversational Spanish lessons in Korean. He doesn’t speak English and finds little reason to, living in Los Angeles.

“In California, Spanish is more important than English,” said Paik, a Seoul native. “I haven’t found any inconvenience because I don’t speak English. . . I don’t need to speak English. If you can speak Spanish, you can drive, employers can have clients, you can order in restaurants, you can do anything.”

Paik receives his credit card bills in Spanish and orders his office supplies in Korean. He teaches Spanish in Korean at a school he runs in a largely Latino neighborhood near Koreatown.

Most of the 200 students at Martin Spanish School speak little or no English. The only hint of English in the instruction books — which he wrote himself — are on the cover page.


Yoon Seong, a 60-year-old Korean — by way of Spain — said he feels fortunate to know Spanish. He lives in West Hills and said, unlike many of his Korean friends, feels no need to move to Koreatown.

“For me being here, the Hispanic community is the only world for me. I don’t need English here. All that you need in California is Spanish.”