North Korea’s Foreign Language Craze

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

It’s been reported South Korean English dictionaries have been sold almost double the market price in major North Korean cities like Shinuiju as North Korea – China trade invigorates and greater learning of Chinese and English

”Mt. Baikdu Store” has been in business in Dandung, China targeting North Korean merchants and North Korea officials their main customers, have been selling “Essence Korean-English Dictionary” published in South Korea by Minjungseorim at 420 Yuan (US$55). The same dictionary sells around at 37 dollars in South Korea.

North Korean merchants are purchasing these dictionaries by order directly from upper class North Koreans. The dictionary mentioned above has traded at 210,000 North Korean won (approx. US$69).

The proprietor of Mt. Baikdu Store said “Among South Korean dictionaries, Essence Korean-English Dictionary, 2005 special edition, published by Minjungseorim, has been a bestseller.” “They are 2 or 3 times more expensive than Chinese counterparts but North Koreans are very keen on them for their well-written layout.”

”Dictionaries published in South Korea have gained popularity among the North Koreans for they are well –written so that anyone could study easily. In particular, upper-class parents have been throwing money around to educate their children.”

Park Myong Cheol (pseudonym), a North Korean, engaged in North Korea–China trade stated “Recently Pyongyang and Shinuiju have seen a sizzle for learning English and Chinese.”

Park reasoned that the overwhelming trend has been derived from recent stimulation on North Korea–China trade. Accordingly, he specified that many have noticed the highly-required needs of language skill for overseas trade and employment.

Besides, increasing popularization of computer is one of the factors. Learning English has been considered a must to gain computing skills for technical terms which contain English.

Park admitted “In the past, it caused a big trouble reading South Korean publications. However, this has not been a problem any more just for studying material like a dictionary. It was out of discussion before.”

According to him, currently an increasing number of the Chinese, who have been preparing North Korea-China joint ventures in Pyongyang and Shinuiju, have hired the North Korean as a translator.

Chinese employers prefer local employment for bringing Chinese translator over cost fortune because of the expense covering entrance and staying. In addition, it requires complicated document procedure. For example, it cost 300 Yuan (US$43) per day excluding accommodation and meals.

Park reported that it is natural for North Korean young adults, fluent at foreign language, to eager to be a translator of Chinese businessmen in the rise of unemployment in North Korea.

Evidently, it is observed that upper-class North Koreans have devoted to educate their children hiring private English tutors with dictionaries from South Korea. Moreover, this craze has been interpreted as a display of the people’s desire on opening of North Korea.


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