North Korean and South Korean are the same language ‘Korean’. However, within the Korean language, there are some differences. A South and North Korean will (generally) have no problem understanding each other, but there may be some noticeable differences in the language or style of language used.
If you’re planning a trip to North Korea and already speak Korean, you may want to read up on some of these differences to help you impress the locals!
If you’re new to Korean and coming on tour, check out our key phrases to use in the country.
Please note, this is not a lesson in the Korean language! The language has great depth, and if you’re interested in learning North Korean, study tours are offered in two different provinces in North Korea. You can choose from studying in the city for the Pyongyang study tour, or head out to the countryside for the rural study tour.
– Politeness markers
The Korean language is a language that regards politeness highly, and this can be shown in what type of language you use when addressing different people. In basic terms, there are 7 different styles of speech that range from friendly to super polite. These levels are High, Middle, and low.
The basic form of the language is how you will speak to your friends and those the same age or younger than you (hae-che). The next level up (haoeyo-che) is how you will address those older than you, meeting new people, or generally when you want to be polite. This is used most often, and is the style of speech you’re most likely to learn when beginning learning Korean. The next level up is the super polite version (hasipseo-che) and how, in South Korea, you would speak to very high up people, in business speech, or in customer service. In North Korean, however, this super polite level is used much more often, similar to the middle polite level. You should use hasipseo-che when talking to anyone older than you/strangers.
– Terms of addressing
Donji/Dongmu are used in the North to refer to revolutionary colleagues. These terms translate to ‘comrade’. Donji is used for someone higher up. Dongmu used for those on the same or lower ranking/age. These terms are seldom used in the South, and instead, have their own system of honorific forms of addresses to be polite.
– Writing style
Both North and South use the Hangul writing system, however they may have different names for the features.
– Some vocabulary (English loan words)
This is probably the biggest difference between North and South Korean languages.
The South Korean language has largely been influenced by English, particularly over the last few years, seen mainly in common nouns, such as ‘icecream’ – SK = aisu kurimu (sounds the same!)
Other examples include:
NK = danmul
Ultimately, the difference is similar to that of British English and American English, or various dialects and slang words used throughout the English speaking world – generally, 99% of what is said is understood, even if this means context is needed to help fill in the gaps.
If you’re planning a trip to North Korea, it’s always a good idea to impress the locals!