Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Education Policy in North Korea

North Korea’s language education policy has been strongly controlled by the government. In fact, every language policy has been regulated, enacted and proclaimed by its supreme leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The view on language in North Korea is formed within the framework of Marxism-Leninism and materialism, which sees language as a tool. This perspective has been combined with North Korea’s own ideology, Juche, and resulted in founding its own Juche language theory. In this regard, the language is a strong weapon for mobilizing the masses as well as a means of boosting national pride for its people. The language policies are enacted and put into practice in order to strengthen, propagate and advocate its regime. Therefore, the policy making processes are rigorously leader-centered; only the great leaders, Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il are able to define a word and name the place or things for their nation.    

Kim Il Sung’s theses in 1964 and 1966 are the foundations of North Korean language policies. Both theses greatly emphasize the importance of keeping its native language and show strong disapproval of using Chinese characters in reading and writing. Refining words into native tongue was one radical campaign led by the government that changed all the foreign words including the words using Chinese spellings into Korean native ones.

For foreign language education, Russian had been the first foreign language taught in school for many years. The change was made in early 2000s, when North Korea realized the globalization trend and the importance of English language. In 2002, North Korea allowed the first native English speaking teacher trainers (Schulman, 2009) to visit Pyeongyang and began to stress English education. English is now taught at most of the middle school as the first foreign language. The purpose of English teaching was, however, strictly limited to the government’s own benefit. In other words, English is seen as a means for socialist construction, taught for political purposes (Kaplan and Baldauf, 2005), a tool for the regime to strengthen its hold ‘We learn English for our revolution’ (Schulman, 2009). 


English Education in North Korea:

This is what it’s like to go undercover in North Korea (TED talk):


Cho, J. (2005). Education in North Korea: System and Culture. Presentation in North Korea Studies conference. pp.330-332.

Michael Schulman. (2009). ‘We Learn English for Our Revolution’: English Education in North Korea.  Journal of British & American Language, Literature and Education, 25(1), 77-97.

Kaplan, Robert B. & Richard B. Baldauf, Jr. (2005). “Language-in-Education Policy and Planning.” Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Hinkel, Eli, ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Kim, H. (2008) Report on North Korean Language. Institute for national security strategy. 


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Ahn, Jaerin. (2015). Language Education Policy in North Korea. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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